One of our favorite sayings here at the Humane Society of Utah is, “In a perfect world, every pet would have a home, and every home would have a pet.” What does that mean when not every person has a home? People experiencing homelessness have the same attachment to their pets as anyone else, and that attachment is even more important when so many other connections are disrupted.
Pets suffer the same distress when parted from the caregivers they know and love. The idea that people and their pets should be separated when they lose their housing and each funneled into separate human and animal shelters is outdated, and new resources to keep people and their pets together are emerging.
Resources for People Experiencing Homelessness in Utah
Locally, many of our Homeless Resource Centers allow residents to keep pets with them during their stay at the center. Deciding to remain unsheltered to avoid being separated from your pets is unfortunately all too common, even in the Utah climate. Salt Lake City’s newer centers have pet resource rooms that stock pet food and supplies and even a grooming tub.
Street Dawg Crew is a Salt Lake County-based volunteer organization that takes its mission to the streets to provide much-needed supplies to pets and their people. They bring food, coats, and other supplies directly to pets in weekly events, and host annual free pet vaccination clinics in local parks. Secret Perkins, Vice President of SDC, said, “For most people experiencing homelessness, their pet(s) are all they have to keep them going. Pets give them a sense of responsibility.”
Project Homeless Connect, a national nonprofit organization providing services to the homeless population, includes services to their pets. Karen Akerlof, a volunteer organizer for PHC Salt Lake City, said, “The research shows that animals can help reduce loneliness, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and provide social support. Plus, animals love unconditionally. I can’t think of a group of people that would need this more than those experiencing homelessness.” Project Homeless Connect supports people keeping their animals, especially if they are experiencing homelessness. “We are pleased to be able to partner with The Humane Society of Utah and others to provide immunizations, check-ups, food, and other essentials to help these pets stay well and remain with their people,” said Akerlof. “These relationships are so important. As a dog owner, I know my life and well-being, and that of my family is benefited by having him in our lives.”
Salt Lake City-based nonprofit Ruff Haven was incorporated last year to provide temporary housing for pets. Ruff Haven Executive Director and Co-Founder Kristina Pulsipher said, “We serve many people experiencing housing insecurity. Some of our clients may be individuals who have lost their jobs and temporarily don’t have stable housing, or they may be people who are unsheltered and have experienced long-term homelessness. Income, house size, and credit scores don’t determine the love people have for their pets. Our clients’ pets provide them unconditional love, emotional support, safety and protection, and companionship, just like for anyone else. These animals are well-loved and cared for, and with a little support and some resources, they can live very happy, healthy lives with their people. COVID has taught us anyone can find themselves facing a hardship.”
As an animal welfare organization, The Humane Society of Utah views this challenging issue from the perspective of what is in the best interest of the animal. According to Timna Fischbein, DVM, Utah Humane Society shelter veterinarian, “Animals get the same benefits from the human-animal bond that humans do in terms of emotional and physical health, and they can suffer the same consequences if that bond is broken.” This is why we advocate maintaining the relationship for both animals and their humans. If we can temporarily provide help for pets’ physical needs so their owners can continue to provide for their pet’s emotional needs, everyone is better off.
The Utah Humane Society is part of a growing movement in national animal welfare to first ask, “What can we do to help you keep your pet?” before intaking the animal into the shelter. We encourage our members to get involved wherever they can, including education about homeless people and pets, offering your support to those you may know who need help, and getting involved with local and national organizations working to keep animals and people together.