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“For many people, their pet is where they call home — no one should be forced to leave a member of their family behind.” 

August 26, 2021

New York — Today, the New York City Council voted to approve two bills, Intro 1483 and Intro 1484, which will reduce barriers to shelter by improving accommodation for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness with pets. Our pets are our families and expanding access to shelter makes it possible for more New Yorkers to safely enter shelter and leave unsafe situations by being able to keep their companion animals with them.

The bills passed in the Council would require New York City to create a comprehensive plan to make the shelter system more pet-accessible and would mandate reporting on instances when a person gives up their pet entering shelter and provide tracking for continuity. Currently, people who are homeless and living with pets have limited options. Shelters are not pet accessible and owners are forced to either give up a cherished member of their family or decide to not to enter into shelter.

This legislation came about after hearing from constituents directly about the barriers they face in accessing shelter. The experience of homelessness is traumatic and challenging enough — the prospect of parting with a companion animal shouldn’t be a contributing factor to such hardship.

Once pets come into our lives, they become vital members of our families. Separating New Yorkers from their companion animals only adds greater stress and instability when family is needed the most.

“I’ve talked with people living on the street who have told me the reason they weren’t in a shelter is because they couldn’t bring their pet with them,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. For someone who has lost so much else in their life, losing their pet can be unthinkable. Creating a citywide plan paired with greater data will allow us to examine where the greatest needs are and what practical solutions can be implemented throughout New York. This is about finding solutions that work and that fit in with our goals of better serving New York’s homeless population.

“For many people, their pet is their family and where they call home — no one should be forced to leave a member of their family behind,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. 

The issue is especially pronounced for survivors of domestic violence. According to the Urban Resource Institute (URI), more than 75% of pet owners refuse to give up their pets when leaving dangerous situations, including domestic abuse, and can be a major factor in a person deciding to stay in an abusive situation. URI’s PALS (People and Animals Living Safely) program has helped thousands of New Yorkers safely leave domestic abuse by providing domestic violence shelters that welcome pets. “To bring our pet into shelter and not be separated meant everything to me and my kids. I could never have left her – ever.” – From a URI client testimonial.

“Housing rights are not only human rights but animal rights as well. Animals are family, and no New Yorker should ever be denied housing because they don’t want to leave their family behind. We applaud the City Council for passing this commonsense legislation, which will provide compassionate support to those experiencing homelessness and keep families together during the most vulnerable times of their lives.” – Allie Feldman Taylor, Voters For Animal Rights (VFAR).

“People experiencing homelessness have as much love and desire to care for their pets  as any other pet owners, but those responsibilities are needlessly and tragically challenged when human shelter housing rules require them to give up or separate from their beloved animals,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO. “We are grateful to Councilmember Levin for his leadership on this issue, and thank Speaker Corey Johnson and the full City Council for passing these critical measures that will keep cherished pets and responsible owners together at a time when they need each other most.”

“It is virtually impossible for homeless New Yorkers living unsheltered to move inside with their pets, and understandably, many have chosen to stay on the streets or subways rather than give up their pets to come in to a shelter or transitional housing. New York City needs a plan to help those with pets move off the streets safely, and these bills are a crucial first step in making that happen. We’re grateful to the homeless New Yorkers with pets who spoke up and shared their stories, and we want to thank the City Council for pushing City Hall to act.” – Josh Dean, Human.NYC

“The impact of pets at times of trauma, including homelessness, is well established, both as a barrier to seeking safety and as an important part of healing,” stated Nathaniel M. Fields, CEO of Urban Resource Institute. “Through the URI People and Animals Living Safely (PALS) program, pets have been permitted into our NYC domestic violence shelters since 2013, and we applaud the NYC Council and Council Member Stephen Levin on the expansion of pet-friendly accommodations into homeless shelters as well. We have long advocated for this and look forward to helping bring it to fruition.”

“We applaud the passage of these bills as an important step toward keeping people and pets together, and in so doing, helping both,” said Risa Weinstock, President & CEO of Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC). “All of us at ACC are grateful to Council Member Levin and supporters of this legislation for recognizing–and promoting–the connection between human and animal welfare.”

“Companion animals provide emotional support and are members of the family for many people. Today, NYC is moving towards a more just and humane social services system by giving people experiencing  homelessness the ability to keep their beloved animals when they need them the most,” said Carol Sainthilaire, board chair of My Dog Is My Home. “My Dog Is My Home applauds City Council for the passage of these bills and for preserving the human-animal bond in circumstances of homelessness.”