It’s hard enough battling homelessness and addiction in Los Angeles, but Rachel Nieber couldn’t imagine enduring it without her dog, Patty.
Niebur credits her constant companion, an energetic black-and-white Chihuahua mix, for helping her stay off drugs and giving her a reason to wake up in the morning.
“She needs me. She gives me my attention. I have to feed her. I have to walk with her. It’s a real relationship,” said Nieber from following Petey to the small, fenced dog park at the shelter’s grounds. last state. In the Venetian neighborhood where the inseparable couple has lived for almost two years.
Traditional homeless shelters have long been off-limits to pets, leaving animal owners who want to hit the streets with difficult choices. But as homelessness continues to rise across America, those working toward solutions are increasingly recognizing what matters to vulnerable pet populations and looking for ways to keep owners and pets closer together. are doing.
When given the choice between taking shelter or leaving their pets, homeless people will almost always choose to stay on the streets, said Tim Huxford, associate director of the Venice facility that is now home to Nieber and Patty.
“That’s why we always want to reduce the barriers that we have in getting people off the road,” he said. “We realize that pets are like family to people.”
Huxford said the Venice shelter, run by the nonprofit People Helping the Homeless, or PATH, was the first of its kind to allow residents in Los Angeles County to bring animal companionship.
Thanks to state grants, PATH has a budget for food, crates, toys, and veterinary services under an initiative called the Pet Help and Support Program. In 2019, the pilot program provided $5 million to nonprofits and local jurisdictions, and that amount was doubled the following year. The now-pending legislation would make the grant program permanent, expanding it across the state.
State Sen. Robert Hertzberg, who wrote the bill expanding the program, estimates that about 10% of homeless Californians have pets. And the reason many shelters don’t accept animals is because they don’t have the resources to care for them, said Hertzberg, a dog owner.
He called pets “our comfort” and cited research that found that animals provide companionship and a sense of purpose to people who do not have housing.
The Los Angeles Democrat said it’s just “furious common sense” to budget for pet feeding and home care to nonprofits and other caregivers, especially given that California is already statewide. How much allocates to address the homeless crisis.
“We’re spending a billion dollars here to get people off the street; why can’t we spend a few dollars there to get veterinary services and dog food and boxes together? These $100,000 and $200,000 There are grants in between, so it’s not a ton of money in the grand scheme of things,” Hertzberg said.
The money will come from the state’s general fund, so it’s not cutting into any existing funding, Hertzberg said. The measure, SB513, passed the state Senate unanimously in January and is now awaiting consideration in the assembly.
The California law is part of a larger national recognition of the issue.
In Arizona, for example, there are a number of organizations that provide animal care for residents who are struggling to get back on their feet.
A non-profit shelter home called Lost Hour Homes provides up to 90 days of pet care for homeless people while they look for a permanent place to live after a crisis such as eviction, domestic violence or medical treatment.
Don Kitch manages one of several shelters in the Phoenix area operated by the non-profit Family Promise, some of which allow people to keep their pets in a separate area for on-site animals. He said his shelter currently has four dogs, two cats and a guinea pig.
“Unfortunately, there are very few facilities here that will accept pets,” Kich said.
Service animals and low emotional support animals are allowed in many shelters, he said.
Kich said the Arizona Humane Society takes pets for 90 days to give their owners time to find stable housing, while the Sojourner Center allows domestic violence victims to keep their pets at shelters.
Kitch said Family Promise used a grant from PetSmart to get started with its program for pets. He said he would welcome legislation like California, because “anything to cover the cost would be ideal for a nonprofit homeless shelter like ours.”
National non-profit Best Friends Animal Society has joined forces with Catholic Charity USA to advance programs that keep homeless people and their pets together. The group Feeding Pets of the Homeless organizes veterinary clinics and charity campaigns for food and supplies for pets.
The ASPCA and other animal care groups are urging the passage of California bills.
“The ASPCA believes that financial circumstances alone are not a reliable indicator of the ability to love and care for a companion animal and that pets are an incredible source of support and companionship in our lives, especially during times of stress and uncertainty. During,” said Susan Riggs. ASPCA’s senior director of housing policy.
One of Petty’s canine companions at the Venice Path facility is Champ, a pit bull mix that his owner, Ro Mantooth, calls the shelter’s “mascot.”
“He really is my best friend. I don’t know what I would do without him,” Mantooth, 29, said of the champ. “I’m lucky to have that. There aren’t many places to take animals, you know?”
In addition to Patty and Champ, the Venice shelter has eight other dogs and a cat. Huxford said another PATH facility has a parrot in a cage. There are technically no rules about what animals can be recruited, he said, but that hasn’t been tested yet.
“If someone comes with an elephant, I guess we’ll have to see,” he said.