A controversial topic, and one that has been receiving a lot of media attention lately, is the discussion surrounding companion animals in homeless shelters.
On one hand is the argument that pets can be a strain on the already meagre budgets allocated to helping our country’s homeless population, especially when many animals require veterinary attention, additional food, or medications.
However, a recent poll has revealed that over 90% of homeless pet owners would rather sleep on the street, going cold and hungry, than give up their beloved companion for a night in a shelter. And in fact, many said they regularly go hungry so their pet can eat instead. It is believed that up to 10% of Canada’s homeless have pets, with the majority being medium-to-large breed dogs.
So what does this say about the importance of companion animals for both men and women living on the streets? Not only are these animals loved companions, they’re also friends, therapy animals, and much needed family. For many of our nation’s homeless, their pets are their only source of constant, non-judgmental, and unconditional love. That’s why more shelters across the country are making efforts to accommodate pets.
While all shelters are required to accept certified guide dogs into their care, companion animals are not allowed. Currently, only one organization in the in the Greater Toronto Area, the Fred Victor Centre Bethlehem-United for men and Fred Victor Women’s Hostel in Toronto, accepts companion pets.
A high number of women in abusive relationships often stay in unsafe environments for fear of what may happen to their beloved pet if left behind.
In fact, 89% of women reported the abuse they endured also happened to their pet, with many pets being fatally injured. Half of the women admitted to staying with their abusive partner because they had nowhere to go that would welcome their pet too. This has prompted another shelter in Ottawa, the women-only Interval House, to begin allowing pets in 2018. The Ontario Veterinary Medical Association is also helping out. They’ve created the SafePet Program, which aims to find temporary foster care for animals of women leaving abusive relationships.
While many shelters are intending to allow companion animals in the future, very few are currently doing it. Less than two percent of homeless and women’s shelters in the country accept companion animals.
There are many hurdles for facilities wishing to include animals, including additional insurance requirements, the cost of food for animals, the need for appropriate littering areas, access to veterinary care, and more. This can be too much for shelters with already threadbare budgets. In fact, of the 450 shelters in Canada, only 7 currently accept pets, with Interval House set to be the 8th.
Thankfully, awareness is increasing about the vital role that companion animals play in the lives of the homeless men and women who love them. And we can all help out too. Consider donating pet food to your local food bank, a much needed but often overlooked staple. Also consider contacting your local shelter or outreach to see what donations and supplies are most needed. And if you can, consider helping the cause by joining something like SMILE or the SafePet program to foster animals in need.
The SMILE Animal Society in Meaford helps to find temporary foster care for animals of people experiencing crisis, such as women leaving abusive relationships, or families who have lost their homes due to fire.
The Salvation Army Food Bank in Owen Sound is always in dire need of cat and dog food (canned only), as it is often requested and rarely in stock.
Safe 'N Sound in Owen Sound allows dogs on the premises, and also accepts donations of both canned and bagged dog foods.
Brandon Forder – also known as The Pet Expert - is Vice President of Canadian Pet Connection, a family owned and operated business located in Meaford, Ontario. He has over twenty years experience specializing in pet nutrition, behaviour and lifestyle. Canadian Pet Connection is an industry leader committed to providing their clients with the highest levels of personal, attentive service. Learn more at www.CanadianPetConnection.com.