For want of shelter, her dogs were lost

Three dogs have a roof over their head after being picked up by city bylaw officials in late October. But their homeless owner is still out in the cold.

Three dogs have a roof over their head after being picked up by city bylaw officials in late October.

But their homeless owner is still out in the cold.

Kari Knopp has been living on the street for almost a year with two small blond dogs and one bigger black one.

Often, the 21-year-old sat in Tim Hortons, her dogs tied up outside. Or she found a spot on Main Street with her furry companions curled around her.

Visibly homeless, community members started to show concern – for the dogs.

City bylaw manager David Pruden has been fielding calls since spring from citizens who were worried Knopp’s dogs weren’t getting proper shelter or food.

Some people also said they were being aggressive and one caller complained the animals were too noisy.

“We got complaints through the summer,” said Pruden.

“But whenever we saw the dogs she was always in close proximity and would tell us she was leaving town, or going to go stay outside Whitehorse.

“Appreciating the situation, we gave her the benefit of the doubt.”

But come October, as the temperature started to drop, concerned citizens continued to call bylaw.

“Our phones were ringing off the hook with people, sadly, more concerned about the dogs than her,” said Pruden.

In late October, bylaw learned Knopp’s dogs were tied up in Shipyards Park.

Pruden impounded the animals.

“Dogs can’t be tied up somewhere and left,” he said.

“Under the animal control bylaw those dogs are considered at large.”

They didn’t have shelter, food or water with them, he said.

But they looked healthy.

The city rates animals on a scale of one to nine, with nine being too fat to walk and one being hip bones protruding through the skin.

“Her dogs were right in the middle,” said Pruden.

“There was nothing that made me say, ‘Wow, they’re in bad health.’”

Still, at minus 10, they need shelter, he said.

Knopp also needs shelter, but that is not our mandate, said Pruden.

“The bylaw department’s mandate is to look after animals.”

Worried Knopp would come in, pay the fine, get her animals and then put them right back in the same situation, bylaw got a court order requiring Knopp to provide proper shelter, food and water for her dogs before they would be returned to her.

We served her papers outside Tim Hortons, said Pruden.

Knopp “has some issues, whether or not they’re mental health issues, I don’t know,” said Pruden.

“But I know she’s dealing with social services.”

Someone helped Knopp file an application to overturn the court order.

But the day she was to appear in court, Knopp didn’t show up.

After seven days, the dogs became the property of bylaw services.

The dogs won’t be killed, said Pruden.

“It doesn’t make any sense to take them away because you’re worried about their well-being and then euthanize them.”

The dogs will be adopted out, he said.

But Pruden is worried about Knopp.

There’s the human side, he said.

“I really feel for this person, and not knowing what her mental health issues may or may not be ….

“And she’s homeless, as a person, that bothers me.”

Pruden sometimes brought this up when people called in about Knopp’s dogs.

“I’d say, ‘What about her?’” he said.

“And they’d say, ‘I don’t care about her, it’s the dogs.’

“But this is a human being.”

It’s a reflection on our community, said Anti-Poverty Coalition co-chair Bill Thomas.

“There’s a strong and legitimate concern about the safety and security of these animals but there is less concern, or almost indifference to her.”

It’s not the kind of community Thomas wants to live in.

There’s this attitude of blaming the victim, he said.

“This idea we’re responsible for ourself and our safety, which is an important and legitimate responsibility.

“But it ignores the community’s responsibility to our brothers and sisters.”

There is a lack of services across the country for people who are homeless and experiencing mental health issues,” said Mental Health Commission of Canada special adviser Howard Chodos.

Two-thirds of adults struggling with mental health issues never receive care, he said.

“Often people don’t seek care because they’re afraid of the stigma attached to mental illness.”

And families or friends can’t force those struggling with mental health issues to get help.

“There is nothing you can do unless the person is a risk to themselves or others,” said Yukon Health spokesperson Pat Living.

“As a government, we can’t just step in.”

There isn’t much the RCMP can do either, said Sgt. Don Rogers.

“It’s out of our area until they are a danger to themselves or others.”

It’s not uncommon for the homeless to keep dogs as companions, he added.

“It’s an issue bylaw dealt with.

“But it’s a sad situation.”

Animals provide comfort not just emotionally, but physically, said Joan Edwards-Karmazyn, executive director of the National Network of Mental Health.

The term three-dog night comes from homeless in San Francisco who used dogs to keep them warm, she said.

“We have to stop stigmatizing mental health,” said Edwards-Karmazyn, who works for an organization made up of people with varying mental health issues.

Homelessness is the end result of systems and communities that have failed people, she said.

“We have to stop stigmatizing and discriminating against people with mental health issues and find it in our hearts and our community to reach out to them.”

Knopp has family in Whitehorse who did not want to comment for this story.

Knopp herself could not be found by press time.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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