John Francis, a 23-year-old homeless man, wanted three things for Christmas: getting home to California, a black Carhart coat and his dog.
John and I met in November in a parking lot in Weatherford.
I saw him, a dog, a duffel bag and a bucket. It was Sunday, and I just needed one day off from homelessness so I ducked into a store.
Moments later the man was surrounded by police officers responding to a 911 call, something like, “There’s a homeless man, with a dog, and a bucket of newborn puppies!”
Divine intervention, fate or just the way it goes, I presented myself, handed the officers my business card, and with great relief they asked, “Can you help connect him to services?”
I had no more luck than anyone else in compelling him to give up the animals. Momma was skinny, not uncommon with nine pups nursing out every calorie she could spare, and that little bucket was not going to suffice much longer.
But I know from formerly homeless camper and homeless coalition adviser Patrick Murphy, “A homeless man’s dog is his family, likely all he has, and you don’t give up your family.”
I asked where he believed he needed to be. We agreed I would take him back to his Arlington camp next morning.
Overnight, some cowboy gave John money that he used to buy a pay-as-you-go cellphone and, I could tell, a few beers.
On the drive to Arlington he told his story: broken family, trauma, lost opportunities, father in prison, struggles. He and his dog Mia started a trek to California from his campsite next to Cowboys Stadium but nature’s timing got them only as far as Parker County.
He programmed my number into the phone. I said call if you need anything.
Divine intervention, fate, or just the way it goes, that call came 12 hours later. Something had happened to Mia’s paw, blood everywhere, he was scared and frantic. Back to Arlington.
In silent reluctance he handed over the injured animal and her brood, the first time he had been separated from Mia in two years.
I swore to him he would get his dog back. He did not believe me. People don’t keep promises; he had a lifetime to prove it.
I made a call to Parker Paws, a nonprofit that cares for homeless animals.
From the staging area of my Flying Dog Farm, volunteers and veterinarians called to action to care for the animals. An amputated toe, stitches, shots, worming, heat lamps in the cold snap, cases of dog food and tons of puppy kisses.
And, many nights of angry texts from John, waiting in his cold, wet campsite, missing his dog.
And then a new urgency. He had reconnected with his family and learned that his father had gotten out of prison just before Thanksgiving.
John had not seen since the man since he was 16. With a child’s hope, he was impatient to get to California for Christmas.
As an experienced hitchhiker, he knew it would take time, and it was winter. There were mountains between Texas and home.
But we had to wean the pups, and Mia needed to be dry at least seven days before spay surgery and then a week to heal.
Parker Paws was deeply concerned about a dog returning to homelessness.
I was deeply concerned about the homeless man’s faith and hope in others.
I prepared a new backpack, tent and sleeping bag, dog food and a wallet of gift cards; loaded more minutes on the cellphone; and made a shiny new red dog tag for Mia with her master’s name and cell number.
Early on Dec. 11, Mia and I drove to Arlington. John’s blue eyes teared up as Mia ran and leaped into his arms.
We drove back to Parker County and said our goodbyes from a westbound truck stop. John’s last request: “Send me pictures of the puppies.”
His latest text to me: “ HaHa 4 being in back of truck goin 70 Carhart jacket holding up great haha next stop Clovis NM, Mia chase ground hog and fat and happy ! : )”
Have a good journey home for Christmas, John and Mia.
Cindy J. Crain is executive director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. firstname.lastname@example.org