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Culture
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Photo Essays

Dogs of the Downtown Eastside

For residents living with poverty, illness and isolation — dogs play a vital role, providing unconditional love for their humans.

By Kayla Isomura 30 Jul 2019 | Megaphone Magazine

Kayla Isomura is a photographer based in Vancouver, Canada on unceded Coast Salish territory. With a background in journalism, her interest in storytelling through multimedia has been heavily influenced from her Asian Canadian roots. Her work currently explores themes of intergenerational trauma and racialized identity.

Owner: Jeremy
Dog: J.J. (short for Jeremy Jr.)
Breed: Puggle (pug and beagle), male, 10 years old.
Personality: Adventurer, saver, rehabilitator.
Tell us about your pup: “He’s helped aggressive dogs return to their playful state. Right now, we have a 12-0 record. I got him on a whim when I was going to get a dog from Metrotown. He’s everything to me, my world. He’s my version of a kid. If anything were to ever happen to him or if he was taken, there would be a photo of him on every light pole from here to Toronto.”

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Owner: Brent
Dog: Sally
Breed: Golden retriever, female, five-and-a-half years old.
Personality: Great, calm.
Tell us about your pup: “Sally is a service dog. She helps me with my epilepsy and anxiety, and keeps me in the shade from getting early sun stroke. Well, she does the shade part on her own because of all of her fur.”

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Owner: Rick
Dog: Axle
Breed: Black Labrador-Labrador retriever, male, 11 years old.
Personality: Calm, happy.
Tell us about your pup: “He’s a service dog. He goes everywhere with me. I’d be lost without him.”

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Owner: Brooke
Dogs: Timber (left) and Rosie
Breeds: Timber is Chihuahua-Pomeranian, male, four months old. Rosie is mostly Chihuahua, female, 16 years old.
Personalities: Very yappy (Timber), friendly (Rosie).
Tell us about your pups: “They’re the best. They’re very good dogs, they listen very well. They come when called, which is all I could ever ask for. Rosie was in the Yukon in a kennel for four years with no contact with people or dogs. She was brought to Vancouver and I adopted her. She was scared of everything. They’re my life. I don’t know how else to say it, but they’re my happiness, my sunshine.”

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Owner: Melanie
Dog: Charlie
Breed: Chihuahua, male, eight months old.
Personality: Gentleman.
Tell us about your pup: “Charlie is a real pleaser. He wants to make me happy. My husband and I found him on Facebook. His owners were getting renovicted so they were getting rid of him and his parents, and we got him. He means the world to me. He’s just our little baby, our little boy.”

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Owner: Danny
Dog: Rico
Breed: Unknown, male, two years old.
Personality: Laid back.
Tell us about your pup: “He’s a really good dog. He listens, but he doesn’t know any tricks. He is my friend’s dog. They needed someone to watch him when they went to Haida Gwaii. He means responsibility to me.”

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Owner: Jamey
Dogs: Jaada, meaning “daughter” in Haida (left) and Cranki
Breeds: Both are border collie-pit bull-boxer-Shar Pei mixes Jaada is female, five years old. Cranki is male, nine years old.
Personalities: Protective.
Tell us about your pups: “They guard me. They saved my life two or three times. They kept me from serious harm. They are more than children. I have children, but my lifestyle keeps us apart. I do miss that, but I feel like children pass through life, but the dogs are your life. I’m with them 24/7, 365. I came and went from my hometown, and realized walking around alone doesn’t give people the benefit of getting to know you, but the dogs worked. They’re human magnets.”

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Owners: Karsna (left) and Lisa Marie
Dog: Tank Girl
Breed: Maltese, female, three years old.
Personality: Energetic, picky, brave.
Tell us about your pup: “My mom breeds dogs, so [Tank Girl] still has her great-grandmother, who is more relaxed because she’s old. [Tank Girl] needs to be walked more, so my mom gave her to us. She likes it,” says Lisa Marie. Karsna says: “She’s brave. She suffers from small dog syndrome, but she means everything to us. We both have PTSD so she helps out a lot with that.” Adds Lisa Marie: “She’s our baby because we can’t have babies.”

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Owner: Stan
Dog: Taz, a.k.a. Sugar Bear
Breed: Shih Tzu, male, 14 years old.
Personality: Quiet (doesn’t bark), pretty happy.
Tell us about your pup: “Everyone knows Taz. When I panhandle in Gastown, he’s known as Sugar Bear. I got him as a rescue when he was five. He means the world to me. I’ve got no family left, so he’s everything.”

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Owner: Lee
Dogs: Bella Ding Dong (right) and Aayin Wolf Dog Yahoo
Breeds: Bella is German short-haired pointer-German Rottweiler-pit bull-great Dane mix, female, seven years old. Aayin is wolf-dog mix, male, three years old.
Personalities: Laid back (unless threatened).
Tell us about your pups: “They’re opposite dogs. Bella is friendly, but Aayin is not a petting dog. Bella is a rescue dog, but Aayin was like my old dog who passed away. You know when you get used to one kind of dog? They’re my family.”


This story originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Megaphone, a magazine sold on the streets of Vancouver and Victoria by homeless and low-income vendors. Vendors buy the magazine for 75 cents and sell it for two dollars, keeping the profit and earning a sense of pride and dignity. Buy a copy today from your local vendor.  [Tyee]

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