With limited food and few shelter beds available, homeless pet owners in Tempe are left to fight for the one thing bringing stability into their often unstable lives: their pets.
A lot of the time, these homeless pet owners find themselves unsheltered for reasons out of their control after they have acquired a dog and already integrated it into their family.
“It’s really not about judging them or their decisions. It’s not about judging the circumstances that brought them to the streets,” said Leanna Taylor, executive director of the Arizona Pet Project, an organization built on keeping pets and families together.
It’s not uncommon for homeless people to be viewed as irresponsible for owning pets. Bethany Holtz, communications and philanthropy manager at Lost Our Home Pet Rescue, explains why these assumptions aren’t always true.
“Telling somebody that just because they don’t have the resources to be able to take care of an animal, and they should never have one, I think, is slightly unfair.
“I’ve met a lot of people in my days of rescue who are homeless or who are struggling and I wanted to take their pets from them and they were like, ‘no, this is the last thing I have left basically.’”
Some view homeless pet ownership as irresponsible, and others have different opinions.
“We have been criticized for allowing [homeless people] to adopt animals. We see it as a positive for them because a lot of times, the homeless in particular, they need that emotional support. They need that companionship. And in many cases, they care for that animal more than they care for themselves,” said Jose Santiago, a public information officer for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control.
“We see the positive attitudes that those people have because they have a purpose now. They have a purpose to get up in the morning. They have a purpose to care for something that’s living and breathing with them. And again, emotionally it gives them some kind of support,” Santiago said.
Based on the work that the county does with the homeless pet owner population, Santiago said that Maricopa County Animal Care and Control has yet to see any animals in “bad shape” as a result of being owned by a homeless person.
While these pets can do a lot of good in their owner’s lives, it can still be challenging for homeless owners to provide proper care when they already lack a steady income.
“We know that our homeless pet owning community very often chooses to feed their pets before they feed themselves,” Taylor said.
Not only is it challenging for them to feed their pets, but hot Arizona summers make consistent shelter and water a necessity for pets.
“We’ve actually seen people who were chronically homeless who found a homeless pet, adopted them and it’s their pet that inspired them to start searching out transitional housing and permanent housing because, while they have no problem keeping themselves on the streets in the heat of summer, they won’t do that to their pets,” said Taylor, demonstrating how lack of proper resources can motivate homeless pet owners to seek out a better life.
Regardless of the struggles they face in order to provide for their four-legged family members, homeless pet ownership seems to do more good than harm.
“People who often struggle the most to provide care for their pets are the ones who need them the most.”