This story originally appeared on KERA.
The Rosenheims’ dog is a tiny, scrappy Chihuahua Yorkie mix with a bark that doesn’t quit.
Appropriately named “Little,” she guards their apartment with friendly ferocity. She became part of the family over the Fourth of July weekend, during a trip to Galveston — a trip the Rosenheims decided to take without booking a place to stay.
“There was nothing. Ironically, there were no hotels,” Belinda Rosenheim said.
Ironic because Belinda, her husband Dave and their three kids were living in a North Texas hotel at the time, and had been for the better part of three years.
Galveston was supposed to be a much-needed change of scenery, and now, there was no hope of spending the night. They’d have to turn around and drive back.
That’s when someone walked by with a box of puppies.
“And so Dave pulls me off to the side and says, ‘There is no way we can get a hotel. I’m thinking we should get one of these puppies.’ So that’s how Little joined our family.”
Losing Middle Class Comfort
The Rosenheims lived a typical middle class life for years. Dave, a veteran who was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder after he came back from the first Gulf War, had a well-paying career in aerospace. Belinda was a stay-at-home mom.
When Dave lost his job in 2012, the bottom fell out.
“The most amazing thing about this entire journey is the strength that Belinda has and the strength that my kids have,” he said.
The Rosenheims went from comfortable apartment living with money in the bank to a drained savings account and an eviction.
Dave said life was tough for their kids as they bounced around from hotel to hotel. Daughter Allison is now 14, and twin sons Tony and Ben are 12.
“Lots of drugs. Lots of stealing and theft and making a living not necessarily in an honest way. And that goes on and on and on,” Dave said about the hotels where they lived.
Spending the holidays in an extended-stay hotel was grim. There was no place to hang the stockings. The only gifts the kids got were donated.
“There was no Christmas tree, there was no baking cookies,” Dave said. “There was no Christmas dinner.”
The Rosenheims used to worry about things like what American Girl doll Allison would find under the tree. Spending months at a time in hotel rooms changed Belinda’s priorities dramatically.
“The first one is feeding them, and the second one was saving them from being humiliated,” Belinda said. “I didn’t want them to stand out from everyone else. I wanted them to fit in.”
That meant Belinda tried to keep their clothes in decent shape. She’d take them to the library after school to use the computer, and they’d spend Saturdays at the dollar movie theater.
The holidays were harder to pull off.
“It’s a lot like not talking about the pink elephant that’s taking up most of the room: the holidays,” Belinda said. “You would just try to talk about something else, think about something else, redirect their attention. Focus them anywhere else.”
Dave has had a steady job at Fitz Aerospace in North Richland Hills for close to two years now. He makes less than half of what he used to earn. He’s moved from an office to a warehouse, working mostly overnight shifts. He picks up as much overtime as he can, treating metal parts for corrosion.
“Or I’ll cut the metal, or I’ll heat the metal, or I’ll stage the metal, or I’ll ship the metal, or I’ll bring the packages to FedEx or UPS, or whatever they need me to do,” Dave says. “It’s whatever they need me to do. I don’t say no.”