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Has anyone seen Mukha? Search for lost dog unveils heart and soul of people on Vancouver's Downtown East Side

“This is Mukha. She ran away and we are looking for her,” I say to the guy and hold up a photo. It is the middle of the day on Thursday. This guy lives on the downtown east side (DTES). So do I. Mukha is our dog. She’s been missing for a week. Yes, we love Mukha and yes we have had her for 8 years, but searching for her on the DTES helps keep things in perspective. I have two little girls at home and a languine 14-year-old dog at home that might be a bit less philosophical.

I’ve been searching for hours and as the hours wear on and the details become blurrier, but not blurry enough, it is hard for me not to just feel really sad. Many of the places I hang my Missing Dog photos are papered with Missing Women signs. Not knowing is an awful feeling. I’ve known lots of awful feelings, but as a mother it is clear that having a child go missing is the leader in a large pack of greatest fears. I look into many faces and wonder about their stories. Some of them were loved beyond measure and went missing anyway. Some of them weren’t loved well enough. All of them had some kind of mother.

“Have you seen this dog?” I ask and we talk a little bit. I always try and share at least a smile, because that is what my dad always taught me to do. I always look a person in the eyes because that is what I would want you to do if you met someone I loved and they were living in a park, deeply disfigured, or ranting quietly to themselves on a bench.

It is uncomfortable to see people living the intimate, and often ugly, details of their life where everyone can see. I hate seeing people inject drugs into their arms, or leaning against a wall with their heads down inhaling things. I assume everyone hates seeing this. Yet, I also hate seeing people who have it all look away in the face of someone who has so little. Perhaps this is why so many people want to insure that all the social housing and social services stay clustered far from where they live. People who have a lot can make a really loud noise when these things get too close. No one wants to feel despised, including the ones doing the despising.

I don’t live in the hard part of the DTES, but I live very close. My friends who don’t live in this neighbourhood are often a little uncertain about it.

Three blocks is not a lot of separation between the haves and the have nots; between “us” and “them.” I grew up in neighbourhoods like this. Then, however, I was a “them” not an “us.”

There are a lot of people in my family that might still feel more comfortable on that other side. There is no more than the finest of lines separating us all: whatever labels are used. So little protecting our easy lives from the harder paths. Maybe a little more if you come from a supportive, white, wealthy family and a lot less if you come from one without money, a history of mental illness, or addiction.

My family was just enough on the line that most of my siblings fell to the wrong side. Is it fortune, luck, hard work?

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