Darlene, who lives with her grandson, two dogs, five cats, two ducks, two chickens and a parakeet, was evicted from her home after losing her job. With the help of Pets for Life, she is now settled into her new home with her furry and feathered family.
Tens of millions of unemployed Americans are now struggling with the possibility of losing their homes because they cannot pay rent. The situation is even more heartbreaking for those who have pets at home and are faced with the impossible choice of keeping their best friends or finding affordable housing.
According to federal government data, 30 to 40 million renters across the country are at risk of being evicted from their homes this year due to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting unemployment. Industry estimates show that 72% of renters own pets, which we calculate means that approximately 10-11 million pets could be moved in the coming months.
Our Pets for life program, which provides services in underserved areas to increase access to resources and keep people and pets together, is already seeing these tragic stories unfold. We step in to help when we can, as in the case of Baton Rouge resident Darlene.
Darlene, who lives with her grandson, two dogs, five cats, two ducks, two chickens and a parakeet, was recently evicted from her home after losing her job during the pandemic. She managed to find a place to temporarily stay with a relative while she looked for a new home; her pets stayed with friends and family.
Darlene visited her pets every day, feeding them, watering them and caring for them, hoping they would all be reunited eventually. But not all landlords allow pets, and those that do often require large pet deposits or fees. When Darlene found a place she could move in, the pet deposit was more than the funds she had available.
The Pets for Life program in her area, run by local shelter Companion Animal Alliance Baton Rouge, came to Darlene’s aid. PFL provided him with food, supplies and veterinary care for all pets, and paid the bail to bring this family together. She and her entire furry and feathered family are now happily settled into their new home, but sadly that won’t be the case for millions of owners who will be forced to turn their pets over to local shelters and rescues if support services are inaccessible or unavailable.
As communities increasingly grapple with rising eviction rates in addition to an affordable housing crisis, shelters and other animal service providers have stepped up to play a crucial role in helping keep them together. families with pets, like Darlene’s. To help them in this work, the Humane Society of the United States recently published a Eviction Response Toolkit.
We created the toolkit in collaboration with the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, and the Institute for Human Animal Connection at the University of Denver. It offers guidance to shelters on various strategies to avoid pet homelessness during this health and economic crisis, including:
- Keeping people and their pets together by providing resources and services, including free food and veterinary care.
- Peer-to-peer support, encouraging people to reach out to family and friends or pairing them with other members of the community who can help care for an animal while the owner searches for housing.
- Temporary placement with foster families or expanding existing domestic violence programs to include those facing eviction, where animals are temporarily cared for by the shelter while the owner finds housing.
The toolkit contains many other valuable resources, including information on promoting assisted housing and better affordable housing policies at the local, state and federal levels, along with draft letters and scripts to communicate directly with the legislators. We encourage shelters and rescues and all animal advocates to download it to see how they can prepare a response to the housing crisis. Our community has already shown how challenging we can be by scaling up quickly during this pandemic with innovative adoption programs and increased fostering willingness. Our help is needed now to mitigate this additional threat of increased homelessness among humans, and therefore pets. By working together and being proactive, we can tackle the problem head on.