October 12, 2015; Mic. (Policy.mic)

When humans lose housing, so do their pets. Pets provide companionship, protection, and love, but for the homeless individuals, caring for them under financial constraints and lack of shelter can pose problems. While the specific statistics on pet ownership among the homeless vary, the National Coalition for the Homeless believes that roughly 10 percent of people without a home have animals. For women in particular, the problem of homeless and pet ownership can be especially complex. Domestic partner violence, the leading cause of homeless among women, often involves an abuser threatening to injure or even kill family pets. Women who have been subjected to domestic abuse will postpone seeking shelter out of concern for their pets’ safety, due to few domestic violence shelters offering refuge to pets.

Cities and states are increasingly concentrating their efforts on solving homelessness, but pets are often left out of the conversation. To solve the dearth of services available for homeless animals, Genevieve Frederick formed Pets of the Homeless, a nonprofit organization. Pets of the Homeless is the sole national nonprofit organization dedicated to caring for the pets of homeless people, and focuses on coordinating pet food and supplies for more than 260 sites across the country. The organization offers emergency veterinary care as well as nonemergency care like vaccinations, neutering, and spaying.

Pets operates out of Nevada and has a nationwide network of volunteers. The organization relies in entirety on private donations, corporate partnerships, and services donated by participating veterinarians. In 2014, Pets of the Homeless used 87 cents of every dollar donated on services for the homeless and their pets.

In March, the Pet and Women Safety Act of 2015 was introduced, seeking to ensure protections for pets of domestic violence victims and establish a federal grant program to assist in acquiring safe shelters for pets. “Much like the problem like you’re seeing with homelessness,” said Katherine Clark (D-MA), who cosponsored the bill, “women don’t have a safe place to leave their pets if they’re entering a domestic violence shelter. Only about three percent of domestic violence shelters can accommodate pets.”

While progress is being made, the issue of providing shelter to homeless pets and their owners is still a major issue for Pets of the Homeless, as the organization struggles to convince homeless shelters to accommodate animal companions.

“Giving homeless people the dignity that comes with pet ownership is such an important first step to helping them get the services they need,” Frederick said, “so that they can begin a new life with their pets.”—Kathleen Ebbitt