SCOTTSDALE, AZ — For many people experiencing homelessness, it often involves having to leave a beloved companion behind -- their dog -- in order to get help.
While shelters can house the homeless, not all of them accept peoples' animals, forcing the owners to decide between help and their pet.
A new program, called "Sit. Stay. Heal.," hopes to lessen that burden with the creation of a shelter for pets, or a "pet hotel," as some have called it.
It is housed inside a renovated barn at Hunkapi Farms in Scottsdale, an outdoor farm that offers a variety of animal-based programs for people dealing with trauma.
“In a place where you have lost everything, the last thing that you want to let go of is your thread of hope and that can oftentimes be our dogs," said Terra Schaad, executive director of Hunkapi Farms.
"We know that as people who have homes that the worst day turns into an OK day the second our dogs greet us,” she said.
For nearly two years, Phoenix Councilwoman Laura Pastor worked with Schaad and Dr. Tom Graves, dean, and professor at Midwestern University's College of Veterinary Medicine, to create the one-of-a-kind sanctuary.
"The idea is that we will allow their pets to stay here so that they can get them back once they get back on their feet,” said Schaad.
"They may be a little malnourished or maybe too nourished, they will get physical exams by Midwestern University,” said Councilwoman Pastor.
To start, they'll be able to house 12-15 dogs at one time. They renovated the barn to have a dozen or so kennels that can house up to two dogs. Each kennel has a door that leads to an outdoor area.
Dr. Graves said students in the University's veterinary medicine program will help provide care from routine shots to ambulatory care.
He also said it is important to understand the relationship and bond between the person experiencing homelessness and their pet.
"It’s not surprising if the relationship that person has with their dog is the most positive mutually supportive relationship that person has…even though the person who is homelessness is experiencing hunger, they will make sure their dog eats before they do,” he said.
Another part of the program is to provide therapy to the pet owners who may be dealing with PTSD, anxiety, or other traumas.