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.
Maddie’s Fund recently held webinars addressing the fact that access to veterinary care is a national family crisis. (Register on Maddie’s Fund to view webinars.) 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 to strategize 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.
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 rehomed. 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 and is building a clearinghouse of on-line resources to assist families statewide in identifying needed resources for their animals. Please see our Pet Assistance Resources for low-cost spay and neuter clinics, pet food pantries, and humane society programs that provide assistance for seniors and low-income families such as Cleveland Animal Protective League’s Project Care. The key goal: to keep pets with their families in their homes.