Good Friends in Bad Times

I stumbled upon a heart-breaking photograph in 2011; that depicted a homeless man sitting on the pavement, cross-legged and cradling a dog in his lap. In his  hand was a cap that contained a few coins that I assume were put there by passers by. I felt extremely emotional when I first laid eyes on the photo. I was compelled to find out the story behind the homeless man and his pooch. I also felt that I needed to draw the image so that I could share this emotional tale.

Here is Janet Cremer’s article (09/15/2007) about Noel Matthew Cowley, the man in the photograph:

It was 2005 when Noel Matthew Cowley told his mother he was heading to California to find a profitable job, one that would allow him to pay child support and still have enough leftover to make a decent living.

But Noel’s mom, Suellen Cowley of Momence, never imagined that phone call might be the last time she’d hear from her son.

“It’s been two years,” said Cowley of the last time she spoke to 29-year-old Noel. “There was no phone call at Christmas, no letters. We just never knew what happened.”

The worst thoughts ran through her head in that time. Where could he be? Was he hurt? Even dead?

In that time, she and husband Chuck tried filing a missing person report, but that first required a police report on his disappearance.

And that became bogged down with police bureaucracy when officers in Illinois said his disappearance technically was from California and authorities here said the opposite was true.

“There was nothing I could do, no way to find him,” she said with frustration.

But what she discovered two weeks ago, much by accident, hardly eased her worries.

Noel Cowley is in Canada and, sadly, Suellen learned, he’s homeless.

Call it fate

Suellen, a dog breeder and groomer by trade, was looking through the September issue of a pet magazine targeted at groomers and veterinarians called “Pet Product News.” It was there that she saw a news article for “Feeding Pets of the Homeless,” an organization that provides food to the pets of the destitute.

The article immediately caught Suellen’s eye, not for its contents but because of what ran with it — an emotional photograph of a homeless man sleeping with a dog cradled in his lap. The man, with long, scraggly hair, a bushy beard and muddied clothes, is shown with his face pressed against the dog’s — the sole source of comfort this lonely day.

And the most shocking thing of all about the photograph? It was Noel.

“When I saw it I couldn’t believe it,” said Suellen, tears coming to her eyes as she carefully smoothes the edges of the magazine. “I knew right away. I just knew.

“I was crying so hard I couldn’t even see,” she said of the moment she realized her son was still alive.

She immediately called the magazine’s publisher to find out where and when the photograph was taken.

Problem was, the publisher told her the photograph of the unnamed man was taken an entire year ago, and from home — in Toronto, Canada. A photograph from another source Suellen discovered shows Noel and the dog again. It was shot just five months ago in Vancouver.

Tireless work

The Cowleys have since contacted homeless shelters throughout Canada in hopes of finding their son, so far, to no avail. She’s also solicited the help of friends and dog groups she’s affiliated with, in hopes of spreading the word over the Worldwide Web about Noel.

She’s even utilizing the aid of the notorious motorcycle club, “Hells Angels” to try to bring him home. Canadian members have promised Suellen that if Noel is spotted in Canada, they’ll get him back to Momence, along with his dog.

Officials from “Feeding Pets of the Homeless,” have also gotten involved, agreeing to include Suellen’s phone number and e-mail address on their Web site, beneath the photograph of Noel. That way, if anyone knows his whereabouts, they have a contact.

Suellen’s helping that worthwhile organization in return by having her business, Azzur Grooming in Momence, serve as a food bank, accepting money or pet food donations for the approximate 10 percent of homeless people who have dogs or cats. Her business is one of two Illinois sites listed as food banks.

And as far as Noel goes, Suellen isn’t giving up hope.

“All I want is to get him home,” said Suellen, fighting back the tears. “I need to get him home.”



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