“A lady brought in her two cats to surrender today and this particular situation broke my heart,” she wrote. “The woman could not stop crying, which was terribly sad, but it was even more touching to observe her two kitties who kept talking to her (probably crying on their part, too). She had owned these beautiful matching orange kitties since they were kittens and anyone could tell they were very loved and well cared for.”
It turned out that the two cats’ owner could not afford the pet deposit required where she was moving and no one in her family would help with her furry babies, named Scarlett and Melanie.
When the message reached the thousands of animal advocates throughout Dallas, e-mails began flying back and forth in the hopes of working out a solution for this family. We were told that the required pet deposit was $200 per cat, which prompted several rescue partners to jump in and offer to raise the money. When told of this generous offer, Scarlett and Melanie’s owner broke down and cried, thanking us over and over – because her cats mean the world to her. Just as our own pets fill that special place in our hearts and our homes, Scarlett and Melanie provide the same unconditional love to their mom. Economics may affect the ability to keep or care for a pet properly, but economics will never dictate the love-bond between parent and pet.
Most Dallas Animal Advocates are aware of what all it takes to get a newly surrendered animal placed back into a loving home. DAS has done studies showing that the costs involved just to receive and house an animal into the shelter are far more than $100 and escalate daily as the animal is housed and cared for in the shelter. Medical requirements raise these costs even more. Since the hot Dallas summer months are busier, making it even harder to place the vast number of homeless animals arriving daily at DAS (usually 100-plus animals daily during this season). Sadly, the majority of these animals are put down – most likely the case for two middle-aged sisters such as Scarlett and Melanie. It is such a sad fate for happy-go-lucky pets who don’t understand the perils of a budget stretched to its max or the fact that apartments require deposits from owners who barely can afford the monthly rent – much less a deposit.
We quickly realized that the most logical solution to Scarlett and Melanie’s problem was for DAS to NOT be faced with the problem of keeping the kitties happy and healthy as they reside in the shelter, waiting and hoping for a new home together. Why put these cats through the stress and why expect the City to bear their boarding and care costs when a $400 pet deposit would get them happily back to their owner? Even though accepting every animal brought into the shelter is DAS’s job, alternate solutions are often critical in order to “keep the animal out of the shelter and in its own home.” Therefore, we knew we must “think out of the box” and come up with a new outreach component of our DCAP plan to create a pet deposit fund.
After hearing this story last week, I did local research to find out approximately how many animals are abandoned by their family members due to the limited rental housing options available to people with pets or because of steep pet deposits. Like most major cities, Dallas is no exception to this problem. Although behavior problems are usually sited by shelters as the principal reason for surrender, relocation and pet deposits place second.
I then discovered a national non-profit organization committed to helping animals. FIREPAW (firepaw.org) recently received a grant to perform a national research study about this very subject of pets and rental properties. In an effort to address that shortage of animal-friendly rental housing, and thereby reduce the numbers of abandoned animals, FIREPAW has created the Companion Animal Renters Program (CARP), which includes a national study of landlords and animal-friendly units, and a unique applied program to encourage and assist rental property owners in offering animal-friendly housing.
One of FIREPAW’s goals with this study is to get the word out to many more rental property owners about the economic advantages and overall attractiveness of renting to tenants with animals.
CARP helps rental property owners identify responsible people with animals; screen and detect potential “problem” tenants with animals; gain methods for reducing problems and enhancing tenant loyalty through connecting property owners with a variety of relevant public services; learn the best methods for holding residents accountable for their animal’s actions; and to develop and establish strong, effective animal policies and animal agreements.
As I read more about FIREPAW and CARP, I immediately thought of Dallas’ own Companion Animal Project - DCAP. Many of the goals of DCAP’s outreach programs parallel those of FIREPAW.
I got more excited as I studied the conclusions of FIREPAW’s study as how this affects pets. According to the report, “the results indicate that it is in the best interest of rental property owners to permit companion animal renters.” This is great news for animals – not only could dog and cat relinquishment to shelters be reduced by making more pet-friendly housing available, but adoptions would also likely increase.
Of the renters who did not have pets in the present study, more than half reported they would probably have one or more pets if they were allowed to do so in their current rental housing. There appears to be an overlooked opportunity for many landlords to gain income revenue in rent and increase tenant pools/market size by allowing pets. From a landlord’s perspective, while there are some costs to allowing pets, the benefits show to be greater.
“Although individual landlord situations will vary, pet-friendly housing appears to be a ̔win-win-win̓ situations for landlords, tenants and companion animals,” according to FIREPAW’s conclusions.
Although having more pet-friendly housing helps to eliminate many of the surrendered pets to the shelter, it still does not solve the problem of pet owners who are challenged with hard times and unable to pay the required deposit. Thus, the origination of DCAP’s Fund for Pet Deposits and the sharing of Dallas’ many resources available will help to alleviate these issues.
As DCAP’s outreach programs continue to grow, we hope to help those who believe their four-legged family members are truly family members and are devastated with the thought of having to give them up to the realistic consequences of this already over-crowded, over-populated animal world. We hope that every animal will be able to remain with his/her pet parent. Just like Scarlett and Melanie.