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Affordable Housing & Pets... Is There a New Crisis in Animal Sheltering?

For the last 20 years, intakes into American animal shelters have been steadily decreasing, largely thanks to more widespread awareness and access to spay and neuter services, and up until recently it seemed that the trend would continue. Then, in 2022 we started to see the numbers start creeping back up towards pre-COVID numbers, and by the end of the year, even beyond. The cause of these surprising upward trends cannot be necessarily linked to only one cause – the economy, access to affordable housing and veterinary care, etc. – but it is noteworthy, and animal welfare organizations across the country are trying to assess whether this is just a temporary blip, or whether it foretells a much larger issue heading our way.
Affordable housing and pet ownership have been, and remain, pressing issues in Indian River County, where the high cost of living and limited availability of affordable housing options create challenges for low-income families. In 2022, our shelter saw a 66% increase in the number of dogs and cats surrendered due to housing issues, highlighting the severity of the problem.

According to national data, 67% of households have pets, including those living at or below poverty. The poverty rate in the county is around 10%, with many families struggling to make ends meet. These households are particularly at risk of facing housing challenges due to pet ownership, and often face having to surrender beloved family members as a result.

One major obstacle for pet owners in need of affordable housing is the size and breed restrictions imposed by many pet-friendly housing options. Many landlords and housing complexes have strict rules regarding the size and breed of pets allowed, which can make it difficult for families with larger or certain breeds of pets to find suitable housing. In addition, some insurance companies also have breed restrictions, further limiting the options available to pet owners.

Another challenge faced by low-income families in our community is the high cost of pet-friendly housing. Many pet-friendly housing options are expensive and out of reach for families living in poverty. In addition, the cost of pet ownership, including food, veterinary care, and grooming, can add hundreds of dollars to monthly expenses, making it difficult for low-income families to make ends meet.

More needs to be done to ensure that families with pets have access to affordable and pet-friendly housing options in the county, and HSVB intends to further our programs and initiatives to create awareness of this issue and also improve access to pet-friendly, affordable housing.
By working together, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and the private sector can help to create more inclusive and equitable housing solutions for all residents, regardless of their income or pet ownership status.

Kate is the CEO of the Humane Society of Vero Beach & Indian River County, and previously served as the Executive Director of the Lawrence Humane Society in Kansas. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and biochemistry from Evergreen State College and an MBA from the University of Illinois.