Animal homelessness is perhaps the biggest issue we face as animal lovers. Everyday, countless pets are taken into “the system,” either by independent rescue groups, shelters, or animal control officers. Although pets wandering from their loving homes can end up in the system, and we never forget to check local pounds and shelters if a beloved pet turns up missing, the majority of animals in pounds and shelters are homeless. Much like the homeless human populations in our society, homeless animals and homeless people share some common issue.
We frequently attribute lack of housing, mental health issues, poverty, and abuse to human homelessness, and the same can be said for animals. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) names three three specific elements to the problem of animal homelessness: economic issues, behavioral issues, and housing concerns. Not only is there a shortage of housing and resources for homeless animals, many pets which are placed in the system have some underlying problems.
Through the lens of economic issues, the cliche “money makes the world go around” could not be more astute when it comes to the homelessness of pets. Living is expensive for humans and pets alike, from healthcare to food, even staples of ordinary life are costly. Adding a pet to a home, just like a child, requires all of these—veterinary care, food, treats, grooming, and other unforeseen expenditures. Many good-hearted samaritans take stray dogs and cats into their homes blindly, i.e. not knowing the animal’s history or appreciating the costs required to provide for the animal. This is largely because many animal lovers try to keep pets out of the system, preferring to foster animals and find them “fur-ever homes.” With the assistance of local programs like “Stray Paws Rescue,” many homeless animals can be financially supported by sponsors and allocated funds from rescues, giving foster families the ability to care for an animal without added expenses. What a noble cause!
Behavioral issues, in humans “mental health,” are also a major factor to the homeless pet population. When pets act up, some owners get impatient with the animal, not understanding the animal’s psychology—after all, the average pet owner is no Temple Grandin or Cesar Milan. These pets often times find themselves being dumped, abandoned, returned, or voluntarily surrendered. As in human mental health, there are underlying, subverted issues which simply present as bad behavior. Many of these issues stem from a past of abuse, neglect, or trauma; further, we cannot piece together a history of each rescue animal’s life or their “triggers.” This is an added challenge to those fostering homeless pets due to the lack of context.
Housing is another component to homelessness. Many rental properties and various neighborhoods have restrictions on pets. To make matters more complex, shelters and pounds can only house so many animals at a time. Some pet-loving families must make very difficult choices about their pet when relocating—choosing to surrender a pet because of housing restrictions may seem unconscionable to some, but other individuals do not have the resources to keep a pet forever. This is a sad reality of the ever-growing homeless pet population. Again, many families welcome already-homeless pets into their current lives without considering the future implications of being a “fur-ever home” for the animal.
So, what can we do if we care about homeless pets, but we might not be in a situation to offer a forever home? Firstly, we can support local organizations which promote fostering; monetary contributions are always a welcome way to make an impact, but there are many other ways individuals can help the homeless pet population. Secondly, consider fostering animals which need homes in the interim of managing their physical and behavioral needs while they are awaiting a match with a permanent family. Thirdly, volunteer at local shelters to help socialize the animals and identify issues which might impact future foster or adoption placement. Running a shelter or rescue is hard work—many hands and talents are needed to keep pets out of the system. Ultimately, anyone with a passion can contribute to help homeless pets; donations of time, money, and effort all culminate to aid disadvantaged animals. And always, “adopt, don’t shop!”