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A California Bill Could Significantly Help Unhoused People and Their Pets

Pet parents wouldn’t have to choose between temporary shelter and keeping their pets.

by Kerensa Cadenas
April 19, 2023
Two people hold their white-and-black dogs, one of whom wears a pink tutu. The woman kisses one of the dogs on the head.
Photo courtesy of Todd Smith for the Los Angeles Daily News
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Earlier this year, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) partnered with Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) and state assembly member Wendy Carrillo to introduce an important new bill that would allow unhoused people in the Los Angeles area to bring their pets with them to a shelter to stay. It’s rare for shelters to allow pets — PATH is an exception. AB 1215 would reestablish state funding that would allow more shelters to be able to accommodate pets in their shelters across the state of California. If passed, the bill would provide shelters state funds for pet food and veterinary services at both homeless and domestic violence shelters across the state.

In a statement, Carrillo emphasized the importance of this bill for the unhoused community: “As California looks for solutions for unhoused people across the state, we should not force individuals experiencing homelessness to choose between keeping their animal companion and obtaining urgent access to shelter.” 

Per the Los Angeles Daily News’s reporting, LAHSA estimates that five to 10 percent of the about 70,000 unhoused people in Los Angeles County have a pet, which means this proposed legislation could help thousands who might be rejected by shelters because of their pets. Previously, the Pet Assistance and Support program (PAS) provided the state with one-time funding for these resources, but AB 1215 would mean ongoing state funding.

Carrillo also notes in her statement that this funding would help to make seeking shelter a more comfortable experience for many: “AB 1215 is a local solution that works to assist our unhoused population in feeling comfortable when seeking temporary housing — a solution that directly addresses a hurdle to thousands when seeking temporary housing.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Community Development estimated in a 2022 report that California has an unhoused population of about 180,000. With that in mind, this bill could dramatically change the quality of life for a significant portion of people living in the state. Advocates for the bill stress that more people will seek help if they know they won’t have to give up their pet in the process.

Another hurdle unhoused people face is access to (expensive) medical care and food for their pets. Thankfully, PATH has that covered. “Previous state funding through the Pet Assistance and Support program allowed PATH to provide care supplies and veterinary services for pets of our participants in our interim housing sites across the state,” Tyler Renner, director of media for PATH, tells The Wildest via email. He says that PATH has purchased collars, leashes, flea and tick meds, and other essentials.

Renner adds that with the resources they’ve gotten from previous funding, PATH has already been helping unhoused folks get the medical care they need for their pets: “We’ve also been able to cover veterinary services so everyone in the shelter, human and animal, stays healthy.”

It’s also something that could dramatically shift the increasingly dire nationwide overcrowding of animal shelters, especially if other states adopted similar actions. In 2020, it may have seemed like everyone was actually adopting a pet, but adoptions have actually declined. According to a report from the nonprofit, Shelter Animals Count, in the first nine months of 2022 more animals entered shelters than left them.

Plus, the number of cats and dogs facing possible euthanasia was 100,000 times higher in 2022 than in 2021. And in the case of environmental disasters, like the February Norfolk Southern train incident in East Palestine, Ohio, many residents aren’t able to take their pets with them when they need to evacuate. This leads to more abandoned pets, especially stray cats, following kitten season.

With AB 1215, California, and states that could pass similarly modeled bills, could help the unhoused population and their beloved pets. Renner says he and his colleagues at PATH are hopeful that, with increased state funding, more pet parents and pets will receive the help they need: “One of the most vital goals of our work to end homelessness is to reduce barriers to services, shelter, and housing...At PATH, we try to reduce these barriers when possible and work to make our services and sites inclusive and accommodating to pets. Our hope is that more providers will see the value in supporting pets, that the state will continue to provide funding, and that people experiencing homelessness will embrace services.”

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Kerensa Cadenas

Kerensa Cadenas is a writer based in New York. She’s previously worked at The Cut, Thrillist, Cosmopolitan, and Complex. Her work has been featured in Vulture, GQ, Vanity Fair, and others.