Best friends from the start: John and Walter
August 3, 2022John and Walter live together in a Pallet shelter village in Los Angeles. They're best friends, and have a great amount of love for each other.
John gently holds on to Walter’s leash in front of his temporary shelter. Outside the red front door, there are a few wooden chairs for relaxing and a well-worn welcome mat.
Walter, ever so obedient and calm, pants in excitement under the Los Angeles sun. His kind eyes look up at John to pay attention to every movement.
They’re best friends. But John had a long journey before Walter came into his life.
In the early 90s, John moved from Germany to the United States. He was a teenager, tagging along for a life-changing move with his siblings and newly-married parents. As the years passed and John grew older, he ended up in Los Angeles in 2005. His brother had fallen ill and was left alone after a breakup.
Years later, after eventually marrying and having an apartment to call home, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. John’s husband lost his job. “On my social security income alone, we couldn’t afford an apartment,” John said.
By the time the housing assistance program got back to them, they were both already living on the street, under bridges, and on hot sidewalks.
They were told about congregate, also known as “mass,” shelter. But John didn’t feel that was the right path. “I was given those options, but because of the person I am, I wasn’t quite happy,” he said.
Many people reject mass shelter because of privacy and safety concerns. Most mass shelters also require people to leave in the morning – putting people in an endless cycle of homelessness, always waiting in line for a bed that’s not guaranteed.
John eventually connected with an employee from Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, who runs the Chandler Blvd. Village site. He initially felt embarrassed about even reaching out for help.
Thankfully, there was a shelter available. John moved into his temporary Pallet shelter in October 2021.
“I do like the privacy it gives you,” John said. “I like the fact that I can close the door and just forget about [everything] – just watch TV and be happy… It affords you a little bit of dignity that you don’t have in a congregate [space].”
A few weeks later, Walter came into his life.
“I went to the [animal] shelter looking for love, and someone who needed love,” John said. “I knew there was somebody. I had this feeling.”
An animal shelter volunteer suggested John visit with a long-haired, black dog – a corgi mix. They meet in the dog run area – where they first ignored each other. Then they sat there, staring at each other.
“He didn’t know what to make of me, I didn’t know what to make of him. We were both in a place where we needed somebody,” he said. “We actually fell in love.”
According to John, before Walter came to the shelter, he was abused. He was chained up, hit by people, and poorly fed. Other dogs attacked him.
When John took him back to the Pallet shelter village, Walter’s personality blossomed. Although he doesn’t know many traditional dog tricks, he shows his trust in John in different ways. When John drops something, Walter picks it up for him, knowing John has back pain.
When John and Walter interact, their love for each other is palpable. He knows the importance of having a pet by your side. “Most homeless people I’ve met in my time, if they have an animal, it gives them clarity and focus. It gives them something to live for. They aren’t good at taking care of themselves, but they’d die for their animal,” he said.
A few months have passed since John moved into Chandler Blvd. Village. As of summer 2022, John’s husband now has a stable job, and has moved into his own housing.
As John waits for a permanent place to call home, Walter is right by his side. John is thankful for Walter during this challenging time.
“[Walter and I have] both been hurt. We both want love. We deserve the dignity of any human being and any animal deserves. If God has the patience for us, why do humans don’t?”
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