This presentation by the New York Times is heartbreaking. We get calls from camps like this every day.
Eighty million or 68% of American households have at least one pet, and that number keeps rising. Many of those households are now homeless due to COVID-19, loss of a job, medical bills, bankruptcy, foreclosure, credit card debt, domestic abuse, including teen abuse, mental illness, physical disability, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, young adults aged out of the foster care system, and substance abuse. Over half of US households are a paycheck away from homelessness. COVID and pending evictions are going to increase homelessness across the county. The lack of affordable housing has forced many into homelessness.
By its very nature, homelessness is impossible to measure with 100% accuracy. Recent studies suggest that the United States generates homelessness at a much higher rate than previously thought. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates that 3.5 million people are likely to experience homelessness in any given year.
Estimates from the National Coalition for the Homeless suggest that five to ten percent of homeless people have dogs or cats. We conservatively estimate that twenty-five percent have pets. Many pets are emotional support and service animals. Pet owners have expressed how owning a pet has alleviated depression, helped with sobriety, and motivated them to make positive changes.
Since 2015, 61% of the homeless asking for our help were women and over 5% were veterans. Many of these women are elderly and living only on Social Security. With housing costs increasing, we are seeing more elderly moving into weekly motels, with rent for only a few weeks at a time.
Homeless individuals feel isolated, vulnerable and outcasts of society. They are often criticized for having pets. Strangers offer to buy the animals or threaten to call animal control. However, their pet makes them feel loved, wanted and protected. A pet’s love for its guardian is unconditional, and unaltered by the lack of housing or income. To the homeless individual, their pet is their world, an extension of themselves. Their pet signifies that one thing is right in their world amid the uncertainty of their daily lives and gives them a sense of purpose.
Faced with little or no income, coupled with the uncertainty of where they will sleep each night, the homeless have no funds when their pet requires emergency treatment for an acute illness or injury. The pet guardians served by Feeding Pets of the Homeless are just like any other pet guardian; they love their pet and do not want it to suffer. They do not want their circumstances of homelessness to be a barrier to their pet’s wellness.
When asked about its position on the homeless having pets, the national ASPCA, headquartered in New York City, replied, “The ASPCA believes that pets and people belong together; that financial circumstances alone are not reliable indicators of the capacity to love and care for a companion animal, and that strong bonds between people and pets make for stronger communities…we have also learned that people who are financially disadvantaged do not love their pets any less than those with more wealth. Surveys of homeless pet owners reveal a level of attachment to their pets that may be greater than that reported by pet owners who live in traditional residences.” We could not agree more.