Making accommodation for dogs in homeless shelters is becoming increasingly valuable.
LOS ANGELES Being homeless and addicted in Los Angeles is difficult enough without Rachel Niebur's dog Petey.
In addition to keeping her off narcotics, Niebur credits her constant companion, an enthusiastic black and white Chihuahua mix.
I need her. She focuses me. I must feed her. I must walk her. He followed Petey to the small fenced-in dog park on the grounds of the shelter in the Venice district where they have lived for about two years.
Traditional homeless shelters have long prohibited pets, leaving pet owners with few options. As homelessness rises across the country, people seeking a solution are looking for methods to keep owners and pets together.
Unhoused persons nearly usually chose the streets over refuge, according to Tim Huxford, associate director of the Venice facility that houses Niebur and Petey.
We always want to lower the barriers for people to bring them off the street, he said. We understand that dogs are like family.
Huxford said the People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) shelter in Venice was the first in Los Angeles County to allow residents to bring pets.
PATH's Pet Assistance and Support program includes a budget for food, cages, toys, and veterinary services thanks to a state grant. The pilot initiative awarded $5 million to organizations and local governments in 2019, then quadrupled that amount in 2020. A new bill would make the grants permanent and expand them across the state.
The bill's author, state Sen. Robert Hertzberg, believes that 10% of homeless Californians have dogs. Many shelters don't accept animals because they can't care for them, according to Hertzberg, a dog owner.
He termed pets “our comfort” and referenced research showing animals give homeless people company and a feeling of purpose.
Giving NGOs and other caretakers the funds they need to feed and house pets is “raging common sense, according to the Los Angeles Democrat.
We spend a billion dollars here to get people off the street; why can't we spend a few dollars there for veterinary services, dog food, and crates? These are small donations of $100,000 to $200,000, Hertzberg remarked.
The money would come from the state general fund, Hertzberg said. SB513, which was unanimously approved by the Senate in January, now awaiting Assembly action.
The California law is part of a broader national trend.
In Arizona, for example, various charities care for animals of residents battling to recover.
Lost Our Home, a non-profit no-kill shelter, providing pet care for homeless people for up to 90 days while they look for a permanent home.
Don Kitch oversees one of the few shelters in the Phoenix area that allows individuals to keep their pets in a separate section for the animals. I have four dogs, two cats, and a Guinea pig at the moment.
Unfortunately, there aren't many pet-friendly places around here, Kitch remarked.
Many shelters allow service animals, but not emotional support animals.
Kitch said the Arizona Humane Society houses pets for 90 days while the Sojourner Center houses pets of victims of domestic violence.
Kitch said Family Promise started its pet-housing program with a PetSmart grant. He claimed a regulation like California's would be excellent for a non-profit homeless shelter like his.
Best Friends Animal Society and Catholic Charities USA have teamed up to promote programs that keep homeless individuals and their dogs together. Feeding Pets of the Homeless arranges veterinary clinics and pet food drives.
Other animal rights groups are pushing for the California measures.
The ASPCA thinks that financial conditions alone are not reliable indications of the capacity to love and care for a companion animal, said Susan Riggs, ASPCA Senior Director of Housing Policy.
Champ, a pit bull mix, is Petey's canine buddy at the Venice PATH facility.
He's my best friend. I don't know what I'd do without him, said Mantooth, 29. I got lucky. Not many places will take animals, you know?
The Venice shelter has eight canines and one cat besides Petey and Champ. Huxford claimed one PATH facility features a caged parrot. Technically, there are no restrictions on what animals can enter, but that hasn't been tested.
I guess we'd see if someone brought an elephant in, he replied.