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, a 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 long ago when I could move 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. (See NY Social Services Law section 459-b: "If the victim of domestic violence has a service animal or therapy dog ..., such service animal or therapy dog shall be allowed to accompany the victim at the residential program authorized ....")

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. 

Homeless Person with Dog in New York City, April 2016 (courtesy R. Keats)
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.  

Federal Court Requires Eureka to Let Homeless Keep Their Pets in Shelters

The City of Eureka, California, sought to remove over 100 homeless individuals from Palco Marsh on the Eureka Waterfront.   The City sought to dismantle the homeless encampment as it violated Eureka’s anti-camping ordinance, arguing that “unfettered illegal camping along the waterfront is detrimental to the community’s safety, leads to continued environmental degradation, and negatively impacts our tourism economy.”  The Eureka Police Department distributed flyers entitled “Notice to Vacate” to homeless individuals in the encampment, giving them a deadline of May 2, 2016, to find another place to live.

The homeless community in Eureka found a champion in Peter Martin, a local lawyer who handles, according to his website, civil rights, employment, police brutality, school district misconduct, and a few other types of cases.  Martin filed a complaint listing 11 homeless individuals as plaintiffs.  The first named plaintiff, Stacy Cobine, “lives at the Marsh in a tent covered with tarps, along with her five-year-old dog Lazarus.”  Nanette Dean “does not want to go to an emergency shelter that will not permit her to bring her one-year-old dog, Trixie….”  Gerrianne Schulze “would like to have stable housing with her two dogs, Max and Baby Girl, but has no money to pay for it…” Sarah Hood lives in the Marsh “in a nylon tent covered with tarps with her partner Aaron and their two dogs, Bagheera and Tierney.”  Lynette Vera “has a dog from whom she does not wish to be separated.” Marie Anntoinette Kinder has a one-year-old dog.  John Travis also has a dog. 

Thus, eight of the 11 named plaintiffs have dogs.  The complaint cites a Grand Jury report, Humboldt County Homeless Veterans, which states that “owning a dog eliminates many housing options for the homeless veteran.”  The complaint states that “[v]ery few shelter facilities accept people with dogs, even if they are service animals for people with disabilities.”  Eureka’s St. Vincent de Paul Society takes in the homeless but does not allow dogs or other pets.  The complaint alleges:

The EPD [Eureka Police Department] has also informed Palco Marsh residents that during the May 2 eviction, all unvaccinated, unfixed and unlicensed animals will be impounded and taken to a veterinarian for shots and alteration, and that their owners will have to pay the associated veterinary bills incurred within ten (10) days in order to reclaim their pets. If payment has not been made in full within ten (10) days, the beloved pets and service animals of the evicted Palco Marsh residents will be euthanized.

In issuing an injunction, the federal district court imposed certain conditions before the plaintiffs could be removed from the Marsh, the one relevant for this discussion being:

Defendants shall permit Plaintiffs to maintain custody of all items they require for their daily lives (e.g., clothing, toiletries, books, items of sentimental importance, etc.) and wish to bring with them to their emergency shelter accommodations, as well as their pets and/or service animals (to be housed on-site at the temporary shelter at which Plaintiffs will be accommodated in accordance with shelter rules) and shall not confiscate, impound, store and/or destroy such items….

Thus, the court effectively ordered Eureka either to leave the homeless in place or to allow them to bring their pets into the shelters in which the homeless will be given temporary housing.  According to local news reports, the homeless were moved out of Palco Marsh on May 2 on the Eureka's schedule.  Sixty shelter beds for men were added to the St. Vincent de Paul dining hall, but dogs are still not accommodated there.  Temporary emergency container housing was provided to 40 people in metal shipping containers, and I am advised by a representative of Mr. Martin's firm that there are about 25 dogs living with the homeless is the containers.  

It is to be noted that this was not a suit against an individual shelter and its precedential value in such a suit is probably minimal. It was, rather, a suit by a group of homeless individuals against a city, that city's police department and its chief of police, attempting to block an announced removal of the homeless plaintiffs from public property. The court approved that removal, with conditions as to where the homeless might be placed, one of which involved their pets.  It may, therefore, have some precedential value in litigation against a shelter system that fails to take into consideration that homeless individuals may have pets, and that being forced to give up those pets might have detrimental effects on the individuals.  

More information on the status of the residents can be found on the facebook page of “Friends of Palco Marsh.”  Cobine v. City of Eureka, C-16-02239 JSW, 2016 WL 1730084 (May 2, 2016). For pictures of some of the homeless and their pets, see the posting by Andrew Goff on Lost Coast Outpost of October 2015, as well as the article by Hunter Cresswell of the Times-Standard of March 25, 2016.

Society’s Treatment of Homeless Pets

New York City, May 2016 (courtesy R. Keats)
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.

Conclusion

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. 

© John Ensminger 2015

Sources:

Homeless Families by State (HUD 2014)
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    population tends towards being overweight or obese. They also appear to have fewer behavioural problems.").  
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  55. 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”). 

2 comments:

  1. hello my name is K, ive been having service & campion pets my hole life. i was born a horeion addcited baby & my twin too. but ive been homeless for three years out on the streets, strugglening because my dogs are my babies i wouldnt go in unless my babies could go with me. ive got a 7 in a half year old pit bull that actes like a labador its so funny she so mellow and wouldnt hurt no adult or child or even alittle baby. then ive got a six year old beligen sheperd pure breed shes my gentle giant. theres something ive noticed since ive been out here now going on three years. three years ago me & my babies were happy & safe then tragce happen the LandLord stopped paying morged on the duplexes & there was forteen of us that lost everything we owned plus it was like so not cool. becuse its so hard to find places with a ssi income because no body can make to or three times the rent everybodys asking for. ive got a brain tumer & cugesin heart failure. ive got lucema cancer . ive been dealing with my health better because my parents allowed me to be indapented because they got me a service dog to help me with my siezures & let me know if im going to have a heart attack which is so cool to me. because ive got 100% trust in my dogs then ill every have in a person. so to me & pretty much everybody that are all kinds of pet owners we enjoy having them around when im down or sad , happy , mad or always feel great when im with my kids they make me so happy & safe because they make sure im ok. but the streets have changed my babies in so many ways then one. so how do i deal with aggrestion every time both my dogs see another pet they acted like there going to kill them. because of last year when my baby got attacked bby a punk ass young audlt decided to allow his bullmasstiff to almost kill my babygirl which is my pitbull & if it wasnt for my big dog sexylexi my baby girl would of not been alive today. so please realize that we change & our babies chang to. from ms, Keri A. Engvall, & Babygirl & SexyLexi. we love & care about the pets & there oners. K

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  2. Aw, look at those pictures. They look sooo awww cute. This post will take your breathe away and leave you breathless. To have a pet is a responsibility. Taking a pet home, we make him or her a member of our family. It is not just a cat, a dog or a fish anymore but our smaller family`s member.

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