Homeless Families and their Pets

We received a call in the office today from a woman who was in need of rental assistance to prevent an eviction.  This is not unusual since we get about four of eviction calls per day.  This is by far the single greatest need in the community, but what made this especially difficult is that she had a pet.  She was looking for a shelter that accepted pets.  There are none.  All shelters will, of course, accept service animals, but none will accept a pet.  There are allergies, health regulations, and liability issues that make it impossible for the shelters to allow animals.  We also have an unstable system of foster care for pets.  We have seen where animals are sold while a family is staying in the shelter or the foster family gets attached to the animal and will not return the pet.  The intermediary (typically a vet) has also been known to declare that the original owner was not stable enough to be able to handle the return of their pet when they get into housing.  

The bottom line is that there is very little help for a family with a pet if they become homeless.  There are very few protections in law for the families, and if they do not have extended family willing to take the pet the animal is sometimes killed.  This is one of the biggest barriers to families or individuals not seeking shelter.  They may be so attached to the animal that they are not willing to go inside.   They may risk living in a car or abandoned building just so they do not have to separate from a beloved member of their family.  They may not be able to be willing to put their animal up for adoption, and are willing to live rough just to stay with a loyal pet.  The woman who called the office was angry that we told her no shelter accepted pets, and hung up on us.  We understand the frustration, but the shelters have to serve everyone in need of help and cannot risk the health and welfare of all the residents because a few have their pets.  We wish there was a better safety net in this county, but the reality is that the system is not built around pets. In the 1990s the animal shelters were often better than the human shelters in Cuyahoga County.  That is not the case anymore, but many do not want to leave their animals if they lose their housing.

Brian Davis

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