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Man’s best friend silently suffers as homelessness bites hard this winter

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Homelessness Week 2022

Man’s best friend silently suffers as homelessness bites hard this winter

With almost two-thirds of Australian households having a pet, it stands to reason when homelessness strikes, it strikes for a lot of animals too.

"I’ll live in my car before I give up my dog” is a phrase often posted on social media in response to stories about spiralling housing costs and the lack of affordable, pet-friendly rentals.

While some people do choose homelessness with their dog or cat over a rental or temporary housing that won’t allow pets, others don’t even have that choice and find themselves – and by extension their pets – on the street.

There is the option to surrender animals to a shelter or rescue group, but the decision can be heart wrenching and seemingly impossible.

And, like many of us, people sleeping rough may get a pet to provide companionship and a sense of safety.

RSPCA WA’s Executive Manager of Animal and Enforcement Operations, Hannah Dreaver, said regardless of how they ended up where they are, the pets of people sleeping rough are often the forgotten ones in conversations around homelessness.

“We see many homeless people at our Community Action Days, particularly those held in city locations like a recent event at Wellington Square,” said Ms Dreaver.

“People are so relieved to be able to get free food, microchipping, flea treatments and health checks for their dogs, who are often their whole world.

“A lot of people who are experiencing homelessness have dearly loved pets offering unconditional love, companionship, emotional support and security and these basic needs are even more important in times of vulnerability and uncertainty so we want to do what we can to help owners experiencing homelessness.”

Hannah Dreaver,RSPCA WA’s Executive Manager of Animal and Enforcement Operations

The RSPCA praises organisations like Pets in the Park, which provides free vet care for the homeless, and Give Our Strays a Chance (GOSAC) which works with homelessness organisation to ensure everyone can care for their pets, regardless of living situation or income.

The reality is owning a pet can make it harder to secure safe, appropriate housing. A lot of emergency or short-stay housing situations don’t allow pets and the rent crisis has made pet-friendly, affordable leases difficult to secure.

“Currently, WA landlords can simply say no if a prospective tenant wishes to keep a pet, regardless of the type of property or the type of animal, and the renter has no recourse,” said Ms Dreaver.

“That needs to change in line with other states and territories.”

RSPCA WA reports that pet ownership has surged in the last few years with over a million additional dogs being brought into Australian households since 2019.  Nearly 70 per cent of Aussie households now have a pet and the NFP believes that it’s time the laws reflected this.

“The great irony is that although the mental and physical health benefits of owning a pet have been documented time and time again, it is in situations of no or vulnerable housing that people feel the most pressure to surrender their animals.”

RSPCA WA’s Pets In Crisis program is another way the organisation supports those vulnerable to homelessness.

“Pet owners fleeing family and domestic violence can leave their pets in our care while they get back on their feet and find secure housing,” said Ms Dreaver.

“Many shelters are unable to take pets and many people refuse to leave their pets in a violent home so this can often be the one service that helps them decide they can leave.”

It’s a heartbreaking situation which RSPCA WA is working hard to change.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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