My Dog Is My Home is working to keep homeless and domestic violence people with their pets while getting the help they need.
In the mid-2010s, social worker Christine Kim was working for a housing first program, an initiative that was innovative for its time and prided itself on low-barrier access to its services.
A resident he worked with confided a secret: He had his dog, a miniature poodle, with him in his single-occupancy room, a move that violated the program’s no-pet rule. “This dog was just the love of his life,” recalls Kim, an animal lover. “I understood that this was an important bond for him.”
For those who are homeless and facing domestic violence, the inability to part with the pets they love and love is an often overlooked barrier to obtaining housing through social services or leaving the home they share with her abuser. So, in 2017, Kim founded My Dog Is My Home, a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping pet owners in need of social services united with the animals they love.
While working as a social worker on Skid Row in Los Angeles, Kim was struck by the number of pets she saw in the area. “Lots of dogs, but also other types of animals: some people have cats with them in their tents and in their campsites, even rabbits and birds,” she says. “I started to wonder how many people are in their tents but are missing out on emergency shelter or housing programs or are foregoing other types of services because they can’t bring their animals with them.”
When her client confessed to keeping her beloved poodle in her bedroom, Kim obtained a waiver to keep the man and his pet together using the reasonable accommodation mechanism. within the Americans with Disabilities Act. But that couldn’t be the solution for everyone.
Kim found the process of proving a disability unpleasant. “We should assume that [for] homeless people, that the animal gives them emotional support,” she says. “Why do we have to make them try that? We also need to understand that trauma is a truly pervasive experience for people experiencing homelessness.” That trauma, she argues, should also count as a legal disability.
When Kim wrote a blog post about the experience for the now-defunct Animal Museum, where she was volunteering at the time, she blew up. The blog led to an expo that led to her non-profit organization, My dog is my home.
It is through the work of My Dog Is My Home that Kim began her efforts to help shelters become pet friendly to increase access to shelter and housing. The organization achieves its goal in three ways: storytelling to raise awareness, coalition building to create a peer support network of pet-friendly service providers, and direct technical assistance to help individual providers accept pets if they need more. . help that the coalition provides.
While the human-animal bond isn’t taken seriously enough in general, there are other challenges that My Dog Is My Home works to reduce.
“There is a very real challenge that [service providers] they are not even fully funded to care for the human population they serve,” she says. Also, naturally, there is a lack of education and training on running pet-friendly services.
Through My Dog Is My Home services, providers learn how other coalition members have dealt with challenges and logistics, such as liability issues. Direct support from My Dog Is My Home puts providers in touch with local and national pet services to coordinate the provision of supplies like food, leashes and beds.
“If the coalition isn’t enough for a provider to get over the hurdle of transitioning their facilities, they can work with us on specific things,” says Kim. “This is basically what the provider needs, from a casual conversation about an idea to feedback on a policy or coordinating resources in your community. We can help identify those resources right down to personalized training.”
Danielle Emery is the Director of People and Animals Living Safely (PALS) at the Urban Resource Institute, a New York City-based nonprofit that is the largest provider of domestic violence services in the US to Discover My Dog Is My Home in 2018.
“It was really exciting to learn about them, just knowing that there were other vendors across the country working on this issue,” she says. “There is a lot of research that has shown that survivors in an abusive situation who may be considering leaving or seeking safety will delay doing so because they can’t bring their pets or don’t know how to get help. their pets because they fear for the safety of their pets.”
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 71% of pet owners entering domestic violence shelters report that their abuser had threatened, hurt or killed family pets, 52% of domestic violence victims have had to leave their pets with their abusers. Up to 40% of abuse victims are unable to leave their abusers out of concern for their pets.
“The ability to stay with pets [is important] not just so they can find safety, but so they can stick together through that crisis and… have that consistency and support as they go through that traumatic experience,” Emery says.
His biggest piece of advice to other service providers who want to become pet-friendly is don’t be afraid to start small. The Urban Resource Institute began by accepting only cats at one of its shelters. With some additional funding, they were able to make a second shelter pet-friendly and start accepting dogs.
Today, nine of URI’s 14 shelters accept any pet that is legal to keep in the United States. “Even just asking about pets or having connections to resources for [pet] food pantries and veterinary assistance. You don’t necessarily have to start with full co-sheltering,” she says.
Cinnamon Janzer is a freelance journalist based in Minneapolis. Her work has been featured in National Geographic, US News & World Report, Rewire.news and more. She has an MA in Social Design, with a concentration in intervention design, from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a BA in Cultural Anthropology and Fine Arts from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.