Housing Challenges Force a Dog Owner’s Heartbreaking Decision

August 17, 2022


When flash flooding from Hurricane Ida began pushing water into David K.’s second-floor Englewood, New Jersey, apartment last September, he knew he would have to evacuate.

“The water kept rising. I felt like I was in a horror movie with a killer coming after me,” says David.

Water began to recede around midnight, but the five-story building was no longer safe to inhabit.

The following day, David, his wife, their toddler and their large black-and-white pit bull-mix, Kenny, left for David’s parents’ home on Long Island.

“We didn’t know how long it would take to get back in—hours or days, weeks or months,” David says. “We stayed until Christmas.”

A Difficult Decision

As the new year (2022) started, David was facing enormous challenges finding housing for all of them, including Kenny.

“We were still in the midst of a pandemic, and the rental market was ridiculous,” David says. “It was impossible to find a place that accepted dogs, especially large dogs like Kenny.”

David made a difficult decision, and the ASPCA accepted Kenny on short notice.

“David said if his situation changed, he’d love to re-adopt Kenny back,” says Michelle Javier, an ASPCA Matchmaker.

On the drive home, after relinquishing Kenny, David phoned his best friend since their days in Boy Scouts, Adam, who was devastated that David had relinquished his beloved dog.

Kenny resting on blankets (left) and sitting on a side walk (right)

“I felt guilty and terrible for Kenny,” David says. “It never crossed my mind that I’d have to do that after having him so many years. And not having adequate time to decide to let him go; it didn’t sink in until I got home.” 

David had mixed emotions, with guilt at the top of the list. 

“The feelings of guilt would come when I drove past a path where we used to walk or when I saw other dogs,” he says. “It wasn’t easy.”

A Familiar Family for Kenny

Adam and his partner, Alexis, knew Kenny well. They often spent weekends camping with David and his wife with their dogs in tow.

Kenny and Pepper

“Kenny is such a sweet dog,” says Alexis, who has a rescued Jack Russel Terrier named Pepper, who is 16 lb. to Kenny’s 60-plus. “Kenny’s good with kids of all ages. But he’s big. It was heartbreaking for us to think of him lingering in a shelter.”

Adam and Alexis contacted the ASPCA to inquire about adopting Kenny. They had recently purchased a home with a large yard. Once Kenny was available for adoption, ASPCA Matchmaker Stacey Rozell contacted Adam and Alexis, who officially adopted Kenny on March 25. 

Kenny at his new home

A Question of Housing Fairness

Sadly, the lack of pet-friendly rental housing continues to be a problem for pet owners throughout the United States. While New York and New Jersey prohibit breed-specific laws that restrict pet ownership, many states do not. Private landlords can make their own rules, limiting options for pet owners by imposing restrictions based on a dog’s breed and size or charging residents more money if they even have a pet.

The ASPCA’s Government Relations team works to advance policy solutions throughout the country to expand access to pet-friendly housing. In 2017, California passed landmark legislation making pet-friendly housing available to residents of all economic backgrounds. Similar legislation was later passed in the City and County of Los Angeles, and in Nevada. 

Kenny playing with a volley ball on the beach

“By eliminating unnecessary and intrusive barriers to pet companionship, these landmark protections for animals will ensure pets and their families are not needlessly separated by arbitrary restrictions,” says Susan Riggs, Senior Director of Housing Policy for the ASPCA.

At the federal level, an ASPCA-supported bill–The Pets Belong with Families Act–aims to expand pet-friendly housing by prohibiting vague and sweeping restrictions against dogs in public housing based on breed or size, allowing families with pets to access affordable and stable housing.

Kenny playing with a ball with ASPCA staff

“The most frustrating part of this ordeal is that people with dogs who look like Kenny are dismissed outright,” says David. “If Kenny were a liability, I’d understand, but basing housing opportunities on breed or size alone is unfair. People trying to rent are just left out in the cold.”

Staying in Touch

David has visited Kenny several times.

“We all miss him,” says David, whose family now lives in Jersey City, where he also started his own business. “But it’s reassuring to know he’s with good friends. Having Adam and Lex adopt Kenny was like winning the lottery.” 

Kenny wearing a jacket (left) and Kenny at beach with Lex and Pepper

“Kenny’s outcome was as good as we could hope for,” says Ruth Allen, ASPCA Director of Admissions and Matchmaking. “David is still part of Kenny’s life and vice versa. It’s a win-win.”

While Kenny and his two families were fortunate to secure a happy future, many dogs and families are not so lucky. Please visit our Advocacy Center to urge your members of Congress to support the Pets Belong with Families Act.