Homelessness Can’t Break the Bond Between This Man and His Dog

Bernard Holland and his beloved Oreo get needed shelter -- and the kindness of strangers -- in Indianapolis.

Jeff Goldberg  |  Jan 22nd 2015


The love that many dog owners show for their pets is absolute. It is unconditional. There is virtually nothing we would not do to ensure their safety.

Love for a fellow man, for a total stranger, is often, sadly, in shorter supply. But in Indianapolis, there is apparently plenty of love and care to go around for at least one man and his dog.

Bernard Holland has endured periods of homelessness, a promising life derailed by injuries sustained in a 1992 shooting that he has struggled to overcome ever since. But his circumstances, transitioning between shelters and temporary housing, has not prevented him from caring for his two-year-old mixed breed named Oreo.

As the Indianapolis Star explained this week, Holland, 53, and Oreo arrived in Indy from Battle Creek, Michigan, around Thanksgiving, with Holland staying with family. But Oreo was not welcome, and soon Holland was back on the street, taking shelter in a tent in an area of the city frequented by the homeless, known as the Jungle.

It was there that the fortunes of Holland and Oreo changed in a remarkable and uplifting way. With temperatures hovering around zero earlier this month, Horizon House outreach worker Melissa Burgess discovered Holland in the Jungle and encouraged him to return to his sister’s house. But Holland declined. If Oreo was not welcome there, Holland would rather risk his own well-being than leave his dog at the mercy of the elements.

So Burgess proposed an alternative, contacting Ben Bierlein, the owner of a local dog daycare called Wigglebutt Doghouse on the city’s Northwestside. And Bierlein indeed opened his doors to Oreo, taking her in while Holland seeks permanent housing.

“She’s safe, and I know they’re taking good care of her,” Holland told the Star during a visit to Horizon House. “I can tell Ben has a passion for animals.”

Not only did Oreo find shelter, but Bierlein paid for Oreo to get up to date on shots and to be spayed.

“Oreo is putting smiles on all of the faces here,” Bierlein told the Star. “She is adorable, the biggest sweetheart — and she has made lots of new four-legged friends. She’s very dog-social. If you could watch her during the day, you’d think she’s been coming to doggie day care for years.

“But to us, the real story here is about a man, although down on his luck and living in a tent, who would not give up on his dog. The fact that he was willing to gut it out in sub-zero temperatures because he didn’t want to leave his dog — that’s pretty powerful. With the myriad of reasons people surrender their dogs to shelters, Bernard would have had a very valid reason, but he loves Oreo; she means the world to him.”

Holland bought Oreo from a friend as a four-month-old pup.

“When I got her, she was so skinny, you could see every bone in her body,” Holland said.

Today, according to the Star, Oreo is a healthy 35 pounds and is settling into foster care at Wigglebutt.

Holland visits every few days, sometimes via a Horizon House van, and others, on a local city bus. The first reunion, as one might expect, produced high emotion — both ways.

“When she came walking out and saw Bernard, I wish I had recorded it,” Burgess said. “She hadn’t seen him [for several days]. It was one of the most beautiful things. She was so excited.”

“Her tail was going 40 miles per hour,” Holland said. “She was rolling all over, jumping. It made my heart smile. That’s my baby.”

“You can see it on his face,” Bierlein said. “He’s in love with her. And she loves him.”

Holland, who is still living in the tent, is enrolled in Opportunity Knocks classes through Horizon House and hopes to find a job as a painter or janitor. Horizon House is also trying to help him find affordable housing.

“My plan is to get a job, get a place, reunite with Oreo and live out the rest of our lives together,” Holland said. “I’m truly blessed. My dog is taken care of, and I’ve got enough blankets to keep me warm. To be able to get Oreo back, have a roof over my head and have a job and do the right thing in life … I’m not looking to be rich, just live a happy life.”

If you would like to help Bernard Holland and Oreo, or Horizon House, contact Mary Stickelmaier at marys@horizonhouse.cc or (317) 396-6342.

Via Indianapolis Star

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About the author: Jeff Goldberg is a freelance writer in Quincy, Mass. A former editor for MLB.com and sportswriter for the Hartford Courant who covered the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team (Huskies!) and the Boston Red Sox, Jeff has authored two books on the UConn women: Bird at the Buzzer (2011) and Unrivaled (2015). He lives with his wife, Susan, and their rescue pup, Rocky, an Italian Greyhuahua/Jack Russell mix from a foster home in Tennessee, hence the name Rocky (as in Rocky Top).