For many picking up dog food from the store is an afterthought, an errand to check off on the list, but for many homeless pet owners on the street getting their pet fed is their top priority.
Sparking her initial interest in human-animal relations was at the age of 7-years-old Irvine had her first memorable moment with animals.
“In the petting zoo there was a baby elephant,” Irvine said. “My father took me there to this mall and he let me spend an inordinate amount of time with this elephant. I can remember his eyelashes and I can remember his skin and I just really felt a connection with this elephant. My heart broke for him. At the time I didn’t understand the whole story of how he would’ve gotten there and what would’ve happened to him, but I did know he was chained by one leg.”
This heartbreak fueled her passion to learn about animals and their relationships with humans. Later in life, Irvine was inspired once again to do the research and write a book after seeing firsthand the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina and working with homeless pet owners nationwide. Before publishing this book, she assumed the homeless couldn’t properly care for a pet because she shared the ideology many people still believe today – having a house is necessary to give a dog or cat a good life.
After traveling to five cities and interviewing over 75 homeless people with pets for her book though, she learned that many owners actually had adequate food and water for their pets. Many times the pet came first, before the needs of the owner.
In Irvine’s book she mentioned an interaction she had with a homeless man where he told her he didn’t need any help for his dog because he was being taken care of. He pointed to his belongings, revealing one bag of dog food and another with a water jug. With the dog’s needs already met, the man begged for change from those passing by to feed himself.
While Irvine said she doesn’t believe an animal’s love solves all materialistic issues on the street, she does think it builds a moral identity and a positive sense of self-worth. Irvine found pets to be the reason some homeless people avoided committing suicide.
Irvine also talked with students about the impact natural disasters have on animals.
With around 60 percent of households having multiple pets, Irvine said for nearly every 1,000 homes affected by a natural disaster, 1,500 pets are also affected.
During her research after Katrina hit, she saw dogs suffer from displacement and people scramble to find crates and kennels to transport their pets. Irvine said she witnessed pop-up shelters stacking animals on top of one another because so many animals lost their homes.
Not only were animals displaced from their homes after the hurricane, but tens of thousands of pigs on farms died in the floods. Irvine also said flooding caused an outbreak of diseases to people’s livestock. As a result of this devastating loss, she said many farmers committed suicide.
Looking to further her research on human relations with animals, Irvine said she wants to write her next book on how animals are connected to broader social problems.
Throughout her visit to TCU Irvine urged students to take interest in learning more about human-animal relationships. “You have this fabulous minor that [students] could get involved in or even just talk to some of the wonderful faculty members on if they want to do research,” said Irvine.
“You have this fabulous minor that [students] could get involved in or even just talk to some of the wonderful faculty members on if they want to do research,” said Irvine.
More importantly, though, Irvine said the biggest takeaway from her research is the relationships between humanity as a whole.
“You see us as all connected, that what happens to one person it can happen to us all, what happens to an animal can happen to a human,” Irvine said. “If you see us as connected, then it becomes important to pay attention to the little things.”