Sisters create care packages to support youth experiencing homelessness and their pets

The Bhopa sisters are passionate about their pets.

“Me and Shania always grew up with dogs, we loved our animals,” says Anya Bhopa. “Couldn’t imagine our lives without them.”

That passion is what motivated the high school student to volunteer at the Ontario SPCA. What she saw there opened her eyes to a reality about homelessness in the Greater Toronto Area.

“A lot of the animals that I saw that were coming in were those from homeless people without the means to support their animals, so they unfortunately had to give them up,” Anya tells CTV News Toronto. “Which, I thought, was incredibly heartbreaking.”

She and her sister Shania, a university student in Hamilton, were inspired to do something to help.

“Sometimes an animal companion is the only piece of support that a homeless youth has,” says Shania. “Instead of deterring them from owning that animal, we want to promote that in having that support for their mental well-being.”

Together, Anya and Shania created The Canadian Courage Project – a Toronto-based non-profit organization with a goal of providing relief to youth experiencing homelessness and their furry companions.

“We find shelters that actually house homeless youth that own animal companions, and then we create care kits to give them you know that little bit of hygiene items for themselves, and their animals,” Shania explains.

“Food, leashes, collars, stuff like that,” adds Anya.

The siblings have had several successful fundraising events during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a virtual “Warmth for Winter” five kilometre walk, run or bike.

“We actually ended up raising over $1,000,” Shania tells CTV News Toronto. “We were really impressed with how the community came together for this and we were overwhelmed with the support from everyone.”

Next, Anya and Shania are launching a sweater fundraiser. The sweaters say “Change – where equity meets well-being.”

As winter approaches, Anya says she can’t help but think about the youth and pets experiencing homelessness she has met.

“A lot of them were saying that the reason that they are on the streets in the cold winter are most shelters don’t accept them with their animals,” she says. “Some of them were saying how they’d choose to buy a bag of kibble over a meal for themselves, and they’d go hungry that day because their dog needed a vaccine.”

“We want to send out these care kits before the winter hits just to support individuals and their animal companions as best we can during this time,” adds Shania. “And if we’re donating meals, it’s one meal for the homeless youth and one meal for their animal.”

The Bhopa sisters hope to keep helping as many youth experiencing homelessness, and their four-legged friends, as much as they can – through the pandemic, and beyond.

“Seeing how much they rely on their animal companion just warms my heart and makes me want to help even more every single day,” says Shania. “We’re trying to make our mark and hopefully inspire a good couple people in the process.”