With young Bambi in her arms — a small, tan Chihuahua without a tail — Sharon Jackson petted her "little friend" affectionately as they stood in line Saturday across from the Fresno Rescue Mission.
The 60-year-old woman — who was laid off about a year ago from her job in Oklahoma on an assembly line that made shopping carts — waited patiently with about 20 others for food — but not for herself.
Jackson had come to get dog food and Bambi's nails clipped, courtesy of Westside Rescue volunteers who come to downtown Fresno every other week to help homeless people's pets.
When asked what Bambi means to her, tears filled Jackson's eyes.
"A lot," Jackson said. "She's a good companion."
Westside Rescue, founded in 2010, gives away free dog and cat food, vaccinations, collars and leashes, and medicine to combat animal diseases and fleas. The group also has spayed or neutered close to 400 pets, said its founder, Janie Partain.
Westside Rescue's work was a relief for some people still reeling from news of the stomping/beating death of Snoopy, a dog killed Monday in a parking lot near the Mosqueda Community Center in southeast Fresno.
Fresno police said four teenage boys reportedly surrounded a 45-year-old homeless man, punching him several times before turning their attack on his small dog that was tucked into his backpack.
Snoopy's death hit home for some homeless near the Fresno Rescue Mission.
Troy Stevens, 51, who has been on the streets since he was 13, said he wasn't surprised by the attack.
Young gang members periodically get on a "kick" to pick on the homeless — doing things like throwing bottles and shooting paint guns, Stevens said as he walked his dog, Bud.
"They just wanted to hurt the dude," he said. "There's no better way to hurt someone out here than to kill his dog."
Stevens added that his "chiwinnie" — half Chihuahua, half wiener dog — is "my kid … I treat Bud better than I treat me."
Pets are vital to those who have next to nothing, said the Rev. Larry Arce at the Fresno Rescue Mission.
"They beat an innocent man, then they stomp a defenseless animal to death? That's the sickness of our society," Arce said. He said he hears about violent incidents too often, such as homeless women downtown periodically being dragged away and raped. "It's the strong preying on the weak."
But on Saturday, Westside Rescue volunteers shined a light on a different side of humanity as they helped homeless people and their four-legged friends.
Partain started bringing dog food downtown seven years ago with her husband, Steve, after a church trip to the neighborhood. She said homeless people often adopt abandoned animals, and added she never has seen a homeless person come to her with a skinny pet.
"Our opinion is, regardless of whether or not they should (have pets), they do," she said. "So they need help, and the animals need that help."
Partain added that losing her home to a fire a year and a half ago opened her eyes.
"We lived in our trailer the first 18 months … and I'm thinking, 'How easy would it be to be homeless?' " she said. "If you don't have insurance, if I didn't have family, if I didn't have a trailer, where would I be? I might be here, I don't know … None of us lives perfect lives and we all make mistakes and we've all made bad choices ... If I can help somebody or touch even one person, then it's got to be worth it in some way."
How to help
Donations can be mailed to Westside Rescue at 5755 W. Barstow Ave., Suite 103, Fresno CA 93722, or email the nonprofit at email@example.com