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Glenn Greenwald Unveils New Project to Build Animal Shelter in Brazil Staffed by Homeless People

Web ExclusiveMay 10, 2017
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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald unveils his plans to build an animal shelter in Brazil with his husband David Miranda, a city councilmember in Rio de Janeiro. The shelter will be staffed by homeless people who live on the streets with abandoned pets.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Glenn Greenwald, I want to turn to a new project you’re involved with in Brazil. It’s a new type of animal shelter you created with Rio de Janeiro City Councilman David Miranda, staffed by homeless people who live on the streets with abandoned pets. This is a clip from your short film about the project.

GLENN GREENWALD: We started realizing that if we could tap into this power, this incomparable love, that forms this mutual needing between homeless people and abandoned animals, we could build something really powerful and really beautiful. And that’s how we got the idea for this shelter.

DAVID MIRANDA: [translated] We need to organize in order to do this. We can’t leave it in the hands of the state or the city to care for animals. We must always remember that caring for animals is a critical factor in public health. If you care for animals, there is better treatment for society generally. At the same time, with the huge crisis that we’re suffering here in Brazil, many people are losing their jobs and ending up in the street. And the government doesn’t have the will or resources for people who end up in this situation, living on the street.

GLENN GREENWALD: Now we’ve hired our first employee, who is going to be the manager of the entire project, who is one-half of the couple, the same-sex couple, who we profiled about six months ago, who adopted three boys at once.

FRANCISCO DAVID: [translated] The intention is that animals don’t sit abandoned and lost on the street. We will rescue many animals and place them in homes, and at the same time are giving homeless people the tools and opportunity to change their own lives.

GLENN GREENWALD: And now we’ve hired our first person who’s homeless, as well. His name is Lucas. He’s 20 years old.

LUCAS MENDES: [translated] I live here. I sleep on the street here. People who live on the street are very humiliated because of that. A lot of people are on the street because they need to, because they hadn’t any support. This will really change my life, not to live more on the street, to have and care for my dog, with a home, a bed, food that I can eat, to be able to take a shower. You can go places and be treated like a person.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the film about a new project being spearheaded by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald and his husband, David Miranda, who is also a Rio de Janeiro city councilman. Glenn, can you talk about—most, maybe, people don’t realize you live in Rio de Janeiro, that, you know, you cover U.S. politics and global politics, but you’re actually based there—how you came to get so involved with this shelter? Have you always loved dogs and animals?

GLENN GREENWALD: I did, but it was really only once David and I started rescuing dogs as kind of a main focus. And we ended up with—we now have 23. We’ve placed dozens and dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds, in homes. But we have 23, so I live and work around dogs.

But really, the outgrowth of this project came when we started getting really involved with homeless people who live on the street with their pets, because it’s an incredibly powerful and unique bond. I mean, we love our dogs, but when you have nothing else, the bond that develops between homeless people and their pets is incredibly powerful. And so, we did a film last year, overseen by Laura Poitras, about homeless people who live on the street with their pets, and it featured this family headed by this trans woman. They take care of 35 dogs, even though they’re homeless. They often get food and then immediately share it with their pets.

And so, out of that, you know, this incredible compassion and empathy and human self-sacrifice, we wanted to build a project that captured these really strong emotions. And so we’re building this new homeless—this new animal shelter in Rio, which is suffering from an economic crisis, has no money for anything. And it’s going to be staffed exclusively by homeless people who live on the street with their dogs, as a way of kind of employing them and then transitioning them off the street into apartments and then, ultimately, permanent employment.

So we’re sort of launching the idea with this film today. And what we hope is that, you know, there’s a lot of cities, a lot of states, with austerity, slashing budgets, and the people who suffer are always the most marginalized—the homeless, the poor and definitely the animal population, as well. And so we’re hoping this becomes a model for how the public can take care of both at the same time, empower both, using this amazingly beautiful human-animal connection that forms between homeless dogs and cats and homeless people.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, when did you first come to notice that there’s so many homeless people taking care of abandoned dogs? And do you know of this, actually, anywhere else, apart from Brazil, the homeless people having this kind of relationship and caring for abandoned dogs, cats?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, almost every major city has homeless people living on the street, and they often find animals, because if you talk to homeless people, what they almost always say is the worst part of being homeless is not the obvious material deprivation, which is terrible enough, but they’ll find ways to get food or to find a place to sleep. It’s the isolation, the invisibility, just the dehumanization. People step over homeless people. They want to ignore them. So, oftentimes people probably pass by homeless people on the streets with their dogs, but we’re trained to ignore the homeless and pretend they don’t exist.

So the more I started focusing on it, the more I realized that this assumption that it’s bad for the dogs is actually the reverse of reality. It’s often even better for the dog to get so much human attention. There’s scholarly research that’s done on this relationship about how it uniquely affects humans and how it opens up people with psychological problems to the parts of their heart that are otherwise closed off. So, yeah, once you start really looking at it, it really moves you. And it’s an incredibly powerful but underappreciated phenomenon, largely because we like to treat the homeless by pretending they don’t exist.

AMY GOODMAN: So, is the shelter open?

GLENN GREENWALD: We’re building the shelter now. And what this film is about is essentially now asking the public to start helping and donating. We’ve got an initial round of funding from some private investors to get it off the ground, but definitely need a lot of public support.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And could you tell us about some of the homeless people that you’ve already got working with you?

GLENN GREENWALD: Sure, two in particular. One is—we did this film last year, as I said, about this group of homeless people, the matriarch of which is this trans woman, who had spent a few years in prison, and she now leads this family. They have nothing. They live in an abandoned house. And they live in the woods, where lots of rich people or middle-class people come to dump animals that they no longer want. So these homeless people will see people in expensive cars coming and dropping their animals off, hoping they’ll die of starvation or otherwise fend for themselves. And they pick them up and care for them. And they now take care of, I think, 28 dogs and about 35 cats, even some goats and monkeys that get injured. So that sort of became the model, the inspiration for the project.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Glenn, thanks so much for stopping by and talking about it. We’ll follow up with you and see how it’s going.

GLENN GREENWALD: Great. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founders of a shelter now that will be run by homeless people for dogs and other animals. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

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