Here are five ways elected officials and public leaders can help build communities that are more inclusive of pets and people—more fun, fair, and welcoming places for us all to call home.
Nationally, 54% of dogs enter as “strays” and fewer than half will be reunited with their families. Historically, municipalities and animal shelters have leaned on steep reclaim fees to discourage community members from allowing their dogs to roam, but a punitive-first system creates barriers between pet owners in need and the animal care organizations that could help them. Fines and fees don’t change an animal’s behavior or fix a broken fence, but they can mean the difference between a pet going home and a pet staying in the shelter, ultimately increasing cost of in-shelter care and contributing to overcrowding, putting the overall shelter population at risk. As adoptions fail to keep pace with dogs entering shelters, length of stay increases and the fiscal impact on the shelter grows each day. Consider conducting a fee analysis to determine what your community members can realistically afford to pay. If your county or municipal code doesn’t allow shelters to lower or waive fees when necessary to get pets home, work with your local shelters and community to change it.
It’s especially critical to encourage support for initiatives that build veterinary capacity and expand access to spay/neuter: Among the many benefits, sterilization encourages pets to stick close to home, increasing their safety and decreasing the number of dogs and cats roaming the streets. But when spay/neuter surgery had to be suspended during the pandemic, we fell nearly three million surgeries behind what would normally have been accomplished. A nationwide shortage of veterinarians and veterinary nurses is making it even harder to keep up with the need, let alone catch up from the deficit, which is compounded in communities that already lacked affordable veterinary care or veterinarians at all
It’s more important than ever to ensure all community residents and TNR groups have access to spay/neuter for animals. Community leaders are working together to make it happen. For example, thanks to Rancho Cordova’s Community Enhancement Fund, the Rancho Cordova City Council partners with Rancho Cordova Animal Services, the County of Sacramento, and organizations like Whisker Warriors to provide residents with free or low-cost spay/neuter, free pet licensing, TNR for community cats, and pet food supplies.
Too often Californians experiencing homelessness or domestic violence cannot access temporary or emergency housing because doing so would mean leaving their beloved animal companions behind. 34.9% of California women and 31.1% of men have experienced intimate partner physical violence, sexual violence and/or stalking in their lifetimes. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness 2023 report, Californians have the highest likelihood of being unhoused, 44 out of every 10,000 residents, with over 170,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in the state. Co-sheltering—as defined by My Dog Is My Home as the sheltering of people and animals together at the same emergency or temporary housing facility—allows people and pets to stay together as they seek safe shelter. Animal care organizations and human social services organizations are working together to bring co-sheltering to their communities. Learn more about co-sheltering and join the Co-Sheltering Collaborative at https://www.mydogismyhome.org/.
In California, 35 million pets reside in over half of households, and housing or landlord issues are among the most commonly cited reasons for pet surrenders. As towns and cities work together to confront the statewide housing crisis, we must ensure safe, affordable housing is accessible to all pet owners. Though protections now apply to Californians residing in housing financed by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, many more California renters, if they can find pet-inclusive housing, face breed or weight restrictions or non-refundable pet deposits or monthly pet rent.
For more data and market-based solutions that could ensure access to safe, affordable housing for people and pets in your community, visit the Pet Inclusive Housing Initiative. To get an idea of how your region is doing on creating inclusive pet policies, visit the National Rental Research Dashboard.
Animal shelters, veterinarians, and human health and social services providers recognize that the health and well-being of humans and animals are intertwined: people who face systemic barriers and structural discrimination also experience a lack of access to resources, services, and opportunities for caring for their pets. A holistic One Health/One Welfare approach acknowledges the connection between the health of animals, people, plants, and the environment, and allocates funding and shapes policy and services accordingly.
Support animal shelters’ and animal services agencies’ move from a surrender-first model to a prevention-based, support-first model that focuses on keeping animals in their homes. To learn more about the impact of human-animal relationships on overall community well-being and read California for All Animals’ strategic recommendations for addressing urgent issues facing animal shelters, visit the following resources:
- California for All Animals Legislative Report 2023
- Helping People and Animals Together Report (Vancouver Humane Society)
- Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity (CARE)
What are shelter reclaim fees (also called return to owner or redemption fees)?
When a pet found outside is presumed lost and brought to the shelter by animal services officers or community members, owners will likely have to pay redemption and/or boarding fees and potentially civil fines in order to reclaim their pet. These fees are often set at a municipal or county level with no discretion given to shelters to waive or lower them. Depending on circumstances, an owner may be faced with an expensive bill to reclaim a dog who escaped from a yard or was simply visiting a dog friend down the street. Along with transportation, language, or other barriers, expensive reclaim fees can prevent pets from returning to their families and are one reason less than 20% of dogs and only 5% of cats are reclaimed in shelters nationwide.
You can help make sure fees don’t stand between pets and people who love them by helping a pet get home instead of bringing them to the shelter, starting or donating to a shelter’s return-to-home fund, and joining with your shelter to advocate for their ability to lower or waive fees in order to reunite pets with their families.