Most people who have pets would do anything to keep their furry friends safe and healthy.
Those who are unhoused feel the same way. It’s not unusual to see homeless people give food or shelter to their animals before providing for themselves.
But that selflessness, along with ongoing social, emotional and financial challenges, can end up putting both humans and their cherished companions at risk.
That’s where Annie and Millie’s Place comes in. The Longmont nonprofit organization helps the unhoused and their pets stay together by providing resources, solutions and programs, fully recognizing that this relationship is essential to both.
“There is a lot of research around the human-animal bond in a crisis. We also know that your blood pressure decreases when you have an animal. Animals keep people healthier emotionally and physiologically,” explained Kristen Baltrum, executive director and founder of the nonprofit. “When we are taking care of the pet, we are taking care of the person, as well, because the pet is providing for the health and well-being of the person.”
Annie and Millie’s Place is a personal mission for Baltrum. Annie was her sister – a woman whose “self-sacrificial spirit soon led her to experience homelessness herself,” per annieandmillies.org. Annie’s dog, Millie, was always by her side as they navigated life on the streets. That mutually beneficial connection gave Annie a purpose. While help was available for Annie, resources were not provided for Millie. Unwilling to sacrifice her dog, Annie didn’t receive the services she needed. She did get help from family and friends along the way, but it wasn’t enough to prevent her physical and emotional health from deteriorating.
“Eventually, Annie decided that life on the streets and Earth were too much for her to bear. … Annie leashed Millie to the front porch of a home where she was sheltering and took her own life.” Animal Control seized Millie.
Today, Baltrum honors her sister’s memory by giving homeless humans a respite from the streets. “The pillar of our purpose is to build an open-minded network of people and bring awareness to human-animal homelessness,” Baltrum wrote on the website.
According to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, up to 25 percent of those who are homeless have a dog or a cat as a companion.
Annie and Millie’s Place utilizes volunteers, grants and partnerships to help both humans and animals.
Among its services, Annie and Millie’s Place provides People’s & Paw Packs, a simple bag of snacks for the pets and their owners, a collapsible water bowl for the dog and contact information for additional resources.
By working with other nonprofits, companies and social service organizations, Annie and Millie’s Place helps connect homeless people to resources for pet food, vaccinations, emergent and preventive veterinary care and foster care as well as human-based services.
Because the nonprofit does not have a brick-and-mortar location, it is working to build resources around the issues of homelessness and pets.
“So when we do build, we can do it based on a model of relationships. So that is good for everybody. The biggest end goal is to have a co-sheltering space where people and their pets could receive safe shelter right alongside their animals,” Baltrum said.
Numerous volunteers keep Annie and Millie’s legacy going.
Baltrum concluded, “It’s hard work. I want people to know it’s important, and it’s possible. If they are an animal lover and have a pet themselves, the next time they are loving on their animal, think about those who don’t have the resources to take care of themselves and their pets. If compassion was running free in the world, we would have a different place.”
Annie and Millie’s Place Annie and Millie’s Place is a 501(3c) nonprofit. It is funded by grants and donations and led by volunteers.
Contributions also can be mailed to P.O. Box 6643, Longmont, CO 80501. In-kind donations, such as for dog food, can be made to: First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 803 3rd Ave., Longmont, CO 80501.
By Kathleen Duff, Longmont Magazine