News / Vancouver

For the love of dog: Vancouver crack addict kicks habit for sake of pooch

Gary Pipe was a Downtown Eastside crack addict who had just gotten out of a recovery house in 2002 when he met Kolby, a sweet and sensitive two-year-old German Shepherd, golden lab-retriever cross.

Kolby's owner at the time was Jenny Konkin, the granddaughter of the owner of the single resident occupancy Avalon Hotel where he was renting a room.

Every day Konkin's parents would bring Kolby to the hotel to visit the residents, many of whom struggle with mental illness, addictions and low income, who would happily volunteer to take him for walks.

"Jenny's mother gave him to me to take care of," recalled Pipe, now 65, "and I got so attached to him I just said, 'Well, you've either got to take him back or give him to me, because I'm getting too attached to him.'"

Konkin, who founded a non-profit inside the hotel to help residents with everything from meals to haircuts, said it was an easy decision to give Kolby to Pipe, who had lost his hip to a bad blood infection and yet found so much joy in her dog.

Pipe had already kicked heroin and pain killer addictions that had plagued him for more than 25 years through a methadone treatment program, but before long he realized the crack he was still smoking was making Kolby sick.

"Kolby would either throw up or he'd want out of the room, so I knew if I kept smoking I was going to lose him," Pipe said. "So I just quit smoking it and kept everybody out that was smoking it."

Pipe started using the money he was saving on crack to feed Kolby a steak for dinner every night -- a treat the spoiled 13-year-old pooch still enjoys today.

"He eats steak and I eat chunky soup," Pipe said with a chuckle. "I can't afford what he eats."

Pipe's story is somewhat unique in the accidental way his life turned around, but he is not alone. Numerous studies have shown that drug addicts who are offered animal assisted therapy are more likely to benefit from the treatment process, have higher retention rates, and less frequent episodes of drug and alcohol relapse.

"He's pretty much my life," Pipe said. "If I didn't have him I'd just be sitting around in my room, watching TV all the time, so now I get out. I get some fresh air. It makes a big difference."

Konkin, who now manages the Avalon Hotel in addition to running the non-profit Whole Way House, said she would love to hear from any dog owners in the community who want to bring their pets down for regular visits -- in hopes of unleashing more stories like Pipe's.

To get in touch, visit wholewayhouse.ca.

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