This post was written by Dana Teel, Co-Sheltering Collaborative Administrator at My Dog Is My Home.
The health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in incredible stress on both human and animal safety net programs, subsequently prompting innovation, collaboration, and sometimes transformation in these services. Individuals and families that are facing housing instability or homelessness may be forced to consider giving up their companion animals in order to access housing because of common “no pets allowed” policies. Since the onset of the pandemic, with so many more people placed in this vulnerable state, progress toward an interdisciplinary social service-animal welfare safety net system which treats people and their companion animals as an inseparable family unit has gained new urgency, momentum and visibility.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness has worked with My Dog Is My Home, a non-profit committed to increasing the capacity of homeless shelters to accommodate clients’ companion animals, to highlight the scope and importance of this issue. Published by the Alliance before the widespread onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the Keeping People and Pets Together resource contains information gathered from direct service providers across the country, providing insight and guidance for developing co-sheltering programs.
The pandemic presents many challenges to service providers – especially those who are working to create and maintain low-barrier shelters in which people can stay with their pets – and guidance in this area is evolving. With this in mind, future guidance on keeping people and pets together may need to be considered or expanded upon in the following ways:
- New public health safety measures (social distancing, quarantine, etc.) for staff and clients may affect overall capacity and planning for animal programs.
- Modifications to staff training and scheduling to provide adequate coverage of staff properly trained in animal programs. These include remote/virtual trainings and cross-training staff in animal care program logistics.
- Changes to animal care recommendations may affect housing and logistics for animal care programs, as well as capacity of community animal welfare partners.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Recommendations for Disaster Sheltering of Household Pets, Service Animals, and Support Animals during the COVID-19 Pandemic
- American Veterinary Medical Association: COVID-19: Interim recommendations for companion animal intake
- Further emphasis on the importance of establishing strong community partnerships to ensure access to required veterinary care that companion animals need in order to access co-sheltering programs (vaccinations, licensing, etc.)t and plan for both emergency scenarios, and routine veterinary care needs. Increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the fields of animal welfare and veterinary services in the face of disparities highlighted by the pandemic.
- Emphasize the importance of developing partnerships between organizations with aligning values and missions.
- Highlight efforts promoting progressive, low-barrier services that prioritize supporting human-animal families:
These themes and more will be explored during My Dog Is My Home’s first Co-Sheltering Conference, which will bring together those engaging in this work from across organizations, disciplines, and geographies from March 2-4, 2021. This three-day virtual conference will provide a platform for speakers from around the United States and the world to highlight elements of direct services, collaborative relationships, and stories of people with lived experiences of being unhoused with pets.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the significant overlap in the vulnerability of humans and companion animals. As a result, discussions focusing on collaborative efforts are now occurring with renewed interest. Considering the human-animal family unit as a whole is not only likely to be more efficient as organizations struggle to meet the increased need for services, it is more holistic and compassionate. My Dog Is My Home’s Co-Sheltering Conference provides an opportunity for an essential and timely conversation between stakeholders to support expansion of co-sheltering efforts in communities across the country and around the world.