Photos, data illustrate bond between animals and homeless owners in traveling exhibit
In a pop-up gallery traveling around Seattle this week, a series of four photographs by Grace Stroklund looks like it came from an Instagram vacation. The photos feature a pointy-eared black dog on a trail, posing for the camera in a hammock with a lakeside backdrop, and snuggling with the photographer in that same hammock.
Stroklund is housed now. But she used to use the hammock featured in her photos on nights she had to sleep outside.
The photos are part of the exhibit "Shifting the Focus: Stories of Homelessness with Our Animals." The exhibit is one result of a long-running project from the University of Washington's Center for One Health Research looking into the intersection of health, homelessness and animal ownership.
Over the past year, the Center for One Health in conjunction with Washington State University has been operating free veterinary clinics for homeless youth and young adults. In addition to serving the animals, the clinics offer a starting point for other services for the human owner such as health care.
"It opens that door to services if you highlight that animal component since it's such an important part of their lives," said Vickie Ramirez, senior research and program coordinator.
The clinics are one aspect of the research looking into the relationship those experiencing homelessness have with their animals. The researchers also are collecting data and conducting interviews.
The pop-up galleries are one way of presenting the information they've gathered so far. They feature photos taken by people who have lived on the streets, firsthand accounts of living with their animals, along with data and legal information about pet and service animal ownership.
Ramirez and her colleague, Gemina Garland-Lewis, say the idea that homeless individuals are not able to care for their pets is overly simplistic.
"People are prioritizing their animal's care ahead of their own time and again," Garland-Lewis said.
That theme emerges clearly when reading the photographers' narratives featured in the exhibit. Participants describe choosing to spend the night outside when shelters say they can't bring a dog or cat. They also describe the ways having an animal has helped their mental health.
"The amount of care and effort it takes to have a being like that in your life makes you have to care about yourself," Stroklund writes about her dog, Nugget. "I don't think we would have been pushing ourselves to get into an actual housed place before we got Nugget."
Garland-Lewis is a photographer who already has been working with this population. She says handing the camera over to the participants is a logical step in this research.
She points to Stroklund's photos and the disconnect between seeing the relaxing images by the lake and knowing the the hammock was a survival tool.
"That's what's so important about having people tell their own stories," Garland-Lewis said. "It makes you confront whatever narratives you have in your own head."
The second of four pop-up galleries is from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday at Occidental Square in Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood. The other two are Thursday at Cal Anderson Park and Sunday at Ballard Commons.
Ramirez says more formal papers stemming from the team's research are forthcoming.