Ninety-five percent of U.S. families consider their pets to be part of the family. I certainly do, and I can't imagine how distressing it would be to have to decide between keeping my pets and having a roof over my family's head. But that's the terrible choice confronting many people in households that face eviction.
We know there’s a housing crisis coming. Let's not allow family pets that provide critical companionship and comfort to be a part of that devastating circumstance.
A staggering 30 million to 40 million Americans are estimated to be at risk of eviction after the economic damage wrought by Covid-19. It's a tragedy for the people facing this situation — and for their pets.
In a year when record numbers of people could be facing housing insecurity, we need to make sure that access to housing doesn't come down to a decision between giving up a beloved family pet and securing a safe place to live.
Data on animal shelter admissions show that housing is listed as the second most common reason people cite when surrendering pets to animal shelters, ahead even of financial reasons. As more people face unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic — 787,000 new claims last week and 8.4 million continuing claims — and the possibility of losing their homes, some will turn to turn to temporary shelters and government housing, where, often, pets aren't welcome.
This leads to two devastating results. First, people who are already struggling and in need of stability are forced to give up pets that are often sources of comfort and are considered members of the family. Second, municipal animal shelters with already limited budgets and staffs are flooded with surrendered pets and are forced to kill animals for space.
Two-thirds of households in the United States include dogs and cats, according to a 2019-20 American Pet Products Association study. That's about 173 million cats and dogs across 81 million households. And a sizable percentage of pet owners are only one unexpected bill away from a potentially disastrous financial situation.
Affordable housing must be accessible for all types of people, and that includes people with pets. Solving this problem is a collaborative effort among individuals, shelters, elected officials and housing providers. Here are a few ways to help struggling families and the pets they love.
Some animal shelters — and human shelters — have pet foster programs for people experiencing displacement and housing transitions. You can sign up to help foster pets short-term for those in need. Shelters can also tell you about other ways to volunteer or donate to help keep pets with their families.
Of course, adopting your next pet rather than buying one helps ease the burden on city and county shelters, and it helps save more beloved pets who might have been surrendered because of unexpected financial hardship, health challenges or housing issues.
Community members should also ask their elected officials to ensure that government-sponsored housing providers are pet friendly. You can also reach out to your local housing authority to see whether it has local pet food pantries and low-cost veterinary services. If these services are lacking, think about connecting with like-minded neighbors to fill those gaps.
Even without prompting from their constituents, elected officials should be working to ensure that their most vulnerable constituents aren't being forced to choose between their pets and roofs over their heads. Consulting with shelters and housing policymakers can help generate solutions.
Housing providers themselves are another essential piece of the puzzle. Now is the time to make sure policies aren't unintentionally harming or excluding people with pets who need help. For example, it's long overdue to ditch arbitrary pet rules — like no cats over 15 pounds or no Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, shepherds or pit bull terriers — which some housing authorities enforce based on false correlations between the sizes and types of dogs or cats and the potential risk to property.
Homeowner's and renter's insurance providers can also play a part by making sure their policies are truly pet-inclusive. State Farm deserves a round of applause for its refusal to judge dogs based on breed, going only on their behavioral track records. All dogs are individuals and should be treated accordingly, rather than be judged on superficial physical traits to deny coverage.
Any pet owner can tell you that pets provide invaluable physical, mental and emotional support. We know there's a housing crisis coming. Let's not allow family pets that provide critical companionship and comfort to be a part of that devastating circumstance.