Matt’s Blog: Why Expanding Access to Pet-Friendly Housing Is a Critical Animal Welfare Issue

July 21, 2021

an elderly woman with her back facing the camera holding a puppy

By ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker

Pets are cherished sources of love and companionship in our lives, especially during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, but those bonds can be tragically broken when owners are evicted from their homes—a clear consequence of the economic downturn—or face housing restrictions because they have a pet. 

As economic indicators trend upward, both the federal government and many state and local governments have decided to end their respective eviction and foreclosure moratoriums on July 30. That may seem reasonable, but housing advocates predict that the end of these programs will result in extreme housing instability and turmoil as households have to pay not only their current rent, but also the rent they owe from previous months of relief.

The end of eviction moratoriums is not the only housing challenge to pets. The ubiquitous nature of no-pet policies among rental properties and the widespread adherence to misguided breed discrimination practices by property insurers also threaten the invaluable bonds between people and their pets at a time when those family units should be protected and preserved.

Pets in Peril

Based on pets-in-housing estimates we released last December, approximately 19.2 million dogs and cats live in households that are not presently current with their rent or mortgage payments. This includes over 9.8 million dogs and cats living in rental homes and 9.4 million dogs and cats living in owned homes. 

The eviction moratoriums in place at the local, state, and federal levels over the past 18 months have provided a temporary reprieve to struggling pet owners, but with the Centers for Disease Control’s recent 30-day extension of the federal moratorium expiring at the end of this month, the impending housing crisis could create severe challenges for millions of pets and people, especially those already struggling with financial hardship.

Animal-Unfriendly Housing Regulations

Long before the pandemic, lack of access to pet-friendly housing and affordable veterinary care was already forcing families to make the difficult choice to part with their pets. Policies barring pets and enforcing breed discrimination created hardships beyond the already difficult task of securing housing.

And while we have seen encouraging signs of pet owners keeping the dogs and cats they acquired during the pandemic—even as they return to normal work schedules—restrictive and often uninformed housing regulations can still force heartbreaking separations.

Fixing the Problem

The ASPCA believes bold action is required to increase housing opportunities for families with pets, and there are some encouraging—and hopefully, influential—signs of action across the country. 

With our help, breakthrough laws have been passed at the state level in California and Nevada as well as in the City and County of Los Angeles that ensure families can maintain ownership and care for their pets while accessing affordable housing. We also support owner-pet co-housing for people experiencing housing insecurity and in need of emergency housing due to domestic violence. In the last month, we were proud to lead efforts in Nevada and New York that led to groundbreaking state laws that prohibit property insurance companies from denying coverage for families with specific breeds of dogs.

Eviction moratoriums were a necessary band-aid solution during the pandemic, but as they are set to expire for most of the country, we cannot simply declare the challenge overcome and hope for the best. The fact remains that pet restrictions in housing will continue to be an enormous and consequential hurdle for pet owners well beyond the pandemic, and we must propose, update, and support policies to ensure the removal of those barriers.

This issue tests our values as individuals and as Americans. We believe that pets and people belong together, and that financial circumstances do not reflect a person’s capacity to love and care for a companion animal. So as long as housing insecurity continues to put animals and their families at risk of separation, we must all be vigilant in supporting policies and acting on opportunities that can keep pets and people together at home, where they belong. 

Originally published on One Green Planet