Helping Clients Who Have Pets

Helping Clients Who Have Pets

July 11, 2017

Written by the NVTAC Blogger

People love their pets. The size of the pet industry in the United States is calculated at more than $60 billion per year. (1) Many people experiencing homelessness have pets and love them as much as their housed counterparts; they also often rely on them for companionship and a feeling of stability. However, pet ownership can create problems and challenges in the field of helping people who are homeless get back into housing and the workforce.

Pets can provide safety, lessen feelings of loneliness, and give a sense of purpose to our clients experiencing homelessness. Some pets are also therapy/emotional support animals or official service animals. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. Thus, although most businesses and housing units are required to allow citizens with service animals to access their facilities and services, there is often confusion and even discrimination against those with animals. (2) This blog will not tackle the issues around those with disabilities being discriminated against due to their service animals, but it does help set the stage for discussing how to best serve HVRP clients with pets. If even those who have a legal right to have their animals (3) often struggle with getting access to goods, facilities, housing, and services, how do we help those who have pets?

The challenges of serving a client with a pet can be daunting. They are often asked to abandon their pets to get shelter, services, and housing. This forces many people to choose between services or stick with their beloved animals. For many people, giving up their pets is simply not a choice they are willing to make.

The issue of pets belonging to people who are homeless is complicated, and there are a variety of considerations that public and private entities need to take into consideration.

  • Zoning – Although the zoning of animals in public places is complex and varies greatly, typically pet owners are responsible for the control of their animals in public spaces, waste removal, and general care. In terms of private zoning, the rules vary and many private institutions ban pets of all kinds on their properties, even service animals.

  • Safety – The concerns around safety in terms of pets is another hairy issue. Animal attacks, interactions with other animals, leash laws, and public nuisance regulations all fall under this broad topic.

  • Health – There are mydaid is issues concerning health issues in the context of pets, including health and hygiene laws in terms of food service, waste removal as a public health issue, allergies, the physical well-being of pets, and non-vaccinated pets possibly being carriers of disease. Many cities and counties also require proof of rabies vaccination for dogs and cats, and not all homeless veterans are able to afford vet visits or vaccinations for their pets.

Balancing the often unpredictable behavior of pets, social implications, as well as laws and regulations with the deep emotional bond people have with their animals, it’s easy to understand why this is such a tough issue. When providers attempt to serve homeless clients with pets, they often rub up against rules and regulations that make service provision difficult or impossible.

Shelters, transitional housing, and mainstream housing on the private market all have different approaches to pets. Most shelters and transitional housing facilities struggle to find solutions to housing and serving homeless clients with pets and companion/service animals for the reasons listed above. However, many landlords (particularly privately owned apartments, single room occupancy, and shared living situations) ban pets outright. How do we as service providers serve clients who have pets when abandoning their beloved companions is not an option?


Although there are no simple solutions to this complex issue, several local, national, and international organizations have been attempting to address the issues around homelessness and pets.

A collaboration in Denver between Bark & Play Doggie Daycare, the Volunteers of America, and the Center for Animal Wellness Vet Clinic have created a way to provide shelter for animals while homeless veteran clients seek and use services. (4) Providing free dog boarding, while finding pet-friendly housing and assisting with pet deposits through philanthropy is one solution. This program also helps veterans make the transition from being homeless pet owners to being housed pet owners. Considerations such as pet security deposits, education around rules and regulations, and budgeting for pet food and health care are all brought together in this pioneering program.

This approach addresses a fundamental issue: veterans who are homeless with pets, particularly those with mental health issues such as PTSD, rely on their animals and would rather remain homeless than part with their companions. Many of us would feel the same in their situation. For millions of Americans, pets are considered valued members of the family.

An organization in New York, the Guardians of Rescue, does street outreach each year to help pets and homeless individuals. Each year they go out on the streets of New Your City and engage homeless people who have pets. (5) They are an animal rescue organization, so they focus on the pets first, but help the people as a result of helping the animals. They provide on-the-spot veterinary assessment, food and care items, and general counseling to the homeless pet owner. Animals on the street, like their owners, are often exposed to the elements, lack resources, and are deprived of basic sustenance, shelter, and medical care. This organization was featured in a six-part series that aired on the Animal Plant Network.

A national organization called Pets of the Homeless works to provide free veterinary care, food, and other supplies for pets owned by people experiencing homelessness. It accepts donations of food and supplies from the general public and partners with veterinary clinics to give homeless pets the care and support they need while their owners get back on their feet. This organization operates not only in the United States, but in Canada and Australia.

None of these interventions are a perfect solution, but pet ownership by people experiencing homelessness is a challenging problem, and it won’t be going away anytime soon.

We encourage feedback from the field around your own encounters with homeless clients who have pets. What have you done to address this problem? What community resources or work-around solutions have you found? Please reply in the comments or by e-mailing us at please put “Pets of the Homeless” in the subject field. We would love to hear what you are doing, and we will include challenges and innovate solutions in a follow-up blog.

(1) American Pet Products Association (2016). Pet Industry Spending Makes History: Surpasses $60 Billion. Retrieved from

(2) Kutner, J. (2014). Shutting out service dogs is discrimination—and it’s illegal. Retrieved from

(3) ADA National Network. (n.d.) Service animals and emotional support animals. Retrieved from

(4) Virata, J. (n.d.). Homeless Veterans With Pets In Denver To Get Assistance. Retrieved from

(5) Newman, A. (February 17, 2017). Helping the pets of the homeless. New York Times. Retrieved from


Homeless Veteran Reintegration Programs (HVRPs) help veterans experiencing homelessness find their place in the workforce. HVRPs can be found at

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Preparation of this item was funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Veterans’ Employment Training Service under cooperative agreement HV25269-14-75-5-25. This document does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the DOL, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government. The National Veterans Technical Assistance Center (NVTAC) is a partnership among Advocates for Human Potential (AHP), the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) and the U.S. Department of Labor, Veterans Employment and Training Services (DOL-VETS).