(TOUCHING TALES/PETS) OKLAHOMA — Tulsa is home to an amazing set of animal heroes: two Animal Welfare control officers who have made it their mission to help homeless animals.

Tulsa is a bustling city in Oklahoma, which also inevitably makes its pavement home for many residents who have lost their homes for various reasons. What fascinated Jeff Brown and his friend Pete Theriot was the astonishing number of animals kept as pets by homeless residents. Upon further observation, they found that their guardians “take better care of their pets than the average person.”

Read more about the efforts of these two local heroes in the full article below. — Global Animal

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A homeless man bundles up his dog, Spiff, during cold winter months. Photo Credit: AP/Ryan Remiorz

Tulsa World, Kassie McClung

Wearing a backpack that holds everything she owns and with a pit bull terrier resting to her left, Carri Thompson sits on the plaza between the Tulsa County Courthouse and the Central Library.

People pass by and exchange glances, and some even stop to feed her dog, Pancho.

“People don’t understand why you’re homeless with a dog,” Thompson said. “They think since we can’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of our animals.”

Thompson, who sleeps in a tent on the edge of downtown, says she takes better care of Pancho than she does herself. He’s not only a pet; he’s her family, protection and link to society.

If she had to skip meals to feed him, she would, but she hasn’t had to yet.

In March, two Tulsa Animal Welfare control officers made it their duty to help care for the homeless and their most prized possessions, their animals.

In 2000, a white Tulsa Animal Welfare truck could be seen driving through downtown with Jeff Brown behind the wheel. Brown, an animal control officer, was looking for strays and animal welfare code violations and investigating nuisance complaints.

During his daily rounds he began to see something else: homeless people standing around with dogs.

“My first thought was: How are they feeding their dogs?” Brown said.

He started to watch more closely.

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In Portland, Oregon this winter, record lows put homeless people and their pets at huge risk. Photo Credit: thepongofund.org

A homeless man left his dog outside a gas station and came back out with a sandwich. He tore it apart and gave half of it to his pet.

Another man kept his dog tied up outside a McDonald’s while he panhandled nearby. When he had enough money, he went inside the restaurant and came back out with two hamburgers. He gave one to his dog and ate the other.

Brown hatched the idea to help homeless people feed their animals healthier food.

“We got food at the shelter every once in a while donated to us,” he said. “So I took some of that food and threw it in the truck, and every time I’d see one of those guys standing around with a dog, I’d ask if they were homeless, and I’d be like, ‘You want some dog food?’ and I’d hand them some dog food and go on.”

Brown began to build close connections with the homeless community and frequently visited Tent City, a once large homeless community near downtown on the edge of the Arkansas River.

“But then Tulsa County came in because a lot of the land owners, they didn’t want the homeless people there,” Brown said. “They ran them off. When they ran them off, I lost my connections with them, and I ended up getting different supervisors at work.”

With the connections lost, Brown’s program quickly died off.

But in March this year, Brown’s supervisor, Susan Stoker, approached him with donated pet food that didn’t have a destination.

“My supervisor brought in a lot of donated dog food she picked up, and she asked me, ‘What do we do with all this dog food?’ ” Brown said.” And I said, ‘I know exactly what we can do with it. A few years ago I was out feeding the homeless people with their animals.’ ”

With pet food donated from the community, he teamed up with fellow Animal Control Officer Pete Theriot, and together they began to rebuild the connections Brown had lost.

The homeless community isn’t easy to get connected with. One look at Brown’s badge and they tend to shy away, but once the community realized the officers were there to help, relationships began to form.

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This emotional photograph of a homeless man and his beloved companion in Toronto was runner-up in the Feature category at Sun Media’s 2007 Dunlop Awards. Photo Credit: Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun

Now, Brown and Theriot start their workdays an hour early on Wednesdays.

They load their Animal Welfare trucks up with 5-pound bags of pet food and begin the 15-minute drive to downtown by 8 a.m.

They first stop at Iron Gate — a soup kitchen that gives meals to homeless people daily — where people wait for them to arrive.

“People really do depend on us for pet food,” Theriot said as he pulled a bag out of his truck.

The officers hit the campsites in Tent City.

It’s not the large community it used to be; only a handful of people stay there now. Tall grass and a short hike from a grassy road make the campsites difficult to find.

Christianna Lopez, who has been staying at her campsite for five years, took a bag from Theriot’s hands.

“I’m so grateful for you guys,” she said. “You guys help us so much.”

Lopez shares her campsite with four other people and has four dogs.

When Theriot and Brown began the program, they were concerned that the pets weren’t being cared for properly. But after taking a closer look, Brown says homeless people take better care of their pets than the average person does.

According to the most recent survey by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1,008 homeless people live in Tulsa. Brown said many of them have pets, but the exact number is unknown.

“The best way to describe it is: These homeless people have lost something,” he said. “And you really don’t know what all they’ve lost.

“Their pet is their best friend. They’ll never lie to them, never cheat on them, never steal from them.”

More Tulsa World: http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/downtown/tulsa-animal-control-officers-help-homeless-people-and-their-pets/article_efe2d639-6a55-559f-94ec-498e5b46beab.html