Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Keeping the Homeless and Their Pets Together in Shelters and Housing: A Call for a Change in Public Attitudes, Governmental Priorities, and the Law

Via dell' Independenza, Bologna, October 2014 (courtesy Joan Ensminger)
Alessandro, I will call him, spends many days on the west side of the Via dell’ Independenza in Bologna, Italy, several blocks north of the Piazza del Nettuno with the fountain atop which stands the bronze Neptune cast by Giambologna in 1567.  Alessandro spreads the ground cover of his sleeping bag to his right for his dogs, Cabaletto and Raissa, though he usually holds Raissa.  He sits cross-legged on the pavement, his heavy backpack with his worldly possessions behind him to serve as a chair back when needed and positioned to slip on quickly if he has to move, though two police pass on horses once when I am near him and show no interest. Food and water dishes for his dogs are beside him and there is a plate in which he hopes some of the dense flow of well-dressed pedestrians—the clothing stores are expensive at this level of the Independenza—will be kind enough to drop a few coins.  The first thing I notice is how well the dogs are cared for.

Marta, again not her real name, sits against a building on the Vicolo Doria in Rome, an alley close to the Via del Corso just north of the Altare della Patria which casts a long shadow from the Capitoline in early October.  Her dog is also healthy and relaxed despite the constant foot traffic and the incessant blare of horns as cars jostle for position around the Piazza Venezia.  She focuses on her dog as if the mere sight of him calms the storm that is her life, barely nodding when someone puts a coin in the basket she places more than a foot before the blanket on which she and the dog live for hours each day.  She is surprised when I begin to speak to her and both she and the dog look up to see if something is wrong. 

There was one other homeless couple with two dogs in Bologna, but I did not talk to them and so did not photograph them.  They did not put a dish before their dogs but rather only before him when he played his guitar in the Piazza Maggiore.  She would sit with the dogs on one of the steps of the Basilica San Petronio, or further away.  I would not have known they were together had I not seen them several times late near the Novocento, his guitar in its case, the rest of their possessions in an assortment of bags, the dogs resting beside them, a family wrapping itself in what privacy could be found on the Bolognese streets through the night.  I was struck by the fact that they seemed never to try to use the dogs to obtain sympathy or coins.  They reminded me of some of the people who lived in People’s Park in Berkeley in 1969.  Drugs?  I suspected so, but only because I still trust instincts developed when I was much younger and could move more inconspicuously between the worlds of the classroom and the street. 

Redemption Narratives

The most comprehensive discussion of the homeless and their pets is contained in a book, recently issued in paperback form, by Leslie Irvine, a professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who has also written some seminal papers on the topic.  The book, My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People & Their Animals (Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2012), examines the narratives homeless people develop to explain to themselves and to those who will listen how they reached where they are, what their lives are like, and what their pets mean to them.  Irvine begins the book with a sort of redemption narrative about herself, about how she began to develop an interest in and sympathy for the homeless who have pets.  While driving in Boulder one day, she saw a panhandler on the narrow median of a highway with a dog. She parked her car, walked to the median and offered to buy the dog from the homeless man, hoping to give the animal a better life.  She was taken aback at the panhandler’s almost violent reaction, accusing her of being a yuppie meddler. 

Vicolo Doria, Rome, October 2014
I suppose I now have my own redemption narrative on this issue, which has brought me from being an unsympathetic observer of the homeless and their pets to someone who believes that the lack of any significant, much less comprehensive, social policy regarding these people and animals is a failure of our American democracy.  My redemption narrative probably began in Berkeley (one of the places where Irvine studied the homeless and their pets, though long after my time there), where every summer there were thousands of runaway teenagers panhandling on Telegraph Avenue and along the edge of the campus, setting up tents and rolling out sleeping bags in the parks around the city.  Many had brought dogs and cats with them.  I always felt sorry for the animals.  Life and a legal career soon led me to New York City, where in the 1970s into the 1980s there were corrugated cardboard camps set up by the homeless (an older population than I had seen in Berkeley) along the streets between the Port Authority and Penn Station, where on weekdays I took a train to Trenton for work.  There were dogs in those camps.  “I’m not giving the money to him.  I’m giving it to the dog,” I’m sure I said many times either to someone I was with or to myself.  I never tried to buy a dog, but I felt sorry, even angry, for the lives the animals were leading.  They had no choice in their circumstances.  Though enough of a liberal not to put all the blame on the homeless themselves, I had much less sympathy for their plight than I had for the dogs.  It did not occur to me that there might be joys in this existence both for the homeless people and for their pets. 

Then I moved to the Hudson Valley, 80 miles north of the city, and seldom thought about or saw homeless people or their pets for many years.  It took a trip to Italy for me to begin to think about this in new ways. 

How Many Homeless Have Pets?

A Nevada nonprofit organization, Pets of the Homeless, states in the FAQs on its website that there are about 3.5 million homeless Americans and five to ten percent of them have dogs or cats.  “In some areas of the country the rate is as high as 24%.”  Genevieve Frederick, the founder of this organization, surveyed a large number of homeless shelters to obtain this statistic and advises me that she regards it as conservative.  Some homeless may deny having pets to people conducting surveys for fear of being denied services. Surveys of the homeless are notoriously difficult to conduct but government statistics do not put the number of homeless as high.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides Congress with an estimate of the number of homeless each January.  Their latest published report (2014) states:

In January 2014, 578,424 people were homeless on a given night. Most (69 percent) were staying in residential programs for homeless people, and the rest (31 percent) were found in unsheltered locations.

HUD does not estimate numbers of homeless with pets, though the agency says that of this number there were 216,261 homeless people in families and 135,701 children. 

Rhoades et al. (2012) found that of 398 homeless youth at two drop-in centers in Los Angeles, 23% reported having a pet.  Lem (2012) refers to an unpublished 2009 study of street youth in Toronto as finding that of 245 youth, “12.8% of participants reported being a pet owner.”  Lem et al. (2013), in a study of homeless youth in Canada, cited Dr. Stephen Hwang of the University of Toronto as indicating that in Toronto about 8% of homeless and 11% of “vulnerably housed individuals” have companion animals.  (Hwang has indicated to me that he has not subsequently gathered any additional data or published his findings on how many homeless people have pets.)  In 2009, Cronley et al., using data from a Homeless Management Information System found that 5.5% of the homeless in the system reported caring for an animal, and 2% had been refused housing due to animal caretaking (a much lower refusal percentage than found by Singer et al. 1995, discussed below).  Their findings “suggest that first-time homeless, Euro-American women who were homeless due to domestic violence were the most likely to say they were caring for animals.”    

A survey of homeless street youth in Toronto by Stephen Gaetz (chapter 3 in Hulchanski et al. 2009) found that 7.6% of homeless young people had obtained a dog for protection, 10.2% of boys and 4.3% of girls. This compared with 3.2% of domiciled youth (2.6% of boys but 4.0% of girls).  Gaetz et al. (2013) described “a number of situations where a group of street youth shared a dog and cared for it together, as a street family….”

Homeless Individuals by State (HUD 2014)
Unfortunately, most surveys of the number of homeless individuals with pets are specific to regions or age groups and an overall estimate is inevitably rough.  Nevertheless, it is clear that at there are currently at least 60,000 but perhaps as many as 300,000 people in the U.S. who are homeless with pets.  

Public Perception of the Homeless Having Pets

I have already acknowledged that among my initial reactions to homeless people having pets were that they were using the animals as props for begging and that the animals had a horrible life, perhaps little better than being confined in the cage of a pound.  Even if the animals were not scheduled to be euthanized, the risks of living with the homeless on the streets included high rates of disease and the ever-present chance of running into traffic. 

Irvine et al. (2012) report that homeless people say they are often criticized for having pets and failing to give them a physical home. They state that most of 60 homeless people they interviewed had encountered criticism for having a pet, with people telling them that they should not have a pet if they cannot give the pet a home.  Some reported that people had tried to buy their dogs to give them a home (as Irvine herself recounts having tried to do).  The homeless sometimes received threats that Animal Control would be called to take a pet away from them. 

Lem et al. (2013) found that homeless people themselves were inclined to see the use of companion animals for panhandling as exploitative, though some who had done it “acknowledged that companion animals often improved earnings,” particularly with younger animals.  One young man said that when his dog was between 16 weeks and six months, “I could almost guarantee $100 day every day.”  Lem et al. described a man who had lost his dog after it was hit by a car, which depressed him so much that he did not want to get another dog for fear of losing it the same way.  Thompson et al. (2014) found that loss of a pet on becoming homeless was a source of considerable grief among homeless in Australia. 

Lives of Homeless Pets

Unlike my ill-informed knee jerk reaction that homeless people obtain pets to improve their success in panhandling, a growing number of sociological and psychological studies, many included in the list of sources at the end of this blog, make it clear that the relationships of the homeless and their pets are generally the same as the rest of us have with our animals. Lem et al. (2013) found that homeless people referred to their pets as best friends, children, and family members. If anything, the animals of the homeless may get more attention, and more play time, than those of us with busy schedules ever give to our pets.  Lem et al., writing about “street-involved youth” in Canada, found that “pet before self” was a common theme among those they spoke with. Irvine found this characteristic so widespread and generally compelling that she referred to it in the first part of the title of her book, My Dog Always Eats First. Irvine (p. 30) says that most dogs, “due to the around-the-clock company of their guardians, were relaxed and attentive: most had received some training and knew at least the basic commands, such as ‘sit.’” 

Just as many of us want pets because we had them as children, Kidd and Kidd (1994) concluded that homeless people with pets were more likely to have had pets as children than was the case for homeless people without pets.  The homeless, like the disabled and the rest of us (Mader et al. 1989), may remark on how the animals increase interactions with other people.  Lem et al. (2013) interviewed one young man who said that by having a dog with him, “people could see a better side of me than they usually would.”  Taylor et al. (2004) found that among “homeless respondents, non-dog owners were significantly more likely than dog owners to believe that having a dog helped initiate conversations with the public.”  There may be a gender bias in who talks to the homeless with pets in that these researchers report that “women were significantly more likely to show concern for a homeless person’s dog’s welfare than men.” 

The homeless are often more conscious of the protection provided by their pets.  Gaetz et al. (2013) said that young homeless women found a dog “a source of security and comfort but also made it difficult to access necessary social services,” including public transportation.  Bukowski and Buetow (2011) found that homeless women treated their dogs “like family,” and depended on them for protection, sometimes to the point where even if they were offered housing they “would continue to live outdoors if their dogs could not go with them.”  In describing how the homeless camping in the woods often depend on the protective behavior of their dogs, Irvine’s account in her book (p. 116) reminded me of the ancient value of dogs to the human camp. 

The loyalty of dogs has always been important to humans, but it takes a sharper edge with the homeless.  Bender et al. (2007) quote a street youth as saying that his dog would stay with him “no matter what,” unlike the people he often met “out there.” 

[A dog] gives you somebody to talk to—I mean my dog is my home—he keeps me warm when it’s cold and gives me somebody to talk to when I’m walking down the highway.

Lynn Rew (2000) noted that homeless adolescents “often recognize the therapeutic value of pets.” She correctly argues that “[i]nterventions that enhance this coping strategy need to be developed and tested.” 

Like other people who seek to find rental housing, homeless people may encounter rejection because of a dog of the wrong breed or one that is too large. Lem et al. (2013) note that one homeless youth with a pit bull said that it was more difficult to find housing or shelter because his dog was a pit bull.  Tina Rasnow (2002) refers to a homeless individual not moving into housing because his dogs were slightly larger than allowed by a housing project. 

Obtaining Dog Food and Veterinary Care

Caring for a pet is also important for many homeless, perhaps even more important for some than being protected by it.  Irvine (p. 81) says of one woman:

Roe found that the responsibilities of caring for her dogs lifted her spirits when she felt sorry for herself; the dogs reminded her that she had things to do…. the animal provides important elements of predictability and permanence.

Those domiciled individuals more tolerant of the homeless having pets often provide dog food to homeless individuals they want to help because of concern for the pets, as I have done from time to time.  Animal control services and humane societies in many cities provide free pet food (Irvine, p. 60).  Some soup kitchens provide dog food, and some pet stores hand out dog food as well.  Some homeless people said they had never had difficulty getting enough food for a dog and Irvine et al. (2012) said that, in their sample, “none of the pets of the homeless went hungry.” 

There has apparently been a change in this regard.  Irvine et al. (2012) note that Kidd and Kidd (1994) had reported that about half of the homeless with pets had reported difficulty in getting enough food for their animals.

Obtaining veterinary care for their pets can also be a challenge for the homeless, though Irvine et al. (2012) indicate there are organizations that provide free veterinary services for the homeless, such as the Veterinary Street Outreach Service in San Francisco, and similar organizations in many cities.  (Indeed, Irvine in her book, at p. 22, notes that it was largely with the help of veterinarians and veterinary assistants that she was able to begin interviewing homeless people about their pets.)   Taylor et al. (2004) found that dog-owning homeless people were less likely to obtain health care services for themselves than were non-dog owning homeless people, “and health scores showed a reversed trend compare to that expected for the general population, with dog owners scoring lower than non-dog owners.”  So, in addition to feeding their animals before themselves, some homeless people may be obtaining medical services for their animals before they seek it for themselves. 

Pets as Redeemers

Perhaps the greatest difference between how the homeless describe their animals and how the rest of us do is that the homeless will often mention how a pet saved them.  Singer et al. (1995) found that “homeless pet owners were not markedly depressed and hopeless,” yet Irvine (2013) heard many “personal narratives in which homeless and formerly homeless people portray a pet dog or cat as either motivating them to change their lives or preventing them from taking their lives.”  Irvine “wanted to learn how homeless people narrated the slices of their lives that involve a relationship with an animal.”  One woman who Irvine called Donna said she stopped using heroin because of a German shepherd-Lab mix named Athena that had been rescued by another woman from a shelter where the dog had been scheduled to be euthanized.  Donna credited Athena with getting her out of an abusive relationship with a man who took her money and beat her up. Her mother allowed Donna to move into her house, but told Donna she would have to be clean.

“I said to myself, ‘My dog comes first in my life. Would I rather use drugs, or feed my dog?’ And I fell in love with Athena, so I gave up the needle. Gave up the pipe. I gave up liquor. Everything.”

Donna began to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  When Athena died of cancer at age 13, a pet supply store held a memorial service for her and a veterinary clinic arranged for cremation.  “Donna has kept the ashes because she wants them mixed and distributed with hers when she dies.”  Donna also began being treated for HIV once she had Athena and had given up drugs. 

Another person Irvine interviewed was panhandling at the exit of a shopping center in Boulder, Colorado, holding a sign that read, “Sober.  Doing the best I can.  Please help.”  This woman—Irvine gave her the pseudonym of Trish—had a Jack Russell Terrier named Pixel that was at her side in a dog bed.  Although she lived in a condemned mobile home, she did not leave Pixel in it because Pixel, according to Trish, had separation anxiety and would rather be with Trish out in the cold than by himself. Trish said that she had hit “rock bottom” and had wanted to die, but she couldn’t give up “because I had something else to take care of besides myself.  So he kept me alive…. I still needed to feed him and keep him warm at night. I didn’t care about myself, but I had to care about him, you know? He got me through a really tough spot.” Trish also told Irvine that Pixel did not like the smell of alcohol and would nip at the heels of people who approached them smelling of alcohol. 

Lem et al. (2013), interviewing young homeless people in Canada, found that many reported similar efforts to reduce the use of drugs and alcohol because of a companion animal.  One reported that he still used marijuana but had given up heavier drugs.  Two individuals said that they had lost dogs after being arrested and the animals had been euthanized at shelters.  Others reported concern that they could lose their animals by having them seized by police or animal control officers. Fear of losing a pet because of a negative interaction with authorities can be found in many of the studies of the homeless and their pets.   

There is some statistical support for dog ownership reducing drug use among the homeless.  A study in England (Baker 2001; see also Cronley et al. 2009) determined that 49% of non-owning but 37% of dog-owning homeless people took drugs.

The Limited Nature of the Current Safety Net for Pets of the Homeless

Before discussing what needs to be done (however unrealistic my hopes in this regard may be), it is essential to describe what social safety nets presently exist that can help the homeless and their pets.  It will be seen that only when certain categories of the homeless or potentially homeless arouse broad public sympathy, absolving them of primary responsibility for their homelessness and placing the blame on natural disasters or abusive husbands, will there be found any effective social safety net. 

Shelters for Disaster Victims

The effects of Hurricane Katrina on pets were devastating, and many people were forced to save themselves by leaving their pets behind (McNabb 2007).  A legislative result of this horror was the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006, PL 109-308 (amending 42 U.S.C. 5196), which provided federal funding for “the procurement, construction, leasing, or renovating of emergency shelter facilities and materials that will accommodate people with pets and service animals.”  The legislation presumes that displaced individuals or families will soon be returned to their homes, or will be able to obtain new housing, after the crisis passes.  The homeless status of the disaster victims is temporary, as is that of the pets, and thus does not generally concern the populations I am discussing here. 

Sheltering Abuse Victims and Their Pets  

The fact that many abused women will not leave abusers if they cannot take pets with them has received considerable attention from the popular press and legislators.  A study by Amy Fitzgerald (2007) found that abused women sometimes stayed with abusive partners longer than they might otherwise have done because their pets “kept them going” and provided them with enough support to cope with the abuse.  Some even said the pets were a reason they did not end their own lives.

Regina Jones (2008), discussing the importance of courts including pets in protective orders, just as spouses and children are covered, recounts a client showing her pictures of her husband cutting “cutting her beloved dog’s ears off with a pair of garden shears.”  The husband had sent the ears to his wife.  The correlation of domestic violence with animal abuse is high. Ascione et al. (1997) surveyed shelters concerning intake procedures regarding battered women, finding that 83.3% had observed the coexistence of domestic violence and pet abuse, yet only 27.1% had questions regarding pets in intake questionnaires.  Rebecca Wisch (2014) has assembled data on those states that have enacted legislation to include provisions for pets in domestic violence protection orders. 

The proposed Pet and Women Safety Act of 2015, presently mired in agricultural committees in both the House and Senate, would provide—

short-term pet shelter and housing assistance, including assistance with respect to expenses incurred for the temporary shelter, housing, boarding, or fostering of the pets of domestic violence victims and other expenses that are incidental to securing the safety of such a pet during the sheltering, housing, or relocation of such victims….

This assistance would be in the form of grants to entities established to help victims of domestic violence.  A pet for purposes of the Act is defined broadly as “a domesticated animal, such as a dog, cat, bird, rodent, fish, turtle, horse, or other animal that is kept for pleasure rather than for commercial purposes.”  This proposal recognizes that some victims of abuse may remain with the abuser in order to protect a pet (Fitzgerald 2007; Flynn 2000; Ascione et al. 1997). 

The Act is designed to help “victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking and the pets of such victims.” It would not guarantee that the pet or pets would be kept with the victim while housing is provided for each.  It considers that pet shelter and housing may but need not necessarily be co-located with that provided the victim (“locate and secure safe housing with their pet or safe accommodations for their pet….”). 

Although the Act refers to “emergency and transitional pet shelter and housing assistance,” as well as “short-term pet shelter and housing assistance,” it does not specify how quickly after leaving the abusive situation the victim must seek shelter.  It does refer to providing services to a victim “fleeing” domestic violence, so it might be argued that a victim who has been on the streets for a time but is still living in fear of the abuser might be able to seek assistance for herself and her pets.  The time frames will probably require regulatory clarification if the Act does pass.  

A program founded by Allie Phillips, Sheltering Animals & Families TogetherTM  encourages shelters to accept animals along with members of families fleeing domestic violence and provides lists of shelters that accept pets. 

Shelters for Homeless People

Singer et al. (1995) found that most participants in a survey had been refused housing because they had pets (though the authors acknowledged that the refusals were sometimes for legitimate reasons).  With limited exceptions described below, most homeless shelters will not accept animals. This raises health issues.  Lem (2012) notes that young homeless people have reported that their health has been affected by having to sleep outside in inclement weather because of refusal to be separated from their pets. Singer et al. surveyed 35 men and 31 women who visited a veterinary clinic serving homeless pet owners.  93.3% of men and 96.4% of women said that housing would not be acceptable if they could not bring their pets with them.  61% of men and 33% of women said they would be willing to live anywhere pets were allowed except a shelter.  Particularly uninterested in going into shelters were chronically homeless men (men who had been homeless more than six months), perhaps as a result of negative experiences with shelters.  Lem et al. (2013) found that the exclusion of pets from shelters may hit homeless women more than homeless men in that “homeless women are more likely to seek shelter or housing due to their vulnerability on the street.”

Under 42 U.S.C. 12181(7), a public accommodation includes a “homeless shelter, food bank, adoption agency, or other social service center establishment…” (See also 28 CFR 36.406(d).)  This means that homeless shelters are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and should be required to accept service animals as defined under 28 CFR 36.104. Although not common, I have been advised of some veterans who have service dogs, primarily for PTSD, who have had difficulties obtaining access to shelters even with highly trained service dogs.  Part of the problem may be that, at least in some areas, homeless people with pets have been obtaining service dog paraphernalia for their pets in order to increase the access of the animals and such bogus service animals have been causing problems in shelters as they have in other places of public accommodation. 

In San Francisco, an individual with a licensed dog and a doctor’s letter stating the individual has a disability, and needs a dog as a service/support animal, can register the dog with the San Francisco Department of Animal Care and Control and obtain service dog tags (also called California Assistance Dog tags).  The applicant must have had the dog for at least 30 days, and must sign an affidavit confirming that he or she is disabled “and that your dog is trained to assist you.”  There is no charge for the tags.  A webpage of the organization PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) devoted to the procedures of obtaining and benefits of having these tags explains that they entitle the holder to bring the service or support animal “of any species” into, among other places, “public health clinics, case management or mental health services, [p]ublic or private housing, including SROs, homeless shelters and residential treatment programs funded by or contracted with the City.”  Irvine in her book (p. 78) states that the “majority of guardians in San Francisco had such tags for their dogs, and one had them for her cat.”  Although I favor some of the results of this program as to shelters and housing, I believe its benefits are best kept in San Francisco as it is clear that under federal perspectives on service and probably even emotional support animals, many of the tags are being issued to individuals without legitimate service or assistance dogs. (I have dealt with this issue many times in this blog, such as with regard to airline access )

The obligation of a homeless shelter system becomes more complicated if the animal is not a service animal but does provide emotional support to an individual with a handicap under 42 U.S.C. 3604(c).  This requires determination of whether a shelter can be considered a dwelling unit under 24 CFR 100.201, which states:

Dwelling unit means a single unit of residence for a family or one or more persons. Examples of dwelling units include: a single family home; an apartment unit within an apartment building; and in other types of dwellings in which sleeping accommodations are provided but toileting or cooking facilities are shared by occupants of more than one room or portion of the dwelling, rooms in which people sleep. Examples of the latter include dormitory rooms and sleeping accommodations in shelters intended for occupancy as a residence for homeless persons.  

The application of the Fair Housing Act to homeless shelters is not a matter of settled law, however, as courts have split on whether specific temporary shelters fit within the Act’s definition of dwelling.  In Community House, Inc. V. City of Boise, Idaho, 490 F.3d 1041 (9th Cir. 2007), a facility that provides more than transient housing, including “transitional housing units in which tenants reside for up to a year and a half,” was, at least as to this part of the facility, a dwelling under 42 U.S.C. 3602(b).  See also Woods v. Foster, 884 F.Supp. 1169 (D. Ill. 1995), finding a facility where guests were allowed to stay up to 120 days was a dwelling. 

In contrast, Intermountain Fair Housing v. Boise Rescue Mission, 717 F.Supp.2d 1101 (D. Idaho 2010), affirmed on other grounds, 657 F.3d 988 (9th Cir. 2011), concerned a facility where guests have to check in on a daily basis between 4:00 and 5:30 p.m. and remain in an outdoor waiting area until 6:00 p.m., are not guaranteed the same bed each night, are not allowed to leave the shelter during the night once they enter it, but are required to leave by 8 a.m.  “Guest sleeping areas are in dormitory-style rooms shared with many guests….”  This facility is not a dwelling, according to the Idaho federal district court, but is rather a “place of temporary sojourn or transient visit.”  The decision observed:

The Court is not convinced that a homeless shelter is a "dwelling" simply because the guests have "nowhere else to `return to,'" … because, under that interpretation of "dwelling," any building or structure in which a homeless person is sleeping and storing his or her possessions would be considered a "dwelling" based simply on the intent and circumstances of the homeless person.

Via dell' Independenzia, Bologna, October 2014
Karen Wong (2009) has argued that “shelters should typically not be classified as dwellings under the Fair Housing Act.”  Rather, they “should be treated as public accommodations subject to the more lenient restrictions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”  For the present discussion, this would mean that the more typical type of homeless shelter described in Intermountain Fair Housing would be required to accept a service dog but not an emotional support animal. See also the excellent discussion of Katherine R. Powers (2014), considering the dwelling question with regard to a college dormitory but analyzing the history of the concept of dwelling in a range of residential arrangements (drug treatment facilities, halfway houses, migrant worker housing), particularly focusing on the length of residence issue as often determinative. 

A legislative initiative in Hawaii in 2011, designed to provide funding for parks for homeless persons (HR 133), included a provision stating that homeless persons would be permitted to bring into a park “a limited amount of possessions and a maximum of one pet as appropriate.” Although the legislation eventually passed, the pet reference was deleted before enactment. The rule would have excluded many homeless people who have more than one pet.   Recently, a transitional shelter on Sand Island for homeless people on Oahu was made pet-friendly by Mayor Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu.  The decision has been controversial, and has been followed by the local press (see letter from Pamela Burns, President of the Hawaiian Humane Society in the Star Advertiser, November 1, 2015, answering critics of the policy).

Some shelters do accept pets without any legislative mandate. Lem et al. (2013) note that most homeless shelters in Canada have no-pet policies, but some will accept pets “seasonally,” presumably in winter.  Labrecque and Walsh (2011) found that women with companion animals in Canadian cities wanted shelters to accept pets and suggested that there be separate areas for people with pets.
Loftus-Ferren, Z. (2011) describes a homeless encampment in Ventura, California, that was created as a direct response to the rules against couples and pets that exist in many homeless shelters.  Nevertheless, Bruce (2014) notes that, despite being sympathetic, many homeless shelter services feel that with limited resources they cannot justify allocating funds for pet care despite the attachments homeless people may feel towards their animals. 

Society’s Treatment of Homeless Pets

Animal control facilities are often specifically empowered to take in homeless pets (e.g. 225 ILCS 605/2, in which Illinois specifically provides that an animal control facility is to be operated “for the purpose of impounding or harboring seized, stray, homeless, abandoned or unwanted dogs, cats, and other animals”; see also Kansas Statutes 47-1701).  Homelessness of animals is sometimes a statutory reason for euthanasia.  Connecticut Revised Statutes 29-108g, for instance, provides:

Any agent or officer of the Connecticut Humane Society may lawfully take charge of and humanely destroy, or cause to be humanely destroyed, any abandoned, lost, strayed or homeless animal or animal unsuitable for adoption in his charge if upon examination a licensed veterinarian certifies, in writing, or if two persons called to view the animal in the presence of an agent or officer of the society find that the animal is injured, disabled or diseased past recovery, infirm or unsuitable for adoption, or if the owner consents in writing to such destruction. In the absence of such certification or finding or redemption by the owner, the society may, after five days, humanely destroy any animal in its charge pursuant to this section. In lieu of such destruction or redemption by the owner, the society may, in its discretion and without liability, deliver such animal, after five days, to a person other than the owner. (emphasis added)

Statutory provisions regarding drugs used for euthanasia may refer to their use on homeless pets (e.g., California Business and Professions Code (Veterinary Medicine) 4827(d), permitting administering sodium pentobarbital “for euthanasia of sick, injured, homeless, or unwanted domestic pets or animals….”; Colorado Revised Statutes 12-42.5-118, to the same effect).

Although a homeless person having a pet arguably has a homeless pet, some degree of neglect or abandonment is doubtless required for an animal control authority to seize and destroy a pet of a homeless person. Irvine (p. 107) notes that a domiciled dog may be allowed to remain locked up at home during a quarantine period after a bite, but a homeless dog will go into the pound. 

In Lavan v. City of Los Angeles, 693 F.3d 1022 (9th Cir. 2012), the Ninth Circuit barred the City of Los Angeles from seizing and destroying temporarily abandoned property in the Skid Row district of the city absent an immediate threat to public safety.  LA had been seizing property temporarily left on public sidewalks while the homeless individuals who brought to suit “attended to necessary tasks such as eating, showering, and using restrooms.”  Such temporary abandonments, according to the City’s attorneys, violated an LA ordinance (LAMC 56.11) stating that no “person shall leave or permit to remain any merchandise, baggage or any article of personal property upon any parkway or sidewalk.”  Both the district and circuit courts noted that the City’s interpretation of the ordinance would have the effect that “the government could seize and destroy any illegally parked car or unlawfully unattended dog without implicating the Fourth Amendment.” 

The homeless are well aware of the risk of leaving pets for even short periods of time and do their best to develop relationships with others who can watch over the animals when they have to obtain food or services for themselves.  There are a few kennels that allow homeless people to board their pets for short periods free of charge.  Loaves and Fishes, a shelter for the homeless in Sacramento, provides day-time kennels where pets can be left, though owners are expected to walk their dogs twice a day and clean the kennel at day’s end (Irvine, p. 79).  Such arrangements sometimes allow the homeless to obtain employment.  Lem et al. (2013) note that some homeless people have said they could not take jobs because they would not be able to take care of their animals.  Rhoades et al. (2014) found that homeless youth with pets in the Los Angeles area had lower rates of using housing and employment services:

Only 36.5% of pet owners had utilized housing services in the past month, compared to 52.4% of non-pet owners; the disparity was similar for utilizing services to help with finding a job, at 37.3% among pet owners, and 56.3% of non-pet owners.

The authors state that their “findings support prior research and suggestions that agencies serving homeless persons should explore how pets can be accommodated by their programs.”

Calls for Changing Perspective and Policy

Irvine (2012, p. 168) argues that there is a—

need to recognize the relationships that exist between homeless people and their companion animals. Animals matter for many homeless people, and if as much as a quarter of the homeless population in some areas have pets, service providers and policymakers need to acknowledge this.

Gaetz et al. (2013) state:

[S]ocial service agencies need to change their policies to allow dogs to accompany women. Travelling with a dog can offer a considerable degree of protection but it can also serve to isolate a woman who is unwilling to leave her dog unattended outside an agency. Offering women the opportunity to bring a dog inside shelters, drop-in centres, and other agencies could increase the chances that women will use these services, especially in the evening. This small initiative could go a long way to improving safety for women on the street.

Lem et al. (2013) argue that pet-friendly sheltering services are needed. 

Programs could consider allowing well-behaved companion animals into services with their owners, or providing accommodation in a safe place while their owners access services. Agencies could consider a kennel or companion animal boarding area in the design plans for new facilities. Incorporating animals into shelter services can provide significant benefits to the residents.

Singer et al. (1995) concluded that their study points “to the value of considering the homeless person and the animal as a unit and working to create a responsible living situation for these human-animal pairs.”  Similarly, Kim and Newton (2014), writing about homeless youth, state that “in light of the fact that youth care deeply about their animals, providing for the integrated needs of a human-animal family should also be considered.” 

Flynn (2000), though speaking specifically about battered women and their pets, emphasizes that it is “important that cross-training and cross-referrals occur between animal protection personnel and social service agency professionals.”  This recommendation should be taken to heart by all agencies seeking to help the homeless and their pets. 

Legal recognition of the importance of the human-animal bond, such as is found in the legislation regarding rescuing pets enacted after Hurricane Katrina (where, as noted by Kim and Newton (2014), 15,000 abandoned animals were rescue and no one knows how many died), needs to be extended to the homeless and their pets because, far too often, individuals who are homeless will be offered shelter but only if they accept that their animals cannot remain with them.  Unfortunately, no national movement is likely to lead to the pressure that changed pet-rescue policies after Katrina because the homeless are not a potent political force and there are a number of mistaken beliefs about the homeless and their pets including that the homeless are using the pets to get sympathy and money, that the pets are suffering because they are forced to be homeless along with their masters, and that the homeless cannot care for themselves much less for their pets.  It is true, of course, that until recently I shared some of these perspectives myself. 

My Recommendations

In order to limit the loss of pets by the homeless and to recognize the need to keep the homeless and their pets together where possible, I make the following recommendations:
  1. Require that shelter systems allocate 10% of shelter spaces for homeless individuals with pets, allowing for the possibility that some of the homeless will have more than one pet. Some shelters should be available for couples, who may of course have a pet together.  Employees of shelters would require some training, particularly if pets must be segregated from owners because of structural or legal reasons.
  2. Require that housing providers who receive subsidies for renting apartments to the homeless designate at least 10% of such units as pet-friendly.  Similarly, require that governmental entities providing subsidies verify that 10% of subsidies provided for housing the homeless be used for units that will accept pets. Some auditing would be required to assure that people with pets are not being excluded and also to determine if, as may happen with some HUD-funded housing, drug dealers are not using units to house dogs they use for protection or for dog fighting.
  3. Require that agencies providing social services to the homeless, such as health and counseling services, allow pets on the premises to the extent possible under state law, or provide temporary kennels or other supervision for pets while the owners are receiving services. State laws in this regard should be revisited to determine if animal entry restrictions for agencies providing social services are necessary for health or other reasons.
  4. Require that animal control officers and facilities identify pets of the homeless where possible and treat such pets in the same manner that lost pets are treated where their owners are domiciled. Before scheduling a dog or cat for euthanasia, where the animal has been licensed but no domicile for the owner has been established, an affidavit should be signed and filed stating that notification was provided to a central local service provider for the homeless.  I am aware that there will be resistance from shelters, where decisions are often made quickly to euthanize because a determination is made that an animal has no potential value. 
  5. Identify on a state-wide or regional basis a public or private agency to serve as a clearinghouse that can be used by homeless individuals to find pets that have been identified by animal shelters and animal control facilities as owned or licensed but as to which no domicile of an owner or licensee has been identified.  Preferably information should be made available electronically. 
  6. Remove “homeless” as a justification for euthanasia of pets from state and local laws; alternatively specify that homeless in this context means that the animal does not have an owner and that an owner can be a homeless individual. 
  7. Require cooperation between public and private entities providing temporary and longer-term shelter and housing for the homeless and animal control organizations and facilities to develop local policies and practices designed to keep the homeless from losing their pets while receiving services or obtaining shelter. A concerted effort should be made to leverage resources made available under the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, the Pet and Women Safety Act (if it passes), and shelter systems for the homeless.
  8. Provide funding from public or private sources for kennels that would allow homeless individuals with employment to leave pets in kennels during work periods, perhaps requiring that the owners regularly walk dogs and pick them up before a certain time in the afternoon. 
  9. The Department of Housing and Urban Development should be required to include statistics on the number of pets with the homeless in its annual report to Congress regarding the homeless.  State agencies serving the homeless should maintain such statistics as well.  Objectives here should include developing a more accurate understanding of which areas in the country show significant variations in the number of homeless with pets and whether the recognition of the need to provide social and shelter services to the homeless in certain cities, such as San Francisco, serves as a magnet for the homeless with pets. 
  10. Resources for research on the homeless should be devoted to determining whether having pets has an effect on levels of addiction, symptoms of mental illness, suicide, and other parameters that might demonstrate if and where resources should be allocated to assure that the homeless and their pets will not be separated where this can be avoided.
I do not like making pie-in-the-sky proposals for social change or governmental policy and I hope that these recommendations will not be perceived in that category.  I am well aware that these recommendations can be improved upon, and I would appreciate suggestions for doing so.


As an undergraduate majoring in zoology at Berkeley, I was required to take several courses outside my major, the university’s effort to assure that it was turning out well-rounded scientists with at least a minimal appreciation of the liberal arts and other cultural aspects of the broader society in which we were expected to find a place.  Whether I learned enough from the sociology course to justify the university’s ambitions for me in this regard I can no longer say, but I do remember writing a paper about poverty and living on the edges of society for the class.  I did not keep a copy of this paper, though I am sure it was filled with the leftist rhetoric I was fond of spouting at the time.  What I do remember are two of the books that I read in writing it, which were Skid Row as a Way of Life, by Samuel E. Wallace, part of Harper & Row’s wonderful Torchbook series, and Subways are for Sleeping, by Edmund G. Love (later adapted into a musical). I kept both books with me through many moves and was saddened to find I no longer have them.  Wallace in particular was a mind-changing experience and I would like to be able smell the yellowed pages, aged by years of rather transient living as a student around Berkeley and Oakland when Scott speakers and a Marantz amplifier were my most prized possessions.  I would put Irvine’s My Dog Always Eats First in the same category with Wallace and Love, a book that can broaden understanding and change perspectives. 

Via dell' Independza, Bologna, October 2014
In the year before a presidential election, both Republican and Democratic candidates are expressing sympathy for the struggling middle and working classes, and for those who have lost their jobs or been required to take marginal employment.  Some of the accounts of the sociologists who have done research on the homeless mention people who lost their homes when the housing bubble burst and their mortgages became unaffordable.  Nevertheless, when someone loses a job and the safety nets run out, he or she may end up on the streets.  There were sympathetic stories some years ago of families taking their pets to pounds so as to reduce expenses and hopefully keep a house.  There were even stories of such pets being euthanized in the ordinary course of the operation of the pound.  There were, on the other hand, families that went onto the street rather than give up their pets.  Those families also deserve our sympathy, and perhaps even our respect.  Yet the tolerance of presidential aspirants often runs out when it comes to those who are reduced to begging and accepting the most limited of social services.  They are seen as social parasites (Newton 2012).  Admittedly there are drug addicts, alcoholics, people who will not take jobs they believe are beneath them, people who are more responsible for their condition than they are willing to admit and who will do less to right their ships than they should.  Nevertheless, we should all realize that for many of the homeless, the difference between them and us is little more than a matter of initial circumstances and the winds of fate.  There but for the grace of God go we.  There but for the grace of God go our pets. 

Thanks to Gavin Thornton of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice for clarifying the status of Hawaiian legislation and for telling me about the Sand Island shelter.  Thanks to J. Wallace Oman, a friend from law school, for giving me additional perspective on housing policies and practices in San Francisco.  Thanks to L.E. Papet for helping refine the recommendations and for additional sources.  Thanks to Rebecca Wisch for suggesting that I look at the issue of victims of domestic violence and their pets. 


Homeless Families by State (HUD 2014)
  1. Ascione, F.R., Weber, C.V., and Wood, D.S. (1997).  The Abuse of Animals and Domestic Violence: A National Survey of Shelters for Women Who Are Battered.  Society & Animals, 5(3), 205-218.
  2. Baker, O.  (2001).  A Dog’s Life: Homeless People and Their Pets.  Blue Cross.
  3. Bender, K., Thompson, S.J., McManus, H., Lantry, J., and Flynn, P.M. (2007).  Capacity for Survival: Exploring Strengths of Homeless Street Youth.  Child Youth Care Forum, 36(1), 25-42.
  4. Bruce, L.J. (2014).  Pet Advocate Program for the Homeless in Missoula, MT (MA thesis, University of Montana).
  5. Bukowski, K., and Buetow, S. (2011).  Making the Invisible Visible: A Photovoice Exploration of Homeless Women’s Health and Lives in Central Auckland.  Social Science & Medicine, 72(5), 739-746.
  6. Cronley, C., Strand, E.B., Patterson, D.A., and Gwaltney, S. (2009). Homeless People Who Are Animal Caretakers: A Comparative Study.  Psychological Reports, 105(2), 481-499.
  7. Ellingsen, K., Zanella, A.J., Bjerkas, E., and Indrebo, A. (2010).  The Relationship Between Empathy, Perception of Pain and Attitudes Toward Pets among Norwegian Dog Owners.  Anthrozoos, 23(3), 231-243 (noting variations in cultural attitudes towards dogs and empathy for their pain).
  8. Fitzgerald, A.J. (2007).  “They Gave Me a Reason to Live”: The Protective Effects of Companion Animals on Suicidability of Abused Women.  Humanity & Society, 31(4), 355-378. 
  9. Flynn, C.P. (2000).  Women’s Best Friend: Pet Abuse and the Role of Companion Animals in the Lives of Battered Women.  Violence Against Women, 6(2), 162-177 (46.5% of women at intake reported that their batterers had threatened to harm or actually harmed their pets)
  10. Fosburg, L.B., and Dennis, D.L. (1998).  Practical Lessons: The 1998 National Symposium on Homeless Research.  Proceedings: Arlington, Va. (noting that dogs can help outreach workers in trying to talk to some homeless people).
  11. Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Buccieri, K., Karabanow, J., and Marsolais, A. (2013).  Youth Homelessness in Canada: Implications for Policy and Practice.  Canadian Homelessness Research Network: the homeless hub. 
  12. Garcia, P. (2015). Homeless People in Turlock: Their Needs and Experiences (MA thesis) (describing people entering a shelter having to leave their pets and carts “outside the gate.”).
  13. Government Accountability Office, GAO-12-491 (May 2012).  Homelessness: Fragmentation and Overlap in Programs Highlight the Need to Identify, Assess, and Reduce Inefficiencies. 
  14. Hughes, J.R., Clark, S.E., Wood, W., Cakmak, S., Cox, A., MacInnis, M., Warren, B., Handrahan, E., and Broom, B. (2010).  Youth Homelessness: The Relationships among Mental Health, Hope, and Service Satisfaction.  Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 19(4), 274-283.
  15. Hulchanski, J.D., Campsie, P., Chau, S.B.Y., Hwang, S.W., and Paradis, E. (2009) Finding Home: Policy Options for Addressing Homelessness in Canada (e-book).
  16. Huss, R.J. (2007)  Rescue Me: Legislating Cooperation Between Animal Control Authorities and Rescue Organizations.  Connecticut Law Review, 39, 2059.  
  17. Irvine, L. (2009). Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters.  Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 
  18. Irvine, L. (2012). My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People & Their Animals. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.
  19. Irvine, L. (2013). Animals as Lifechangers and Lifesavers: Pets in the Redemption Narratives of Homeless People.  Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 42(1), 3-30. 
  20. Irvine, L., Kahl, K.N., and Smith, J.M. (2012). Confrontation and Donations: Encounters Between Homeless Pet Owners and the Public.  The Sociological Quarterly, 53(1), 25-43. 
  21. Jones, R.C. (2008).  Including Pets in Domestic Violence Protective Orders.  McGeorge Law Review, 39, 469.
  22. Kidd, A.H., and Kidd, R.M. (1994).  Benefits and Liabilities of Pets for the Homeless.  Psychological Reports, 74, 715-722.
  23. Kim, C.H., and Newton, E.K. (2014). My Dog is My Home: Increasing Awareness of Inter-Species Homelessness in Theory and Practice, 48-63 in Animals in Social Work: Why and How They Matter (Ryan, T., ed.).  New York: Palgrave MacMillan
  24. Kirst, M., Zerger, S., Harris, D.W., Plenert, E., and Stergiopoulos, V. (2014).  The Promise of Recovery: Narratives of Hope among Homeless Individuals with Mental Illness Participating in a Housing First Randomised Controlled Trial in Toronto, Canada.  BMJ Open 2014(4), e004379 (some homeless expressed a desire to get a pet once they had housing).
  25. Labrecque, J., and Walsh, C. (2011).  Homeless Women’s Voices on Incorporating Companion Animals into Shelter Services.  Anthrozoos, 24(1), 79-95.
  26. Lem, M. (2012).  Effects of Pet Ownership on Street-Involved Youth in Ontario (MS Thesis, University of Guelph) (“Pet ownership was also demonstrated to be significantly and negatively correlated with regular shelter use…. [P]et ownership was found to be negatively associated with depression.”).
  27. Lem, M., Coe, J.B., Haley, D.B., Stone, E., and O’Grady, W. (2013).  Effects of Companion Animal Ownership among Canadian Street-involved Youth: A Qualitative Analysis. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 40(4), 285-304.
  28. Loftus-Ferren, Z. (2011).  Tent Cities: An Interim Solution to Homelessness and Affordable Housing Shortages in the United States.  California Law Review, 99, 1037.
  29. Mader, B., Hart, L.A., and Bergin, B. (1989). Social Acknowledgments for Children with Disabilities: Effects of Service Dogs.  Child Development,60(6), 1529. 
  30. McNabb, M. (2007).  Pets in the Eye of the Storm: Hurricane Katrina Floods the Courts with Pet Custody Disputes.  Animal Law Review 14, 71.
  31. Newton, E. (2012). In a Clasped Paw and Hand: A Case Study of Homeless People and Their Pets in Portland, Oregon. Association for Human-Animal Bond Studies. 
  32. Nowicki, S.A. (2011).  Give Me Shelter: The Foreclosure Crisis and Its Effect on America’s Animals.  Stanford Journal of Animal Law and Policy, 4, 97.
  33. Powers, K.R. (2014). Dogs in Dorms: How the United States v. University of Nebraska at Kearney Illustrates a Coverage Gap Created by the Intersection of Fair Housing and Disability Law. Creighton Law Review, 47, 363.  
  34. Rasnow, T.L. (2002).  Conference: Access to Justice Conference September 11, 2001: Traveling Justice: Providing Court Based Pro Se Assistance to Limited Access Communities.  Fordham Urban Law Journal, 29, 1281.
  35. Rew, L. (2000).  Friends and Pets as Companions: Strategies for Coping with Loneliness among Homeless Youth.  Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 13(3), 125-132. 
  36. Rew, L., and Horner, S.D. (2003).  Personal Strengths of Homeless Adolescents Living in a High-Risk Environment. Advances in Nursing Science, 26(2), 90-101.
  37. Rhoades, H., Winetrobe,H., and Rice, E. (2014).  Pet Ownership Among Homeless Youth: Associations with Mental Health, Service Utilization and Housing Status. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 46(2), 237-244.
  38. Singer, R.S., Hart, L.A., and Zasloff, R.L.(1995).  Dilemmas Associated with Rehousing Homeless People Who Have Companion Animals.  Psychological Reports, 77, 851-857. 
  39. Slatter, J., Lloyd, C., and King, R. (2012).  Homelessness and Companion Animals: More than Just a Pet? British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 75(8), 377-383 (finding pet ownership to be “a valued occupation,” to which occupational therapists should pay more attention).
  40. Taylor, H., Williams, P., and Gray, D. (2004).  Homelessness and Dog Ownership: An Investigation into Animal Empathy, Attachment, Crime, Drug Use, Health and Public Opinion.  Anthrozoos, 17(4), 353-368.
  41. Thompson, K., Every, D., Rainbird, S., Cornell, V., Smith, B., and Trigg, J. (2014).  No Pet or Their Person Left Behind: Increasing the Disaster Resilience of Vulnerable Groups through Animal Attachment, Activities and Networks.  Animals, 4, 214-240. 
  42. Thompson, S.J., McManus, H., Lantry, J., Windsor, L., and Flynn, P. (2006).  Insights from the Street: Perceptions of Services and Providers by Homeless Young Adults.  Evaluation and Program Planning, 29, 34-43. 
  43. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Office of Community Planning and Development (October 2014).  The 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress.  
  44. Wallace, S.E. (1965). Skid Row as a Way of Life.  New York: Harper & Row. 
  45. Wisch, R.F. (2014).  Domestic Violence and Pets: List of States that Include Pets in Protective Orders.  Animal Legal & Historical Center, Michigan State University College of Law. 
  46. Woelfer, J.P., and Hendry, D.G. (2009).  Stabilizing Homeless Young People with Information and Place. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 60(11), 2300-2312.
  47. Wong, K. (2009). Comment, Narrowing the Definition of “Dwelling” Under the Fair Housing Act, UCLA Law Review 56, 1867.
  48. Woods, D.R., and Komorosky, D. (2013).  Animal Companion Placement and Management Challenges in California Domestic Violence Shelters.  National Social Science Proceedings, 53, 154-159.  (Batterers use this bond as a way to manipulate the control their victims through threats or actual harm done to companion animals. The concern for companion animals becoming victims of violent relationships is highlighted by the increased numbers of states placing pets on protection orders [citing Wisch].)
  49. Zimolag, U., and Krupa, T. (2009).  Pet Ownership as a Meaningful Community Occupation for People with Serious Mental Illness. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63, 126-137 (discussing the effects of companion animals on “community integration” of individuals with severe mental illness noting that occupational therapists can become involved in “teaching and advocacy related to the rights and responsibilities of being a pet owner in rental housing, and collaborating with housing agencies and veterinarians to develop creative pet solutions”). 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Updated Report on Facility Dogs Helping Victims Testify about Abuse

In the last year, more courts have allowed dogs to be in the witness box while children testify about abuse, often with the abuser only feet away.  Several states have recently enacted legislation to permit children and vulnerable witnesses to be accompanied by such dogs on the stand, and other states are considering such laws.  While I believe this is generally a positive use of dogs in the courtroom, I see two troubling trends. The first are state laws and legislative proposals that restrict this work to dogs trained or tested by specific service or therapy dog organizations, despite the fact that many of the dogs judges have allowed in their courtrooms would not meet such criteria but worked very well for the purpose anyway. There is a desire among some groups to establish a guild of facility dog trainers and handlers that would in effect create a monopoly on this work. The second trend I find of grave concern, as someone who once worked in the Department of the Public Advocate in New Jersey, is the obvious lack of preparation demonstrated by defense counsel as to the potential bias involved in a number of the prosecutions that have led to convictions where facility dogs were accepted by trial judges.  These developments, and my concerns, are described in an article that I have been updating since 2012 on the website of the Animal Legal & Historical Center of the Michigan State University College of Law. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Western Range Operations Get Labor Department Approval to Continue to Import Foreign Temporary (H-2A) Workers Skilled in Managing Herding and Guarding Dogs

Employment issues arise occasionally among those who train and use dogs for professional purposes.  The most common example in my experience concerns the pay of law enforcement personnel who care for dogs trained in narcotics and explosives detection.  Compensation issues particularly arise when the dogs live with the officers as members of their families. Some departments regard providing compensation for such activities as prohibitively expensive, or at least a factor to consider in deciding whether to implement or discontinue a detection dog program.

One work environment where the use of trained dogs is not going to decline because of compensation levels for their handlers concerns temporary foreign non-immigrant (H-2A) workers who are brought into the U.S. to work as shepherds.  These workers, who are found on large ranching operations primarily in the western United States, will continue to be brought into the country, primarily from Peru, because of efforts made by segments of the livestock industry to assure that the Department of Labor recognizes that cutting off the importation of shepherds as temporary employees could end large-scale sheep and wool production in much of the country. 

Temporary Employment for Non-Immigrants in Herding Occupations

On October 16, the Department of Labor issued final regulations regarding the temporary or seasonal employment of agricultural workers under the H-2A program (Temporary Agricultural Employment of H-2A Foreign Workers in the Herding and Production of Livestock on the Range in the United States, RIN 1205-AB70, 80 Fed. Reg. 62958, October 16, 2015). The regulations establish standards and procedures for employers to hire foreign temporary agricultural workers for jobs in herding and production of livestock on the range.  “Range” is specifically defined:

The range is any area located away from the ranch headquarters used by the employer. The following factors are indicative of the range: it involves land that is uncultivated; it involves wide expanses of land, such as thousands of acres; it is located in a remote, isolated area; and typically range housing is required so that the herder can be in constant attendance to the herd. No one factor is controlling and the totality of the circumstances is considered in determining what should be considered range. The range does not include feedlots, corrals, or any area where the stock involved would be near ranch headquarters. 20 CFR 655.201

One example of ranch work “closely and directly related” to agricultural production involves “feeding and caring for the dogs that the workers use on the range to assist with herding or guarding the flock.”  20 CFR 655.201.  The regulations only mention dogs in one other context, stating that on the range temporary workers may be required to use non-potable water for laundry and bathing if the water is clean and safe for such purposes, but if runoff water is used to water the herd, dogs, or horses, precautionary measures must be taken to prevent contamination if the laundry or bathing water might be collected from areas where animals excrete.  20 CFR 655.235(b)(2).  More specifically, under 20 CFR 655.235(b)(3), the “water provided for use by the workers may not be used to water dogs, horses, or the herd.” 

There is no other mention of dogs in the regulatory text, though there are a number of explanatory references in the preamble.  What is perhaps most interesting about the regulatory release is that when proposed rules were published in the Federal Register only months before on April 15 (80 Fed. Reg. 20300), there was no mention of dogs in either the preamble or the text of the proposed rules.  The fact that dogs receive attention now is due entirely to comments received by the Department after issuance of the proposal.  Comments were originally due by May 15 (only one month from publication of the proposal in the Federal Register), but this was extended because of the number of comments that were being submitted, to June 1, 2015.  DOL got 511 comments in all, 505 of which it published on the website, with 39 of these referring to dogs (some because domestic dogs can be predators of sheep, but mostly because of guarding and herding functions that might be performed on the range when the dogs are deployed with temporary workers). 

(The H-2A program goes back to legislation President Reagan signed, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Regulations were issued under the Act, but as to herding occupations the Department of Labor relied on two guidance letters concerning (1) employers engaged in sheepherding and goatherding occupations (Training and Employment Guidance Letter No. 32-10), and (2) open range production of livestock (Training and Employment Guidance Letter No. 15-06).  Attachment A to TEGL 32-10 provided that sheepherders and goatherders may “herd flocks and round up strays using trained dogs.”)

Peruvians Dominate Labor Market for Shepherds

Mountain Plains Agricultural Service, in trenchant comments, makes it clear that domestic labor cannot supply the needs of range operations: 

Dating back to World War II, sheep producers found it first difficult and later impossible to find United States workers able and willing to perform the difficult work of “range” sheepherding. In recent years, the number of U.S. born sheepherders has essentially dropped to zero. For example, in 2012, Western Range’s members sought to hire nearly 1,000 sheepherders. Out of that number, only 22 U.S. workers even applied, and only 2 met the qualifications and were hired.... One was not interested in the job and the other was hired but quit before completing his contract.

This commenter estimates that “[r]oughly 40% of all sheep in the U.S. and beef cows in the Western United States are herded by H-2A workers.”  Comments submitted by Julie Stepanek Shiflett, the Mountain Plains Agricultural Service, the Western Range Association, and the American Sheep Industry Association, refer to the cost of bringing in temporary workers from other countries:

Sheep ranchers face costs that other agricultural employers hiring H2-A workers do not face. The sheep rancher must incur transport costs to hire workers with unique talents from countries as far away as Peru. Second, the sheep rancher must incur the costs to transport food to often distant and remote areas where herders work and live. The sheep rancher must also maintain housing in remote areas of our country, also incurring a significant transport cost.

Peruvians are commonly employed as temporary range workers.  David Kelly, in a 2004 article in the Los Angeles Times, wrote that “ranchers across the West have come to rely almost entirely on Peruvians … to tend their sheep.  The rugged South Americans have a rich herding tradition, are used to harsh weather and, more important, are willing to work for low wages in one of the nation’s least known but most demanding occupations.”  A 2004 article by Amyjo Brown of the Associated Press explains that the same work in Peru would pay about $300 per month, and the U.S. income level allowed one worker to send his three children to school in Peru.

A 2013 posting on the website of the University of California at Davis cites other press reports indicating that once in the U.S., some H-2A workers leave their jobs for longer contracts and better pay.  “The Western Range Association said that about 10 percent of the 900 H-2A shepherds that it brought into the US did not complete their contracts.”  The number of positions certified by the Department of Labor to the Western Range Association was 1,333 in the most recently posted annual report (for 2013) of the Office of Foreign Labor Certification. 

The website of the U.S. Embassy in Peru has a webpage devoted to “trabajadores agricolas temporales (H-2A),” specifically mentioning that applicants may be able to work as shepherds (pastores de ovejas) .  The webpage includes directions on how to file an application (Formulario I-129, PeticiĆ³n de un trabajador no imigrante) and contains links to other relevant documents.  Statistics posted by the Office of Foreign Labor Certification indicate that the five top states for importing shepherds are Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, and Idaho.

Life of the Shepherd on the Open Range

A good many of the 39 comments the Department of Labor received regarding dogs are specifically cited by the name of the commenter in the preamble to the final regulations, a practice I wish other agencies would consider.  (The Treasury Department, in contrast, goes to great lengths to obfuscate the sources of comments referred to in preambles to tax regulations; I realize this is sour grapes on my part as a former commenter on some Treasury proposals.)  Some commenters said that without dogs, the losses due to predation would be so great as to put a ranch out of business.  Ken Hamilton of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation stated that 13,600 ewes and lambs in Wyoming by predators in 2013.  Predators mentioned by this commenter include domestic dogs.  Terrell Brock of Mountain Plains Ag Service noted that the shepherds had to keep the herd and the guard dogs away from trouble with the animals of neighbors. 

Some commenters provided a description of how the employees work with guard and herding dogs.  Billie Siddoway of Driggs, Idaho, describes the use of dogs as follows:

The employee takes his dogs and horses with him out on the range. That employee will be responsible for tending the herd, keeping the sheep together, protecting the sheep from predators, and providing feed and water to the sheep. The work may involve transporting water or feed by truck to and from the base ranch. When the employee is not working with the sheep, he may work with his dogs and horses, prepare meals, launder clothing, read books or magazines, watch movies on portable electronic devices, talk on the phone, write letters, or engage in other personal activities. Once lambing is complete, another employee may join him so that there are two employees with each herd. When this happens, the employees may divide their duties so that one primarily moves the sheep and the other cares for the horses and dogs and prepares meals. During this spring grazing period, the employees move the sheep from the base ranch toward the summer range – a distance of over 100 miles.


In the fall, employees herd sheep down from the mountains. This generally occurs in mid-September. Employees assist in erecting a temporary sorting corral at the base of the mountain. The employees herd the sheep into the corral where market lambs are sorted from the rest of the herd. The market lambs are loaded into trucks and shipped to market. (The trucks are not operated by H-2A workers.) The employees herd the remaining ewes and replacement lambs to fall grazing areas. The employees once again take up residence in their mobile sheep camps and move the camps from one range to the next. The employees keep their guard dogs, herding dogs, and riding horses.


A key component of herding on our ranch is the protection of sheep from predators. Predators include wolves, bears, mountain lions, and coyotes. Employees may deter predators with guard dogs, light, noise, and motion. Fences are not an effective deterrent to predators. The term “protecting” should be added to the definition of herding.


[W]e typically provide our employees on the range with a riding horse, saddles, blankets, tack, pack horses, pack supplies, herd dogs, guard dogs, a gun, gloves, raingear, horseshoe equipment, axes, saws, hammers, nails, rope, a sleeping bag, blankets, a pillow, soap, shampoo, deodorant, detergent and mobile telephones. They may also have access to water delivery trucks and other vehicles. At the holidays, we provide clothing, which may include socks, underwear, shirts, sweaters, and winter gear.

Siddoway’s suggestion that “protecting” should be included in the definition of herding was not done, though the word does appear in the definition of “production of livestock” in 20 CFR 655.201.

Felippo Pelizzi, Landscape with Animals, 1859
The Cunningham Sheep Company of Pendleton, Oregon, commented that “well-trained Border Collies and large-breed guardian dogs … watch over the sheep when the herder returns to the living quarters during the middle of the day and night.”  John Peavey of the Flat Top Sheep Co. notes that extreme dedication is sometimes demonstrated by the dogs. 

Ours are border collies and are dedicated to caring for sheep. We have had dogs stay with trapped sheep for 24 hours. Waiting without food, water or companionship for someone to return and help get the animals freed and back on water and pasture. These dogs are very special. It takes many years and countless generations to imprint these instincts. In a collapsing industry as the flocks disappear.  What's to happen to these very smart dogs. Over the years I have seen neighbors sell out and try to find a home for the border collies. This is often difficult and some have to be euthanized. Something of incredible intrinsic value is lost forever.

This highlights an uncomfortable fact about ranch life.  A dog that ceases to be useful may become an expense that a marginal operation can no longer afford. 

Most comments concerning guarding and herding dogs did so in the context of sheep or goat herding,  but Vermillion Ranch and Midland Livestock mentioned using herding dogs for keeping cow-calf pairs together and moving them to areas where there is sufficient forage and water.  Dogs are also used “to keep range cattle in designated grazing areas in accordance with federal grazing permits.”


The regulations are effective November 16, 2015.  There were many issues that drew comments on the proposed regulations, particularly the wage levels for H-2A workers, which led to calls for action from many organizations and involved Congressmen and Senators in western states. 

I am not competent to judge the arguments regarding the economic impact that might have resulted had the list of responsibilities for which foreign workers may be brought into the U.S. to perform not been expanded from the April proposal.  It is apparent from the comments that the industry is, in many instances, quite marginal, and other forces will continue to drive sheep and wool production overseas.  My father would have been depressed had he lived to see this (though I am sure it had begun, to a degree, before his death in 1998).  Sheep and Wool Science was one of his earliest books, and he completed his doctoral thesis on some aspects of wool science.  Still, the industry such as it is will continue for the time being, apparently thanks in large part to many men from Peru. 

The painting by Felippo Pelizzi (1818-1899) hangs in a hallway in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan.  I could not take a photograph under the museum’s rules so this is the best depiction I could find.  It was apparent to me standing before it that two of the sheep are curious to know what the dog, clearly their leader, is sniffing.  The museum catalogue (The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, English translation by Simon Turner, De Agostini Libri, 2013) does not state where it was painted but says that mountain scenes with sheep were a common topic for the painter. 

Thanks to Sarah Bell and Gene Papet for comments on an earlier draft, and to Sarah Bell for additional source material.