"I think the homeless people take better care of their animals...Every homeless person I’ve seen with an animal cares – that’s all they have – they appreciate their animal more because they have nothing. They have nobody else. We don’t really have many people to turn to that we can consider friends, but they know they can count on their animal."
Although Nala is a recent addition to Georgie's life, they became attached at the hip very quickly. Before I even begin asking questions, Georgie tells me: "I don't know if I saved her or she saved me."
Georgie found a photo of a scraggly-looking Nala on Craigslist in the fall of 2015 and knew immediately that she had to get this dog - "It was her eyes," she says. On her way to meet Nala, she bought a leash, dog bowls, blankets, and toys, and knew that she was going to leave with this dog. Nala had been through some tough times with her previous owners - "She was scared of everything, bus, people, trains. Scared of being petted. She acted like she didn’t know what being pet was. They kept her puppies for profit and got rid of her. That kinda breaks my heart. Because I know what it would feel like if my baby was taken away from me – well, my children were taken away from me, by family, so I know what it feels like. And dogs have emotions too." So Georgie and her partner, Haile, worked with Nala to let her know that she was okay. Watching Haile play and wrestle and run with Nala around the park, I know that whatever they did worked. She's happy as a clam.
Georgie describes Nala as her daughter, or "her kid with four feet", and all her instincts surrounding taking care of her as motherly. "I live in a tent, but she’s going to be in my tent with me. That’s my house. She gets more of a bed than I do. She hogs the bed, she hogs the blanket. If I eat, she eats. Sometimes she eats when I don’t eat... Nala is the only one that knows, no matter what, I’m gonna be fed, I’m gonna have a place to sleep, I’m gonna be protected, and this is my house. And she thinks all three tents are hers. If the doors are open she goes in and sits down."
Georgie became homeless in September 2014 as a result of domestic violence. She has a history of struggling with addiction, but has been clean since the day she met Haile almost a year ago when she quit cold turkey. She'd done the same before - "December 8, 2008 I said I was done and I walked away for six years. So I knew that it was possible to do it again." Her list of mental and physical issues is a daunting one, but Nala has been a huge help - "She is my service dog as emotional support because I have mental health issues...she brings me down and makes me more level-headed... She does respond if I have a seizure and go to the floor she comes over and licks my face and nudges me. Which, that’s fine for me, I don’t need a warning before I have it because I get auras, and I try to fight it, and I try to actually control my seizures and fight them when I feel them coming on and I’ll warn my boyfriend so he knows. And immediately she responds, you know she sees something’s wrong with mommy. And that’s more what I need is that if I go into a seizure and I’m alone and I have her with me, at least when I come out I’m comforted because something familiar is there."
The health problems that Georgie faces mean that she's in and out of the hospital a lot. She was able to get a letter from her neurologist stating that Nala is her emotional support animal, which has helped her be able to keep Nala with her when she goes to see the doctor. Even with that, there are some situations where Nala has not been allowed. Recently she had to be seen for an abscess on her thigh in the emergency room, where she was told that they could not treat her with Nala by her side. Luckily she was able to call Haile to come get Nala, but had she been alone she would not have had many options in this situation. She recognizes that it may have been a safety concern, however: "It hurt like hell when they were injecting me, they were trying to numb it, and I actually yelled out. And I thought that might be one of the reasons why, is because maybe they were scared that if I yelled out in pain that she’d attack."
Originally from Michigan, Georgie to Seattle with Haile in July 2015 by way of New Orleans. They share a tent tucked away in the greenspace near Peter's Place and often frequent the day shelter for food and supplies, showers (for both themselves and Nala), recharging electronics, and to help socialize Nala to other people and dogs. She is working on getting her SSI and on finding a permanent home for the three of them. She paints and makes jewelry, preferring to give people something in exchange for money. Ideally she would like to obtain a vendor's license so that she had better options for selling her work.
One message she wants people to know about her experience with homelessness is for those who are housing-secure to remember that homeless people are still human: "I’ve noticed that a lot of them, they’ll look at you and then they’ll look away and it’s almost like they’re ashamed. My thing is, 'You think you’re ashamed? Look at me. I’m the one that’s out here.' I try to be clean, I try to be respectful. I’d say good morning to people. We were there at Christmas time and decorated our tent and put a Christmas tree out and a sign that said Merry Christmas. Because I wanted to give the message that even though I’m houseless I don’t consider myself homeless, I’m houseless. Even though I’m houseless I can still celebrate, I can still give joy to other people. And sometimes all it takes it a hello or a smile."
And when it comes to dogs, her message is this: "Me with my animal out here is no different than them with their animal in a house. I make sure the she has everything she needs. And when I go out with her I take a blanket with me and I take a bowl with me, I take food with me, a water bowl and a jug of water, and a toy. And I lay her down on the blanket with her toy and her water and I make sure that she has what she needs, which is more than a lot of people do when they have a house."
Before we part ways, Georgie tells me, "A dog is different. A dog loves you unconditionally... I could stink, my breath could stink, and she’s still gonna give me kisses and she’s still gonna love me. She doesn’t care if I took a shower and washed my hair. That is just amazing to me."