If you find yourself walking around Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City on a Sunday afternoon, you may come across a group of people handing out free supplies for pets and their owners. A nonprofit called Street Dawg Crew of Utah serves pets and pet owners in the homeless community as well as other vulnerable populations such as low-income veterans, domestic violence survivors, and seniors. Founded in 2017 by Margie Varela, Street Dawg Crew operates solely on donations and volunteered time.
Seeing a Need
“Where I work, we have glass doors, and I would see people on the street corners with their pets,” she says. “I would watch these people give their last bite of whatever they had to eat to their pets. I started buying dog food, and I would put it in little baggies and start handing them out on my lunch break or when I got off work. When people would walk past my work, I would hand them bottles of water.”
After a while, Varela switched to doing pop-ups with some friends. It was at the pop-up that she met a man who would come out to the Prospect Park area once a month and deliver burritos. That’s when inspiration hit.
“I noticed that so many people had dogs, and that’s where I got the idea of starting a pet outreach. So, we started hustling on Facebook asking for donations, and that’s how Street Dawg Crew started,” she explains.
“Pets Are Their Family”
Since starting four years ago, Street Dawg Crew has grown exponentially, forming partnerships with Mark Miller Subaru, Walmart, Cargill, Schmidt, and Bjorn’s Brew. In that short amount of time, the nonprofit has been able to accomplish a lot. Just take a look at their numbers from 2020:
- 42,000 pounds of pet food distributed
- 3,600 pets received food and medical treatment
- $6,000 in emergency vet services provided
- 320 free vaccinations and spays/neuters provided
“Animals are my passion. They don’t have a voice, and they don’t choose their circumstances, but some of these people don’t choose to be homeless either,” says Varela. “For some of these people, their pets are their family, and that’s all they have. People get rid of their pets because they can’t take care of them, and they can’t afford the food or the litter. Our goal is to teach people about being a good animal owner.”
Varela also tries to go out and drop off donations to extended hotels whenever possible.
“People also come to my house. I have bags of food ready to go, and I send off a screenshot and they’ll come and pick it up.” She says. “Or they’ll stop by my work and grab what they need.”
Every other Sunday, Street Dawg Crew will meet up at Freedom Landing, a low-income housing community for veterans. After visiting Freedom Landing, Street Dawg Crew heads to Pioneer Park in downtown Salt Lake City. At both locations, the crew hands out bags of pet food, toys, treats, leashes, collars, harnesses, pet coats, collapsible bowls, and litter.
They also offer what they call “human outreach.”
“When we first started showing up, people were coming over asking if there was something to eat, and all we had was pet food. So, we started offering bottled water and a few things to eat that people were able to carry,” board member Trachelle Hilton-King explains. “During the winter, we also try to bring socks, hats, coats, and gloves.”
Hilton-King explains that before COVID-19, they used to do pet outreach every Sunday, but they switched to every other Sunday to try and limit exposure.
“Covid has been a real doozy because we’re trying to keep all of us volunteers safe, along with our clients,” she says. “A lot of them don’t have access to protective equipment, so that’s been a real challenge.”
According to board member James Hunter, since the pandemic started, the clients Street Dawg Crew serves have gone down about 50 percent. “With the Road Home shelter closing and people spreading to other shelters around the city, people are a lot more scattered than they used to be,” Hunter explains. “We’re still helping as many pets, but not as many come to the outreach to get their food. They’ll stop by our other drop-off locations. We have two in Tooele, two in Salt Lake City, and one in Syracuse.”
Vice president Secret Perkins has been with Street Dawg Crew since the beginning. “I’ve been very fortunate in my life, and there are a lot people that aren’t as fortunate as I have been, so I’m glad I can get out and help,” she says. “A lot of these people take better care of their animals than they do themselves, and I love being able to help and support their animals.”
Perkins and the rest of the Street Dawg Crew volunteers also go out to Magna and Tooele once a month to do outreach. “We help low-income people out there. They are all housed, so we’re able to deliver and hand out bigger bags of pet food and litter. Here at the park, we give people smaller amounts so they’re able to carry it with them,” says Perkins.
Street Dawg Crew holds a yearly free vaccination event at Freedom Landing and Pioneer Park. This year, their free vaccination event took place on August 29. They also offer spay and neuter vouchers whenever possible.
“We have a saying: ‘Together, we can feed them all,’” says Varela. “We just want people to know that we are here to help no matter what and that there’s no judgment. We’re here for them, and they don’t need to go without.”
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