Advocates help homeless people, pets stay cool during heat waves

People affected by homelessness have limited access to cool spaces and drinking water, putting them and their pets at increased risk of heatstroke.

SEATTLE — With temperatures in the 90s, advocates are working to ensure the homeless and their pets are protected from the heat.

Hanna Ekstrom is a veterinarian who founded Seattle Veterinary Outreach in 2019.

“I was driving around in my truck and saw someone with their dog trying to collect some money for food. And I thought I can do that, I can help with that,” Ekstrom said.

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Seattle Veterinary Outreach is an organization that provides free, low-cost veterinary care for pets owned by homeless and low-income families.

“I don’t think there’s a problem with people who are homeless and have pets,” Ekstrom said. “I don’t see any increased problems with pets living outdoors. The only thing I see is that they are so attached to their owners. It’s almost umbilical, like I can’t pull her away for even a minute for a blood draw because it’s so closely bonded to her owner. It’s really heartwarming and inspiring.”

The organization runs two clinics a week, treating as many animals as possible.

The clinics also have nurses, social workers and outreach coordinators who also provide services to people affected by homelessness.

“By deploying everything together, we can build trust across all of our organizations,” said Ekstrom. “So maybe they’ll transfer that trust to the Recovery Café, which offers nutritious foods and a sense of community, or to other organizations like Molina Healthcare, United Healthcare, which offer Medicaid.”

Ekstrom said people affected by homelessness don’t have access to cool spaces or sometimes even clean water. This puts them and their pets at increased risk for heatstroke and dehydration, she said.

Another risk factor is that many homeless people live in their cars.

“If it’s too warm, your dog can get heat stroke,” Ekstrom said. “And it can happen just as quickly. If your dog is in a car, it can happen in as little as 10 minutes. If it’s 85 degrees outside, it’ll be 102 (degrees) in 10 minutes.”

Some warning signs to look out for when it’s hot are wheezing, drooling, vomiting, dizziness and red gums.

Heat stroke can lead to seizures and death.

“When you see them start doing these things, you have to get them out of the heat,” Ekstrom said. “You don’t want to pour cold water all over your body, it really doesn’t help. You must water their paws.”

If symptoms don’t improve, Ekstrom said to take him to an emergency veterinary clinic.

Seattle Veterinary Outreach has a list of clinic locations and times on the organization’s calendar on their website. Advocates help homeless people, pets stay cool during heat waves

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