April Arne, a homeless resident in Federal Way, and her dog, Sikaya, reunite at the Tacoma Humane Society. Sikaya ran off after getting spooked from a verbal argument and was taken to the animal shelter. With the help of city officials, city staff and day center volunteers, Arne was able to get her beloved pet and therapy dog back. Contributed photo

Unlikely heroes help homeless Federal Way woman reunite with dog

When Federal Way resident April Arne’s dog, Sikaya, got spooked by a loud argument and ran away about six weeks ago, the homeless woman was terrified.

For Arne, not only is the 8-year-old pit bull-hound mix a valued pet, but she’s also a therapy dog.

Arne said for a day and a half, she had no idea what happened to her loving animal.

Sikaya helps keep Arne calm and keeps the voices she sometimes hears in her head at bay. Arne said she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after her son was taken from her by his father’s mother, and Sikaya helps her remember what is real and what isn’t.

So when Sikaya ran off, Arne said she feared the worst.

“It was the scariest feeling in the world,” she said. “It was the same feeling as when my son was taken from me.”

Arne got Sikaya when she was just five weeks old, and the dog has followed Arne through her battle with PTSD.

After Arne lost her job and then her home, Sikaya stayed with her when they lived in her truck. When Arne’s truck was impounded, again, Sikaya came with her owner when they began living in the woods.

Arne said Sikaya helps keep her grounded and protects her from danger.

“Sometimes it gets hard to tell what’s real or what’s not anymore,” Arne said. “She also makes me feel protected because it’s pretty scary out here.”

After Sikaya took off, all Arne could do was go “stomping through the woods” in the middle of the night, looking for her.

Arne said she didn’t have access to phone or internet services after Sikaya disappeared and could not look online to see if her dog had been found.

It wasn’t until she arrived at the Federal Way Day Center that she learned her dog was taken to the Tacoma Humane Society.

While she was relieved to learn her dog was safe, she had no idea how she was going to get her back.

Arne said she used to have another dog, Cheetah, who was also taken to the animal shelter after running off. At that time, Arne received a call from a shelter employee about a person who wanted to adopt the dog.

Arne said she felt like she couldn’t say no because she knew her dog would be given a better life than she could provide. She worried she would have to make the same decision for her adored Sikaya.

“I panicked a little,” Arne said upon learning Sikaya was at the Tacoma shelter. “Knowing it would be the right thing to do, it would be hard for me to say no, but, at the same time, I need her.”

Arne, however, faced another dilemma. To get Sikaya back, she would have to pay various fees, and Arne has no money. She relies on the local food bank and the day center to feed herself and Sikaya.

“I was sitting there like, ‘What can I sell?’ ” she said. “I don’t have anything anymore.”

Arne found the help she needed from the unlikeliest of places: Federal Way City Hall.

Day center volunteers had notified city officials about Arne’s dilemma. Through cooperation from Mayor Jim Ferrell, Councilwoman Susan Honda, along with Police Chief Andy Hwang and officer Scott Eatchel, the city’s fees of $150 were waived so Arne could be reunited with Sikaya.

“This is a great example of a community effort helping to restore love, safety, companionship and dignity to April,” day center volunteer Nancy Jaenicke said in an email.

Federal Way Day Center volunteers provided a pet carrier, and center Program Manager Whonakee King then drove Arne to Tacoma to pick up Sikaya for a joyful reunion.

“It was like bailing her out of jail,” Arne said.

Arne was also surprised city officials and the police chief would help her out so much.

She said the homeless community and the police have a tense relationship because officers routinely order the homeless to leave their encampments.

“They have to do their jobs,” she said, “but we have to live.”

Still, she said, learning the identity of one of her benefactors was “jaw-dropping.”

Sikaya has not run away since her three-day adventure took her from Federal Way to Tacoma.

Arne said she is very grateful to all the city officials who helped her and to the day center.

“This place has been amazing,” Arne said of the day center.

Not only has day center staff welcomed Sikaya to the facility, but they also make sure the dog gets something to eat in what has become a welcoming environment for the homeless community.

Arne said having a place to take a shower, wash her clothes, brush her teeth and spend time with others facing similar circumstances is something she doesn’t take for granted.

“It gets really stressful, really exhausting,” Arne said of being homeless. “Without the day center, oh my gosh, I probably wouldn’t be here anymore.”

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