Across the country, pets are being given up to animal shelters by people who love them—but who are facing housing challenges that leave them making the choice between having a place to live, and keeping their pet.
Lawrence Humane Society, a nonprofit, open-admission shelter in Lawrence, Kansas, reports that over the last year, over half of pets were surrendered due to housing issues—a full 51 percent.
In the fall of 2020, LHS developed a comprehensive pet retention program—they call it their Crisis Pet Retention program, or CPR—to help people keep their pets through the pandemic, and beyond. One piece of CPR involves covering people’s pet deposits, and even monthly pet rents.
The numbers have held pretty stable, through the two-some years of the program’s existence. In 2020, LHS supported 16 pets, owned by 13 households, in the amount of $3,973.60. In 2021, it was 18 pets, owned by 12 households, for $3,780. This year so far, it’s been $3,475 for 12 households owning 17 pets.
“And there are a number of people who we’ve been able to stay in contact with and see how they’re doing, and they’re still housed. And sometimes it’s just that initial boost that people need,” says Elina Alterman, a social worker who is LHS’s director of development & communications.
This is, in other words, a program that has a huge impact for the families it supports—and is not all that expensive to run.
Elina says there are encouraging preliminary results for the shelter, too, involving the CPR program as a whole. Between 2020, when the program was launched, and 2021, LHS saw a 25 percent decrease in pets surrendered to the shelter.
“I’m hesitant to put all my stock into one year’s worth of data,” Elina says. “But I think what we’ve been seeing is promising.” She looks forward to seeing what the 2022 figures show, once those numbers are calculated. (Us, too!)
Excited, to put it mildly, to learn more, we recently spoke by phone with Elina and Maddie Lockett, a staff social worker for LHS, who runs the CPR program.
Elina and Maddie shared their experiences creating and running the pet rent and pet deposit part of this program, with tips for how other organizations can do the same.
HASS: How does it actually work when LHS pays someone’s pet rent or pet deposit?
It’s a pretty straightforward, red tape-free process, that generally begins with someone calling LHS or filling out an online application for assistance. Those who call are asked to fill in an application, so it’s on file. The application is available online, and as paper copies, in English and Spanish.
Maddie follows up with the client, “just to verify the information about how much and all that,” she says. She takes a look at the lease or other paperwork that concerns the pet fees and/or rents.
After that, Maddie reaches out to the landlord, to make sure that “everybody’s on the same page with us assisting with the pet deposit”—adding that she’s never had a landlord say no to LHS’s involvement. “And then from there, I square away getting that assistance mailed to the landlord. I square that away with our admin team.”
Pet deposits tend to be a one-time payment. Pet rent is generally a monthly fee. Maddie says there is no set length of time that LHS will cover someone’s pet rent. The pet rent coverage generally goes on for 3-5 months.
Note that LHS’s intake staff are well-versed in the CPR program. In fact, when the program was launched, their job titles were changed to community case worker. A big part of the job is now helping people access pet food, supplies, and other resources—like pet rent or pet deposits—so more people can keep their pets.
HASS: Are there eligibility requirements?
Outside of needing to see or otherwise verify that a landlord is asking for pet fees, LHS does not have eligibility requirements.
“In terms of income and things like that, we are really proud and excited to not have that barrier,” says Maddie.
HASS: Will LHS cover a pet deposit or pet rent more than once, for the same person, such as if they move to a new rental?
Yes, but it hasn’t yet come up.
“If we help someone with a pet deposit to get into housing, and then a year later that housing didn’t work out, they have to find new housing, we don’t have any philosophical opposition to helping them with the deposit again,” Elina says. “It hasn’t happened. We just have not had that situation come up yet. Not to say that we won’t someday. The same thing with pet rent.”
HASS: How do people find out about this program?
From the beginning, LHS has made it a big point to do “very intentional outreach to the other social service agencies in town,” says Elina. LHS made and distributed materials in English and Spanish to food banks, domestic violence shelters, substance treatment agencies, organizations that work in the housing space, and “just basically every social service agency and social determinant of health that one can think of.” This has led to a lot of referrals from social services agencies.
On top of that, the organization shares a lot of information on social media, including city-wide Facebook pages where people seek resources and information.
Maddie adds that many people now find the program via word of mouth, and “just calling our general number and just asking about resources. A lot of times people are also getting online and just to see what sort of resources are out there.”
LHS has also done a lot of social media posts, media outreach, and blogs about the CPR program. They have really put resources into spreading the word.
HASS: Where does the funding for this program come from?
Initial funding for the CPR program came from the county commission, as a distribution of federal COVID spending dollars. The first grant was for $50,000—LHS received the funding in October 2020, and had to spend it all by December.
“The entire staff really buckled down to get this money spent so that we could help as many people as possible,” Elina says. “And not only did we spend that $50,000, we actually were able to get an additional $10,000 from the county.”
Through this launch, LHS was able to gather the data they needed about who needed support, and what support they needed, they could use to tailor the program and drive further fundraising.
Now, the program is primarily funded through grants, and individual contributions from donors—some of whom donate to cover pet rents and pet deposits specifically, to the CPR program more broadly, or to LHS’s general fund.
“We had someone give $10,000 recently in honor of her parents,” Elina says. “And then there’s monthly donations that are $3, $5, or just a one time gift of a couple dollars. And we try to make clear to folks that all of that is meaningful, all of it.”
HASS: What advice would you give to other organizations that want to start covering pet rents and pet deposits?
Maddie suggests making sure landlords are kept in the loop because “it’s just a good way to go to ensure that everything goes smoothly.”
Elina’s advice is to work closely with human services agencies in your community. In addition to the other collaborative benefits, doing this is part of a broader effort to advocate for more pet-inclusive housing in the Lawrence community.
“There are social service agencies who provide housing and not just transitional housing, but more permanent housing, that have some of the most restrictive pet restrictions that we’ve seen,” Elina says. “So I think just having those conversations in the very beginning allows for education and space for more conversations.”
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