For Hillary Barrows, her two dogs are her family – even when staying together meant sleeping in her car for months. The 57-year-old teacher found herself in a tough situation last summer when she realized she couldn’t afford to stay in her apartment in France. She packed up her two rescue dogs, Robbie and Cleo, and set out looking for work teaching English, driving from France to Denmark and spending most nights in the car.
But when job after job fell through, she and her pups began the journey back to the U.K., where Barrows is originally from. On her way home, Barrows stayed in Salvation Army shelters, and was forced to leave Robbie and Cleo in the car.
“I cannot tell you the humiliation I felt staying here. Despite the warmth and food, these places made me feel worse about myself,” Barrows told The Dodo. “I was trading my dignity and independence for a bed and food.”
Barrows sold some family jewelry to get her dogs the vaccinations they needed to enter the U.K., but once she was back home she faced even more challenges.
She was offered emergency housing on the condition that she give up Robbie and Cleo. “I refused to give them up for rehoming,” Barrows said. “I was just about at the end of my rope. Only my dogs kept me going.”
Still living in her car, and unable to find work because she had no permanent address, Barrows missed meals so that Robbie and Cleo could eat. “I had to ask a lady for a £1 when I was in the parking lot to feed my dogs,” she said. “I felt absolutely like a loser. I could not let my dogs go hungry.”
Things only began to turn around for Barrows and her pups when she agreed to share her story – an article about her in a local newspaper shed light on the terrible cycle in which she’d been trapped, and support slowly began to trickle in from all over the world.
“I also decided that I could help others with my story,” Barrows said. “Many homeless people have pets and these pets are their lifeline. My dogs are the only thing that kept me from suicide. I could never abandon them.”
Barrows said that the messages of kindness from around the world have been overwhelming. She set up a fundraising page to help her raise money for rent, and posted a happy update earlier this week that a dog trainer who runs a shelter offered her a temporary place to stay.
With some support from fellow dog lovers, Barrows is finally getting on her feet again. But all she really wants is to be able to give Robbie and Cleo a real home.
“I promised to love and protect my babies until the day they pass on,” she wrote on her fundraising page. “They need me and I need them.”