Tens of millions of unemployed Americans are now struggling with the possibility of losing their homes because they cannot pay rent. The situation is even more heart-wrenching for those who have companion animals at home and are faced with the impossible choice of keeping their best friends or finding affordable housing.

According to federal government data, 30 to 40 million renters across the country are at risk of being evicted from their homes this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting unemployment. Industry estimates show 72 percent of renters own pets, and this, according to our calculations, means an estimated 10 to 11 million pets could be displaced in the coming months.

Our Pets for Life program, which provides services in underserved areas to increase access to resources and keep people and pets together, is already seeing these tragic stories play out. We are stepping in to help when we can, as in the case of Darlene, a Baton Rouge resident.

Darlene, who lives with her grandson, two dogs, five cats, two ducks, two chickens and a parakeet, was recently evicted from her home after losing her job during the pandemic. She managed to find a place to stay temporarily with a family member while she looked for a new home; her pets stayed with friends and family members.

Darlene would visit her pets every day, feeding, watering, and caring for them and hoping they would all be reunited eventually. But not all landlords allow pets and those who do often require significant pet deposits or fees. When Darlene did find a place she could move into, the pet deposit was more than the funds she had available.

The Pets for Life program in her area, operated by the local shelter Companion Animal Alliance Baton Rouge, came to Darlene’s aid. PFL provided her with food, supplies, and veterinary care for all the pets, and paid the pet deposit to bring this family back together. She and her entire furry and feathered family are now happily settled in their new home, but sadly that won’t be the case for millions of owners who will be forced to surrender their pets to local shelters and rescues if support services are inaccessible or unavailable.

As communities increasingly grapple with rising eviction rates on top of an affordable housing crisis, shelters and other animal service providers have stepped up to play a crucial role in helping keep families with companion animals, like Darlene’s, together. To assist them in this work, the Humane Society of the United States recently released an Eviction Response Toolkit.

We created the toolkit in collaboration with the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, and the University of Denver’s Institute for Human Animal Connection. It offers guidance to shelters on various strategies to avoid pet homelessness during this health and economic crisis, including:

  • Keeping people and their pets together, by offering resources and services, including food and free veterinary care.
  • Peer to peer support, by encouraging people to reach out to family and friends or matching them up with others in the community who can help take care of a pet while the owner looks for housing.
  • Temporary placement with fosters or expanding existing domestic violence programs to include people facing evictions, where animals are temporarily cared for by the shelter while the owner finds a place to live.

The toolkit has many more valuable resources, including information about advocating for rental assistance and better affordable housing policies at the local, state and federal levels, with draft letters and scripts for communicating directly with legislators. We encourage shelters and rescues as well as all animal advocates to download it to see how they can prepare a response to the housing crisis. Our community has already shown how ably we can rise to a challenge by pivoting swiftly during this pandemic with innovative adoption programs and a surge in the willingness of families to foster. Our help is now needed to mitigate this additional threat of increased human, and therefore pet, homelessness. By working together and being proactive, we can meet the problem head on.