First of its kind Arizona group aids pets losing homes due to pandemic

Pet Housing Help AZ Task Force was formed hastily to assist low-income families with pets during the COVID-19 pandemic.  –Pet Housing Help AZ Task Force photo

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To Jodi Polanski, it’s just another of the many ventures she prides herself on helping to organize, grow and sustain.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began putting millions of pets across the country at risk of being surrendered to animal shelters, the families who love their pets—but were forced choose between keeping them or finding a place to live—found hope with the then-new Pet Housing Help AZ Task Force.

As the hastily conceived idea began taking shape, seven of the state’s leading animal-welfare organizations, including Tempe-based Lost Our Home Pet Rescue, 2323 S. Hardy Drive, of which Polanski is executive director, proactively formed Pet Housing Help AZ Task Force, the first of its kind in Arizona and among the few in the country.

Its goal, explained Polanski, is to help owners keep their beloved pets with them and out of shelters via a multifaceted approach, which includes a centralized website.

According to Polanski’s studies, the ability of unemployed people in Maricopa County to cover pet-care costs and related expenses has been drastically affected by the pandemic.

Because the pandemic has exacerbated affordable-housing shortages, Polanski said, renters and low-income households across the country often must choose between paying rent and buying groceries, medicine and other necessities, including pet-related expenses.

It is estimated that 22 to 39 percent of renters will have faced economic challenges, including the financial concerns of caring for approximately 5,000 pets in Maricopa County.

This, says Polanski, doubles animal shelters’ monthly intake.

Sadly, there has been a steady increase of people losing their homes and potentially their beloved pets.

The task force, with Polanski’s group at the forefront, was formed to offer a communitywide solution.

The task force’s efforts, Polanski said, have included:

  • Expanding temporary foster programs for pet owners.
  • Increasing surrender prevention and intervention efforts.
  • Increasing collaboration with human and health-service agencies and animal shelters.
  • Increasing education and awareness around the benefits for landlords of pet-friendly housing.
  • A specialized website, pethousinghelpaz.org, with resources and easy-to-use tools to help owners find permanent or temporary homes for their pets by connecting them directly with people who want to help.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in Arizona there are 26 affordable and available rental homes per 100 extremely low-income renter households.

And, 73 percent of extremely low-income renter households are severely cost-burdened.

Meanwhile, 9 percent of rental housing across the country allowed companion animals without any significant size or breed limitations.

Most tenants (82 percent) with animals reported having trouble finding a rental unit that would allow their pets, further showcasing the importance of educating landlords on removing breed- and size-restriction barriers and reducing fees to give renters with pets more opportunities to find safe housing.

Now, more than ever, Polanski said, renters would benefit from increased support and fewer limitations.

Additionally, studies indicate that:

  • Pet-friendly landlords who place no restrictions on pet ownership enjoy an 11.6 percent rental premium over landlords who do not.
  • Residents with pets were found to stay significantly longer in their rentals — by an average of 23 to 46 months — than residents without pets.
  • Nine percent of pets cause damage, and owners of both pet-friendly and non-pet-friendly housing believe adults and children are likely to create more costly damage than dogs or cats.

Pet owners in need of help or community members who want to help can do so by visiting pethousinghelpaz.org or calling 602-445-7387. Through the specialized website, pet owners can access bilingual resources, sign up to rehome their pet or connect with fellow pet lovers to temporarily foster their pet until they get back on their feet.

Those who want to help also can sign up to become a temporary foster parent to a pet owner in need on the website.

 

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