Baltimore County Animal Services received a call earlier this month about a family that was being evicted. The workers went and collected a dog, a cat and a turtle.
The county-run shelter already had a gentle, silver-blue pit bull mix named Storm Ray who had been surrendered with his mother when his family did not allow pets. The mother soon adopted her daughter, leaving her behind.
In Maryland and many places around the country, housing issues are now the leading cause of pet surrenders. Animal shelters are overflowing with beloved pets from families who have lost their homes or can’t find an affordable place to live that allows companion animals. In the Baltimore area, dogs in particular are being surrendered and abandoned at rates never seen before.
The county shelter in Baldwin tries to connect people with resources that can help them keep their pets, such as food banks that offer pet supplies and low-cost vet clinics. said a spokesman, Abbi Isaac.
“It’s better for animals and people to keep them together,” Isaac said. “But if they lose their home or there’s a landlord problem, there’s always nothing we can do.”
The growing link between the affordable housing crisis and the homeless pet crisis is receiving more attention, and new ideas and collaborative efforts are emerging to reverse the trend. Tenants and animal advocates have a long to-do list, including lifting restrictions on companion animals in emergency and subsidized housing, building relationships with landlords, and lobbying insurers to stop premium increases. Tenants with pets may be denied coverage.
Advocacy group ASPCA is supporting federal legislation including the Providing for Unhoused People and Pets (PUPP) Act that would create a grant program for homeless shelters to accommodate people with pets. Another bill, the Pet-Friendly Families Act, would remove restrictions on breeds and sizes of pets in public housing facilities.
“We are actively advocating for more equitable access to pet-friendly housing, which is unfortunately becoming increasingly rare,” the group said in a statement.
According to the Shelter Animal Count, a national database for shelters and rescue organizations, shelters are taking in more animals and adopting out fewer. An estimated 245,000 additional dogs and cats were added by November last year.
“We see what’s going on in the community reflected in the shelters,” said executive director Stephanie Filer. “If affordable housing is an issue in the community, it makes perfect sense that shelters are affected.”
Maryland shelters will take in at least 40,700 animals in 2023, according to shelters and rescue groups that report to the Shelter Animal Count, putting pressure on local shelters to take in all the pets brought in. go
The Shelter for Baltimore County Animal Services reported that more than a quarter of the 1,943 animals surrendered in 2023 arrived for housing-related reasons — the highest number of surrenders due to housing. Since 2019, when the shelter began collecting data, workers began to notice this trend. And fewer animals were adopted than in previous years.
Shelter staff said that could indicate greater financial pressure and fewer housing options in the county and surrounding areas. He noted that job losses, higher housing costs and inflation have weighed heavily on Marylanders since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Baltimore County turns to a network of foster families and rescue groups when they reach capacity, but sometimes also relies on its own staff to take animals home.
Shelter chief Kerry McCloskey said staff keep the surrender process simple and offer compassion so people don’t abandon animals in the community or outside the shelter. Some people, often embarrassed or ashamed of their situation, claim they are surrendering to “strays,” which limits information about the animal that could help them adopt. Is.
“We try to help them, make sure they don’t do justice, but we need all the information we can get to help the animal find a new home,” he said. “
The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter in Baltimore City is also at capacity, Executive Director Jennifer Brause said. By mid-2023, the most recent period through which it collected data, the shelter had taken in 700 pets that had been surrendered for housing-related reasons, including evictions, by landlords. Resistance and affordability challenges are included. In all of 2019, by comparison, 500 pets were surrendered for these reasons.
BARCS commissioned a study last year from the National Organization for Humane Animal Support Services, which found that 70% of pet owners in the city had experienced pet-related housing restrictions in the past three years. . And the No. 1 reason behind pet surrenders in the city? Housing, according to the study.
Brause said shelters can help ease some of the burden on pet owners by: offering free vaccinations and spay/neuter services when possible, providing free supplies like leashes and collars, or in times of crisis. Offering temporary boarding services for pets. Those resources are limited, though, and some problems are systemic and beyond their control.
At a public forum on pets and housing in Mount Washington in September 2023, Jessica Simpson, senior public policy specialist at the Humane Society of the United States, said pet fees are higher and more burdensome in low-income communities, which There is also a trend of Other resources are lacking, including grooming services, pet supply stores and veterinary offices.
Monica Cooper, owner of two pit bulls and leader of the nonprofit Maryland Justice Project, noted that she struggles to find housing that will accept her dogs because of arbitrary restrictions on breeds and weights. Thinks as Cooper, who lives in West Baltimore, said she often can’t help but notice that many of the pit bull owners she meets are, like her, black.
“I’d rather be homeless than give up my pet, and for people who have to make that decision, it never leaves them,” Cooper said.
Chanilo Osakwe, government and community affairs manager for the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, which represents landlords and property owners, said state courts have ruled that if a pet attacks another person, it can. can be held responsible. And some damages caused by animals can cause property owners to lose their licenses.
“Minimizing these two factors is a challenge,” Osakwe said. “How to keep residents safe and keep them with their animals, but also how not to break the law.”
Jennifer Bevan Dangle, director of the Maryland State Humane Society, is lobbying Annapolis lawmakers this year to pass legislation that would allow pet owners who receive low-income housing tax credits after Jan. 1, 2025. will prevent the issuance of sanctions. State Del. Dana Stein, Democrat of Baltimore County, will sponsor the measure in the House of Delegates, and Bevan Dangel hopes to send a sponsor to the Senate soon.
Back in Baltimore County, Storm Ray is reunited with his mother, who was returned to the shelter.
But in a bright spot for the shelter, the family that owned Bud, Bandit and Charlie — the recently euthanized turtle, cat and dog — called and said they’d reclaim their pets the next day. coming to do Although No one arrived until noon, when they were supposed to go in for adoption, or even when time ran out, the workers decided to wait.
“They came, father and daughter,” said Isaac. “They found another place. Pets are homes.”