Article and photo by: Ayana Hamilton/Cronkite News
LOS ANGELES – The bond between a dog and its owner is unbreakable, especially when they’re both on the streets.
To people who are experiencing homelessness, pets provide companionship and protection when they’re down and out.
Dealing with unhoused people with dogs or cats has presented a quandary for Los Angeles homeless shelters over the years. As much as they want to take in people who need a roof over their heads, dogs present obvious complications or hazards in confined quarters, from the spread of fleas to having to feed them to the possibility they may bite.
Based on reports from various cities, it is estimated that about 10% of the nation’s unhoused own pets, according to a report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness and PetSmart Charities. The unhoused, moreover, are often reluctant to accept shelter unless they can bring their animal companion along.
“I could see why people weren’t going into shelters because their pets weren’t allowed to join them,” said Genevieve Frederick, founder and president of Feeding Pets of the Homeless, a nonprofit based in Carson City, Nevada. The organization provides food and veterinary services for the pets of unhoused people.
As a result, shelter officials have discovered that allowing pets can be an effective tool in getting more people off the streets.
Los Angeles city and county are spending hundreds of millions on homeless programs. More significantly when it comes to pets, they are welcoming new, innovative programs like allowing people and their pets at the same emergency or temporary housing facility, what is known as “co-sheltering.”
“We really see this as a part of the larger conversation on ending homelessness together,” said Christine Kim, founder of My Dog is My Home, a New York-based nonprofit aimed at promoting co-sheltering.
Even some of the longstanding missions in downtown Los Angeles that have long provided shelter and care for the unhoused are recognizing the value of allowing pets indoors.
The Union Rescue Mission, which feeds, shelters and provides recovery programs for people experiencing homelessness, plans to welcome pets in its newest building in South LA.
“We’ve realized through the years how important pets are. They’ve loved our guests with unconditional love and perhaps at times been the only being, I guess, that has stuck by their side. We knew they would not come in without their pets,” said the Rev. Andy Bales, the mission’s CEO.
Bales said the mission wants to have the ability to welcome pets and have ample services for them.
A bill winding its way through the California Legislature would make state grants available to qualified homeless and domestic violence shelters to offer food, shelter and vet services to allow pets in addition to their owners. It would also include spaying and neutering, over-the counter medications and “behavioral support” for the animals.
The bill notes that “many shelters, motels, and assisted housing programs do not permit animals on their property, pushing potential recipients to live in cars, recreational vehicles, and tent camps.”
My Dog is My Home and another group, People Assisting the Homeless, addressed the bill at a recent conference about co-sheltering.
PATH resident Krystal Eubanks and her service dog Keeper attended the conference. She recommends PATH to anyone who’s experiencing homelessness.
“I used to always say I would much rather sleep on the streets than be without my dog, and that’s still a fact, but PATH makes me feel like I don’t have to sleep on the streets. PATH makes me feel like I’ll never be without my dog,” Eubanks said.