We’re helping Ohio’s families care for their pets. With 78 million dogs and 86 million cats in 80 million American households, pet ownership transcends geographical, racial, religious, and socio-economic boundaries, demonstrating that love for pets is a consistent societal value. Currently there are at least 19 million pets living with U.S. families whose income level is below the poverty line, which is triple the number of dogs and cats who enter animal shelters each year. There are millions more in working poor and middle-class families struggling with the cost of caring for their pets. Lack of access to information, advice, and direct animal care services produces hardships and heartaches for many pet owners in underserved communities.
The vast majority of people who live in poverty have to work extremely hard to provide even the most basic pet care. Yet, they are frequently accused of being irresponsible with their pets or subjected to fines and criminal charges because of issues that are largely out of their control. Many people in low-income neighborhoods rely on public transportation, and they cannot take their pets across town on the bus. An animal may be unaltered because there are too many barriers to having the surgery done. A dog may live outside because a landlord does not allow indoor pets, and affordable housing with pet-friendly options is hard to find.
A pet may also live outside because the owner is homeless. As of January 2018, Ohio had an estimated 10,249 people experiencing homelessness, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Of that total, 1,105 were family households, 749 were Veterans, 686 were unaccompanied young adults (ages 18-24), and 730 were individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. Pets of the Homeless is an incredible organization devoted to “keeping pets and humans together.” They provide a variety of resources to the unhoused community including pet food, emergency veterinary care, wellness clinics, and help locating pet-friendly shelters.
Maddie’s Fund held an important seminar addressing the fact that access to veterinary care is a national crisis. Important statistics that were shared include the fact that 88% of families are pet owners in this country, but over 29 million families lack access to vet care. The conclusion was veterinarians must step up with strategies for how to provide care to all sectors of the population and address the fact that current safety nets for low-income families do not include vet care. The number of low-income households is growing: 80% of families needing food stamps worked the year before. Unfortunately, the number of animals being turned in to shelters is also growing as many low-income families are unable to continue to care for their animals without help. A new study reveals there are also “veterinary deserts” in low-income areas. The lack of accessible care often means people must travel farther to get to the vet, which makes routine care more costly and less convenient.
Many families face eviction or the loss of their beloved pets due to breed discrimination laws passed in many low-income communities. Jurisdictions that have enacted breed-specific laws have learned by experience that these laws do not make their communities safer. OAA works with communities to enact breed neutral policies that advance public safety and compassion to animals.
Also, many shelters across the state are seeing more senior pets being surrendered. Disturbingly, reasons being cited are allergies, moving and housing restrictions, cost and medical care, and behavioral issues. Sometimes it is because the owner has passed away. It takes a lot of time and attention to get senior pets re-homed. If a senior pet is having difficulty adjusting to a shelter environment, fostering can be an answer. Families facing difficult times could reach out to organizations such as Hospets to help in the transition, or seed free or reduced-cost food and medical care before surrendering a pet to a shelter.
Everyone who wants to provide a loving home to animals deserves access to the resources that make pet-keeping possible. Pets enhance the lives of humans and the larger society. The bond people have with their pets should not depend on income, in which zip code one resides, or the language one speaks.
OAA works to advance policy efforts to provide additional resources for financially challenged families and their pets. Please see our Statewide Resource Directory for low-cost spay and neuter clinics, pet food pantries, and humane society programs that provide assistance for seniors and low-income families. The key goal: keep pets with their families in their homes.