For people on the street, pets provide companionship and protection

By Genevieve Frederick, July 2015

Homelessness is an ongoing issue around the world. In the U.S. it is estimated that 3.5 million people are homeless. The number of homeless with pets is estimated to be in the 5-25 percent range depending on the area of the country. Pets of the Homeless was instrumental in bringing the issue to the forefront as evident by the number of other agencies that are now taking a proactive step to help.

Most people do not realize that over 76 percent of homeless have a physical disability, a developmental disability, have HIV/AIDS or have a mental illness and/or a substance abuse problem. The rest are just down on their luck. The cycle to get out of homelessness is very difficult.

When faced with the possibility of homelessness, many have to decide if they will start this journey with their pet or give it up. The only thing they may have left is the unconditional love the pet offers and companionship when no one else will interact. The pet is nonjudgmental and often provides protection. The problems homeless with pets face can be insurmountable: most homeless shelters won’t allow pets; it’s hard to get and store pet food; and there are limited resources for veterinary care. 

In 2006, I saw a need and developed a system in which people could donate pet food without having to interact with homeless people who had pets. Pet businesses could be socially responsible and help by becoming a collection site. The donations of pet food are delivered to a local food bank and distributed to low income and homeless with pets. 

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The nonprofit evolved to keep up with the needs of these pets. Today Pets of the Homeless offers not only pet food, but emergency veterinary care, wellness clinics and sleeping crates to homeless shelters. With limited funds, we initiated a program to vaccinate and spay/neuter healthy pets that were not seen at wellness clinics or altered during emergency care treatments.

Every day we receive calls from homeless that have a pet that is in trouble and they do not have the resources to take their suffering pet to a hospital. “Littles” was having tummy troubles. Her homeless owner thought she might have ingested rocks. The veterinarian performed an exams and an x-ray. The x-ray did not show anything foreign. Littles was given special food to help recover. Many other success stories can be found on Pets of the Homeless website.

Though not all 400 collection sites report the pounds of donations, Pets of the Homeless has recorded over 355 tons of pet food and supplies have gone to food banks and other agencies. The fair market value of these donations is over $1.4 million. We have spent over $276,000 on veterinary care, pet food and crates. Over 12,000 pets have been treated. During 2014, Pets of the Homeless served over 290 pets for emergency care. 19 of them required a repeat visit to the hospital. Wellness clinics saw and vaccinated over 1,200 pets and we paid for 45 spay/neuters. All expenses were paid with donations from individuals, companies, matching grants and funds from private foundations.  

This year there has been a drop in the number of collection sites – likely due to the number of businesses closing their doors. 

This year our goals include recruiting more collection sites in every state and in cities that have the largest homeless populations and camps; increase pet food donations (no pet should go hungry); increase awareness of the human-pet bond; provide services that support and honor that relationship for the homeless pet owner; support the positive emotional and physical influences pets provide their owners; cultivate fundraising; increase our grant requests; and bring responsiveness to homeless shelters about the Pets of the Homeless Crate Program. We ship sleeping crates to homeless shelters so pets of the homeless can sleep comfortably and safely next to their owners. This is an important first step to help the homeless get the services they require to end their homelessness and begin a new life with their companion pets. Fundraising is the primary source of revenue for our programs.

For more information visit: www.petsofthehomeless.org