Spare Change News
This past March, my relationship with my partner of nearly nine years came to a somewhat abrupt end, putting the icing on the cake of a brutal year and a half.
At the end of 2010, both my mother and my maternal grandmother (who raised me) died only a few months apart, their lives claimed by cancer. My grandfather was also diagnosed with advanced kidney disease and has been struggling along on dialysis – in and out of hospitals – and it is hard to tell how much longer he’ll be around.
Only a year before, when my partner and I discussed the possibility of separating, I had applied for an apartment through the Housing Corporation of Arlington (HCA), a non-profit that offers apartments at a reduced rate compared to market prices for individuals of modest income (which I definitely qualified as) in the town of Arlington.
In the application, I had indicated I had pets, two cats named Cokey and Sam. My application was accepted and I was waitlisted for a one-bedroom apartment. It was not until a few months later when a unit became available, that I was informed that they would not accept my cats, and I would have to get rid of them. I balked at the suggestion. After losing so many in my life in such a short period of time, my cats have become my remaining family and my most stalwart support system.
While looking for a new place, many of the apartments I scoured on Craigslist contained adamant declarations of “NO PETS” or only allowed one pet. As my move-out date grew closer and I began to fear that I would wind up without a place, I reached out to friends to see if they could temporarily take in me and my animal family. Of the dozen or so people I contacted, only two of my friends offered their homes to both me and my pets. The rest could not offer shelter to my cats, either because of allergies or no-pet policies where they lived.
Luckily I found a place on time, and didn’t need to burden any of my friends. But the experience led me to consider the role no- and one-pet policies play in the pandemic of pet homelessness.
Here in the United States, we euthanize approximately five million cats and dogs every year. In fact, euthanasia of relinquished pets is by far the leading cause of death among cats and dogs in this country. According to the National Council of Pet Population Study & Policy, “moving” is often cited as the number one reason owners surrender their animals to shelters, with “landlord issues” and the “cost of care” close behind. Furthermore, a poll conducted by the Humane Society of the United States showed that 35 percent of people without pets would own a pet if their rentals permitted animals.
“It was a difficult decision,” says David J. Levy, Executive Director of the HCA, of its choice to institute a no-pet policy.
Originally, the HCA had no restrictions on animals allowed in their units. According to Levy, many resident pet owners were not taking proper care of their animals, including not picking up after their dogs around the property, or having more animals than they indicated on their applications. As such, the HCA transitioned to a no-pet policy six years ago, but allowed those already in HCA housing to keep their pets.
Most subsidized housing in the Boston area also has strict limitations on pets. The Boston Housing Authority is probably the most lenient, allowing a maximum of two pets (with “one pet” counting as a cat or dog, or one “fish tank” or “cage” with fish, reptiles, amphibians or birds, respectively) in one- and two-bedroom apartments and a maximum of three pets in three-bedroom apartments.
Other local housing authorities are stricter. According to the Cambridge Housing Authority website, pets are restricted to birds and fish in their family developments, while cats and dogs are allowed only in the elderly developments. The Somerville Housing Authority allows its tenants to have only one cat or dog under 30 pounds, with certain buildings not allowing dogs at all (except service dogs). Only people who have resided at a SHA complex before 1998 can have two cats as opposed to only one. Birds, turtles, fish, gerbils and hamsters are also allowed, but must be contained at all times.
In certain instances, people suffering from mental illness can apply for Reasonable Accommodation exemptions under the ADA by citing the therapeutic benefits of their pets. Likewise, parents with children afflicted with learning disabilities and autism may also qualify to get an allowance for pets. These requests require a note from a doctor or medical professional in order for them to be approved. The requests are considered on a case-by-case basis and are up to the discretion of specific housing authorities and buildings.
For many people of low income, their pets may be all they have. Housing bans on pets can therefore deprive prospective renters of the lifeline of unconditional compassion and consistent companionship a pet can provide during difficult times.
“The amount of requests we get for assistance is overwhelming,” says Marlo Manning, the founder of Fairy Dog Parents, a nonprofit that helps people in need access resources such as veterinary care and pet food to help them keep their dogs.
Manning started Fairy Dog Parents in 2009 to bridge the gap between people struggling to afford their pets, and the inevitable surrender that would occur without the aid. Since starting the organization, Manning noted the number of cases she works with per year has nearly quadrupled.
Organizations like Manning’s are a vital step in addressing the issue of pet homelessness. Access to more widespread services such as pet food banks, free or low-cost veterinary clinics, and assistance in finding housing that allows pets (or lobbying for more lenient pet policies in both subsidized and unsubsidized apartments) are a crucial part of the solution.
For many people, their pets are not just animals, but part of their family. That is why, according to the nonprofit Pets of the Homeless, between 5 and 10 percent of homeless people have pets, with up to a quarter in some areas. Some people would rather be on the streets then give up their pets and most homeless shelters do not allow animals.
“[Having pets] has taught me responsibility,” says Kenneth O’Brien, the renegade Harvard Square book vendor, of his eight-year-old dog, Penny, and 14 year-old cat, “Charlie.”
Even though O’Brien now rents a room at a private home in Lexington with his wife and his two pets, he had lived the majority of his adult life on the streets, with his pets often being his closest companions.
“It has taught me to care about others outside of myself,” insists O’Brien. “I’d probably be dead without them.”
If you are low-income and have pets, don’t despair! There are many organizations that can assist you in accessing the resources you need to continue caring for your pets, including pet food, vet care, and affordable housing. Here is just a basic list:
No- and Low Cost Spay and Neuter & Vaccination Programs:
The MSPCA/MVMA Spay/Neuter Program (SNAP)
Animal Umbrella (for cats only)
http://www.animalumbrella.org/ or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(also includes FeLv/FIV testing)
Alliance for Animals:
(*also offers low cost vet care for other medical issues)
Phone # 617-268-7800
Others can be found at:
List of local food pantries that provide pet food:
Pet Care Assistance Program – MSPCA Angell
Phone: 617-541-5028 or 5030
Phinney’s Friends helps low-income pet owners in the Boston area who have disabling illnesses or other hardships. Phinney’s Friends provides vet vouchers for medical care, as well dog walking, daily pet care (grooming, litter box changing, nail clipping), emergency pet food, and pet foster care.
Sampson Fund for Veterinary Care
-helps pay for medical care for critically ill or injured cats and dogs when their owners cannot afford the cost of treatment/
Service area: Cape Cod and the Islands
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
IMOM (In Memory of Magic):
More resources for vet care aid:
Grants or other assistance:
RedRover Relief Program
-offers grants for people with pets needing emergency medical attention and in domestic abuse situations:
Links for Information About Finding Pet Friendly Housing:
Information about housing, ADA, and psychiatric service animals
Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law – “Psychiatric Service Animals”
Animal Legal & Historical Center, “Housing Discrimination and Companion Animals”
The Delta Society – “Pets in Housing Resources”
Pets of the Homeless
Organizations Safeguard Pets From Domestic Abuse
Pet owners who are also victims of domestic abuse tend to suffer the most from lack of access to housing or shelter that will allow animals.
According to a 1998 study conducted by Utah State University, 71 percent of battered women surveyed at a local shelter said that their boyfriends or husbands had threatened, hurt or tortured, or even killed one or more of their animals. In fact, fear over leaving an animal behind to become the victim of a partner’s malice is a major factor in a woman’s choice to remain in the relationship. Studies on the subject have found that nearly half (48 percent) of battered women will refuse to leave, or will return to, an abusive relationship for this sole reason.
However, legal reforms are being considered that would better protect pets in these situations. Massachusetts is presently considering a bill (S. 2192) that contains an amendment that would allow judges to include pets in restraining orders in domestic abuse cases. The amendment, S. 682, was introduced by Senator Katherine Clark. The bill has already passed the Senate and is now on its way to the House. Currently, 17 other states have already passed similar legislation (with Maine being the first), and several others are considering such bills.
In the meantime, there are some other resources for women struggling to safeguard their pets from their abusers. The Humane Society of the United States has compiled a list of “Safe Havens” on its website. Safe Havens are animal shelters that will take in pets that are in potential danger of an attack by a woman’s current or former partner. Massachusetts only has one Safe Haven listed in Pittsfield, but there are more in nearby states such as New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island.
Fairy Dog Parents has worked with owners to offer temporary boarding or foster care for dogs belonging to domestic abuse survivors until permanent and safe pet-friendly housing can be secured. The nonprofit RedRover also offers modest cash grants of up to $500 to help survivors and their pets escape abusive situations. The grant can be applied to vet care, pet boarding, or relocation expenses.
Though most homeless shelters in the United States (and all Massachusetts ones) do not allow pets, pet-friendly shelters are on the rise. Pets of the Homeless offers grants to homeless shelters that would like to implement the necessary infrastructure to be able to offer boarding for their patrons’ companion animals
For more information, please see:
“An Act Relative to Domestic Violence and Animals- S. 682” – MSPCA
HSUS Safe Haven Directory:
Pets of the Homeless Grant Program:
RedRover Domestic Violence Relief Grant Program: