According to the nonprofit organization Pets for the Homeless, 5 to 10 percent of people experiencing homelessness in the United States share their lives with pets and, in some areas, the rate of pet ownership is as high as 24 percent among people experiencing homelessness.
With 3.5 million Americans homeless, that’s a lot of dogs living on the streets with their guardians. A primary challenge for homeless people and their dogs is the lack of dog-friendly shelter options. Many guardians have no choice but to stay on the streets with their dogs, even in dangerous weather conditions.
In Montreal, Canada, where earlier this winter a dog froze to death wrapped in blankets in the arms of his homeless guardian, community groups stepped up to support people and dogs in need. Welcome Hall Mission in Montreal has opened the city’s first pet-friendly homeless shelter. Sam Watts, CEO/executive director of Welcome Hall Mission explains to Dogster that by opening the shelter (an emergency shelter that’s open through the dangerously cold winter months and funded to remain open until spring when the weather warms up), they will be able to assess the actual size of need for people experiencing homelessness with pets in Montreal. The shelter is open to all homeless people in need of shelter in the city regardless of gender (many shelters are gender segregated/gender specific). The shelter is also designed to safely be able to support companion animals of all sizes.
Welcome Hall Mission’s dog-friendly shelter opened on January 17, 2019, and the first animal shelter guests have been dogs and rats. Sam says that everything has gone without incident. The shelter has supplies that people and their pets might need and, in order to keep the animals separated while their guardians are sleeping, the shelter is equipped with crates and wall tethers to support keeping pets safe while in the shelter.
“We also have veterinarians who have volunteered their services from time to time,” Sam explains. In order to make sure that they were prepared for the pets that would be staying in the shelter, Welcome Hall Mission has partnered with the SPCA, donors and vets to wrap around the needs of the pets of people experiencing homelessness.
Hopefully more cities across the United States and Canada will follow the work of Welcome Hall Mission and explore opening their doors to the pets of people experiencing homelessness or working with community partners to develop new shelter sites/programs that can be dog friendly.
Thumbnail: Photography by FashionStock.com/Shutterstock.
Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author. Her novels have been honored by organizations ranging from the Lambda Literary Foundation to the American Library Association. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and assists with dog agility classes. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with her partner, a senior Chihuahua mix, a rescued Shepherd mix and a Newfoundland puppy, along with two bossy cats and a semi-feral kitten. Learn more at sassafraslowrey.com