Homelessness and Pets
Each night, as many as 50,000 New Yorkers, including nearly 21,000 children, experience homelessness. Pet-owning individuals and families are not exempt from these statistics. In fact, Feeding Pets of the Homeless estimates that 5% to10% of the homeless population are pet owners. Because animals are not permitted in homeless shelters, animal owners are left with few options. Some bring their pets to Animal Care and Control of NYC (AC&C) and others leave their pets behind. Still others refuse shelter or any assistance because they won’t part with their pets. These individuals often remain on the street or in risky environments.
Human welfare professionals can work to understand a homeless person’s relationship with their animal, offer support, and find resolutions that will keep animals with their owners. These include making referrals to low-cost or free veterinary care and to pet food pantries.
When working with individuals or families facing eviction, do not wait until eviction day to encourage pet owners to develop a plan for a pet. Planning should happen early, as time is often required to find creative solutions to challenging situations.
What Social Workers and Their Agencies Can Do
Engage the pet owner early and help establish an emergency plan for pets prior to eviction (ideally, at least two weeks prior to impending eviction)
Discuss temporary and long-term options for a pet. Explore family, friends, neighbors, and others to serve as family fosters before exploring foster programs that may have certain restrictions. Pet Help Partners (917-468-2938) may have additional resources. One program in New Jersey, Seer Farms, shelters pets belonging to people facing difficulties for brief periods; please note there is a wait list
If a pet owner meets certain demographic criteria, they may qualify for specific programs. For instance, in NYC a program called Collide works with homeless and transient youth in regards to their companion animals
- Advocate for pet owners to understand their tenant rights and to obtain additional legal assistance as needed, such as to determine if a pet could be considered a service animal or emotional support animal
Tips and Tools