Approximately five to ten percent of the 5.8 million people facing homelessness in America own a pet. While that number may seem small, that is 580,000 people taking care of their pet amidst homelessness. Here is what happens to pet owners and their pets while enduring the harsh realities of living in the streets.
While the National Coalition estimates about 10% of the homeless population cares for a pet, there are social service providers that estimate around as many as 25% of the homeless own a pet. Owning a pet while facing homelessness can be a big strain for both the pet and their owner. For one, an owner may resort to relying on donations to buy pet food and may have trouble finding veterinary care for their animal. Many pet owners also have experienced harassment from the public for owning a pet while facing homelessness. A study from Seattle University revealed “up to 90 percent of people experiencing homelessness report being harassed or witnessing harassment by the police for owning a pet.” Additionally, pet owners have trouble finding access to resources, such as job training and mental health services when they don’t have a safe place for their pet to stay. Furthermore, there are many instances where pet owners are forced to give up their pets upon facing homelessness. As many shelters do not accept animals, the 365 Pet Insurance reveals that, “many people become homeless because they would prefer to be homeless with their pet than in a home without them.” According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 1 in 5 people experiencing homelessness do not accept a shelter because their pets are unable to join them.
PETA claims that the reason why many shelters may avoid taking in animals is because they are “under extreme pressure by laypeople who are opposed to euthanasia under virtually any circumstances and at any cost, [so they are unable] to keep their doors open to every animal in need.” As a result, a number of shelters choose to operate more exclusively when it comes to pet owners, even going as far as encouraging those seeking shelter to leave their pets out on the streets. Consequently, many animals are abandoned, risking starvation, along with untreated diseases and injuries; furthermore, some animals may be given to people who are unwilling to take care of them, risking maltreatment and neglect. For those who have experienced being turned away by a shelter for owning a pet, the PETA recommends documenting your experience and details of the shelter, gathering support from others who have had the same experiences, as well as veterinarians, and making your case with the shelter director. They advise to continue speaking up to truly make a difference.
Many organizations have been speaking up against shelters refusing pets and pushing for a change that allows pet owners and their animals to stay together when seeking shelter. Some resources and organizations that are useful for unhoused pet owners include Pets of the Homeless, a nonprofit that provides food and veterinary care for pets of owners facing homelessness, Brown Dog Foundation and Friends & Vets Helping Pets, which both help provide funding for ill pets when owners are unable to pay afford treatment, and more. Additionally, more support programs, kennels, and shelters are opening up across America that allow owners and their pets to stay together.
Pets are an owner’s companion and can immensely help with an owner’s mental health, especially when faced with the stress of homelessness. The 365 Pet Insurance claims that many owners state that when they were facing homelessness, their pet took care of them as much as they took care of the pet. It is vital to help keep pets and their owners together during unforeseeable events, such as homelessness, for not only the owner’s wellbeing, but also their pet’s.