Breaking Ground, Breaking Barriers - An interview about housing human-animal families with Shana Wertheimer, Assistant VP of Housing at Breaking Ground

Breaking Ground is known for doing things differently. Most often, they are lauded for being New York City's largest provider of supportive housing* and a pioneer of "Housing First" - a model based on the premise that to end homelessness, we must first and foremost provide homes. But a little known fact about Breaking Ground is that they also have a very different model for allowing animals in their facilities. Since the very outset of their supportive housing operations, Breaking Ground has allowed pets on premises - a number of their buildings are pet-friendly.

At the time of their founding, allowing pets was simply a way for Breaking Ground to grandfather in the lifestyles of those who were already living in their Times Square apartment complex, a former grand hotel that the organization acquired and renovated in 1990. Over the years, this original “pets welcome” policy at the Times Square residence has evolved. Although it was never Breaking Ground’s intention to target this specific subpopulation of the homeless, Breaking Ground eventually realized that welcoming pets can even help break down barriers to housing for people experiencing homelessness with animals.

It is very important to distinguish "pets" from "emotional support animals" and "service animals" in this context, because while all housing providers are required to accept emotional support animals and service animals under the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, most housing providers that serve the homeless do not allow pets. This is where Breaking Ground is unique and an example of a high-volume homeless service provider who has a history of taking the human-animal bond into account.

However, the implementation of a pet friendly policy has not always been smooth. In the hopes of beginning a national conversation on effective practices in shelter and housing programs for people who are homeless with pets, My Dog is My Home’s founder and executive director, Christine Kim, spoke with Breaking Ground's Assistant Vice President of Housing Operations and Programs, Shana Wertheimer, about their experiences. Read the interview between Christine and Shana for an insider view on the successes and challenges Breaking Ground has had with accommodating pets on-site.

*Supportive housing is a combination of affordable housing and support services. Programs are designed to help individuals and families to use housing as a platform for health and recovery following a period of homelessness, hospitalization or incarceration. Supportive housing may also be applied to youth aging out of foster care.

Christine Kim, My Dog is My Home (CK): Thank you for meeting with me, Shana. This is such a wonderful opportunity to understand a different kind of model that allows people with pets to be together without going through the emotional support animal process.

Shana Wertheimer, Breaking Ground (SW): You're welcome, Christine. It's my pleasure. It's interesting that this is such a big topic, because Breaking Ground has always allowed pets in certain buildings.

Breaking Ground started with the Times Square residence a little over 25 years ago. It has 652 units and we have always allowed pets there. The Prince George was our second building. It has 416 units, and we have also always allowed pets there. However, not all of our buildings are pet-friendly. Our third building was The Christopher. It's a renovation of the former McBurney YMCA and it's set up a little differently than our first two buildings. The rooms are about 250 square feet and it's the first of our buildings to have suites - each suite has 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a common area. This was the first building in which we implemented a "no pets" rule to make it easier to manage. There were other buildings after that where we also had a "no pets" rule, and these are mostly buildings that have a suite floor plan.

The place where we started seeing a problem with pets in one of our "no pets" buildings was at The Lee, which is a building that we operate in partnership with The Door. A number of units there are home to young adults who have aged out of foster care. We began to have issues with tenants sneaking pets in, and we also had some trouble enforcing the "no pets" rule.

And then three years ago, we were taken to court by a tenant at The Friedman, which is another one of our "no pets" suite-style buildings with 2 to 4 bedrooms connected by a common area. In suites, the roommates participate in the interview process for new tenants. We denied the applicant's request for a reasonable accommodation for his emotional support animal because at that time, we did not have a set protocol for handling emotional support animals. The court sided with the tenant, and that prompted us to develop an official emotional support animal protocol.

CK: So how did you resolve the issue with the tenant in the "no pets allowed" building who went to court? The roommates obviously didn’t want an animal in their suite.

SW: The tenant still lives there with his dog. His roommate is very unhappy about it but refuses to move out and continues to live there. For example, she’ll say, “The dog is in the common area running around, and he is in his room with the door closed.” Or, “He lets the dog out on the balcony to go to the bathroom. That’s not allowed.”

CK: So the issue never resolved nicely.

SW: Right. Our hands are somewhat tied unless there is some clear lease violations or signs of neglect or something like that. So what we’ve explained is that she has to let us know immediately when it's happening, every time it happens. If it’s not happening regularly, there’s not really a lot we can do. The burden of proof is really on us, in the wake of the court decision. That’s where they stand right now. It’s complicated.

CK: I would imagine that because you have these pet friendly buildings, you actually get fewer emotional support animal requests than maybe some other places that have a "no pets allowed" rule across the board. Do you think that’s the case?

SW: In the building where we allow pets, absolutely. It’s the difference between doing paperwork and not. But the process really isn't that different. Everyone is required to register their animal with us by filling out a simple form, whether it's a pet or emotional support animal. If you have a pet and you fill out our registration paperwork, you don’t have to bring a letter from your doctor. It’s really the only difference. Legally, the threshold for who can certify that an individual needs a support animal is very low, and that can lead to difficult situations.

CK: Is proof of vaccines and spay or neuter part of the registration form?

SW: Actually, no. We are not legally allowed to ask for that. Maybe very specific types of vaccinations, but I think when we were negotiating our reasonable accommodation policy, we were told we couldn’t require it.

CK: In the pet friendly buildings, is there an approval process for animals?

SW: There are more stringent guidelines for pets than there are for emotional support animals. For pets there is a weight restriction and there are also restrictions on what types of the animals are allowed. There are certain rules about having one pet only, that tenants can’t bring their pets to building events, that the pet must be registered with Breaking Ground, and some breed restrictions. But that’s about it.

Some animals have been grandfathered in. Technically there is supposed to be one pet per unit. A few tenants have two. You know, at the end of the day, we always pause to ask ourselves if we are really going to take a tenant to housing court because they have two dogs. It’s a little about picking your battles. More often than not, if the tenant's animal is causing problems because they’re not well-trained, or they’re aggressive, or it’s going to the bathroom all over the place, then we have a problem. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little Chihuahua or a big Pit Bull. That is worth pursuing. As long as you’ve got your animals under control, your apartment is clean and in good condition, then it’s probably not worth our time to really pursue forcing you to part with it.  

For emotional support animals, the thing we’re most interested in is an emergency contact, because we’ve had numerous occasions where someone goes to the hospital and there’s no one to take care of the animal. And the staff ends up having to do it.

CK: I'm sure there are some interesting boundary issues that arise from a situation like that.

SW: I wouldn’t even say it’s boundary issues. It’s more like, “This isn’t my job. I don’t want to have to walk this dog every day." Once, we had a woman who was hospitalized and we fed her cat for six weeks. We end up taking care of more cats than dogs for some reason. Staff feel like, “it’s not my job to do this.” And we end up having to pay for the food, and for litter and things like that. Honestly, sometimes it just depends on the staff. Some buildings are very pro-animal.

CK: It just depends on who you have on the team?

SW: Exactly. Both on the social service and the property management side. Everyone’s fine with it even though it can be an annoyance. But on the social service side, I feel like we have more opinionated debates.

CK: Do people know that there are certain pet-friendly buildings and there are non-pet friendly buildings?

SW: Yes.

CK: They do? It’s interesting because if the applicant has an animal and there’s a vacancy at a pet-friendly building, I would think they would rather go to the pet-friendly building than go through the emotional support animal process in suite building with a no-pets-allowed rule.

SW: Now that we have rolled out our policy for emotional support animals, people are more likely to take advantage of that. I think people are more interested in where they live and the size of their apartment than whether or not there is a "no pets" policy. Also, as I said before, getting an emotional support animal is not so hard. Most people in our buildings are eligible for an emotional support animal. So if we converted our buildings to allow pets, I doubt the number of animals is going to go up by much.

Our buildings are about 60% formerly homeless, and I would say that all 60% are probably eligible. Then of the 40% who are not formerly homeless, maybe half of them are eligible too. I feel like the people that are really going to have an animal and keep it, they have one already.

CK: About how often do you get residents with pets? How common are pets, as opposed to emotional support animals?

SW: I would have to run the numbers. But I would estimate somewhere around 5%.

CK: Ok. That’s interesting. That is pretty consistent with the existing research that’s out there - that it’s actually a small percentage of people who are experiencing homelessness with pets.

SW: I agree with that. Breaking Ground oversees the street outreach programs for Brooklyn, Queens, and about a third of Manhattan. So we work with a lot of people experiencing homelessness. I oversaw our Brooklyn outreach program for about three and a half years. Compared to the number of people we worked with overall, the number of people with pets was very small.

There were definitely times when people had animals, and we were therefore limited on where we could help them get housing. And that was maybe a time before support animals were a big topic of discussion.

We've also had clients where we felt that they were really not ready to have an animal. Another complicated story is about a guy who had an aggressive dog. He ended up having to put the dog down because it was biting people. So, you know, there’s more to the conversation than just how do we get housing for you and your animal? We also need to include questions in the conversation like, are you taking care of the animal properly? Is it actually providing you with support?

CK: That’s a great question. Is this animal actually providing you with support?

SW: When people are on fixed income, animals can be expensive at times. I’ve seen clients with animals that keep them pulled together because they’re providing routine,  and there are many ways that they can be therapeutic. But I've also seen situations where an animal was a huge expense and took up so much of the client's time. They could have been focusing on getting sober or something else, but the pet ended up being a scapegoat for all their other issues. So it's difficult to generalize. Animals don't always have therapeutic effects on our homeless or formerly homeless clients' lives.

CK: You just mentioned some of the problems you’ve had with pets on site. Which do you feel are the most common?

SW: You name the problem, we’ve probably had it. But I feel like barking, animals making too much noise, and animals going to the bathroom in the hallway are the common problems. That’s mainly it.

CK: So the main problems are behaviors that affect the community - like messes in the common space and noise that may bother the neighbors.

SW: The noise comes to us more as a neighbor issue, usually when a tenant tells us, “I can’t sleep. The dog is barking all the time,” or something along those lines. The bathroom issue is more of a staff issue because we’re the ones who have to clean it up. And like I said before, that's not something we expect to be a part of our job descriptions.

Most of the people with animals are pretty good about being responsible for messes. But we have had to deal with a few occasions where someone who is really not capable of taking care of an animal has gotten one, or abuse of an animal on occasion.

CK: How do you deal with that? Do you get the ASPCA involved?

SW: Yes. We may have even called the police in that case. Ultimately, I think a staff member ended up taking the cat. That’s the other thing that happens. People get hospitalized, or people pass away, or they move, and they leave their cat. Or they go into hospice and they can’t care for it. Suddenly it falls on the building staff to figure out what to do. In some cases, the whole staff has animals because they’ve adopted animals from the building. Some of the buildings actually have basement cats because when a tenant left, they left their cat. Recently at The Lee, we had three cats we were trying to figure out what to do with. The no-kill shelter that I’m aware of is on the Upper West Side. That’s very far. It takes away from staff time. That part gets very complicated also because the staff don’t want to take an animal to the city shelter where the cat is at risk for euthanasia. On the other hand, we don’t have a ton of options. So that can be problematic.

CK: Are animals taken into account during service planning or in case management services?

SW: Yes, the resident services staff are definitely talking about it with people. For example, we had a tenant with an untrained puppy, and this is a tenant that has some developmental issues. He loved the dog, but it was trashing his apartment. The staff worked with him to try to figure out a plan. He was employed, so they even considered hiring a dog walker. And they explored free services too. They asked all the questions. “What’s inexpensive that we can help you get? What training services would be helpful?” Ultimately, the puppy won. It wore him down and he gave it to someone else. Each case is unique.

The social services staff wants to make sure that if a resident wants to have the animal or if they already have one, that they can successfully maintain it. One of the ways we ensure that is through an annual pet fair, which we have at all of the buildings with pets. Anyone who has a pet can bring it to the fair, where services are provided, such as vaccines, nail trims, grooming tips, and various handouts and supplies.

This is something Breaking Ground has always done. We understand that animals can be like someone's family, and we need to find ways to work with that in whatever way we can. If you're looking at a whole person, you need to take their social environment into account, and sometimes that includes a dog or a cat.

Our Feedback to the US Interagency Council on Homelessness on Their Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness

Dear US Interagency Council on Homelessness,

Thank you for once again inviting the front lines of homeless services to give feedback on the federal strategic plan. Your commitment to incorporating our voices into your amendment process is commendable. 

I am participating in your call for feedback because I see an opportunity to strengthen the plan's response to an often ignored subpopulation of the homeless - people and families experiencing homelessness with a companion animal. In my experience working with people who are homeless with animals, they express that they do not have an equal opportunity to access shelter and housing programs that may help end their state of homelessness.

The status quo in homeless shelters and housing programs across the country is "no pets allowed," forcing many people with companion animals to decide between surrendering their animals to get help or to stay homeless with their animals. This is not an ultimatum anyone should have to face. In many cases, dedicated animal guardians will forego social services to maintain the human-animal bond - a relationship that is often their main source of love and support, and one that both adds to and helps them cope with the stressors of homelessness.

To reiterate your own vision, "No one should experience homelessness. No one should be without a safe, stable place to call home." Every family, no matter what its composition, should have an opportunity to access the help they need to find a home. To this end, we hope that you will incorporate our suggestions to make homeless services accessible to people with animals. There are many ways in which this can be done in your existing plan:

First, Objective 1, which calls for collaborative leadership at all levels and across sectors, can include officials in Animal Control and other leaders in animal welfare. For example, the city of Los Angeles has put forward a plan to reduce homelessness which involves the collaboration of their Animal Control department. People who are at risk of homelessness with animals' first point of contact with a city service may not be a homeless service. Rather, it may be an animal shelter. Cross-training to promote screening for homelessness  as a reason for animal surrender both helps distribute appropriate resources and keep preventable surrenders out of our overcrowded animal shelters.

Objective 2, which calls for building the capacity of public and private organizations' ability to implement effective practices, speaks directly to my own heart, as the organization that I founded, My Dog is My Home, exists to carry out this exact mission as it relates to homelessness and animal companionship. One of the many ways we build capacity is through identifying and promoting effective practices.

We recognize people experiencing homelessness with animals as their own subpopulation with their own specific needs. This claim is backed by our personal experiences in the field as well as the qualitative and limited quantitative research which exists on the subpopulation; however, there is little data exploring the effective practices of co-sheltering people and animals together in homeless services, except in the fields of emergency preparedness and disaster response and domestic violence. Lessons learned from both of these fields can and should be applied to other types of systems designed to respond to homelessness. Moreover, more resources must be dedicated to building the best practices for this field. 

Objective 2 also addresses the enumeration of homeless populations. The scope of homelessness and animal companionship has yet to be understood due to the lack of attention paid to counting people who are homeless with animals. Only recently have certain continua of care added questions to their PIT Count in an attempt to gage the size of the subpopulation. The continua of care responsible for pioneering this practice are CHIP Indy (Indianapolis), Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (Los Angeles), and the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board (Toledo).

However, as you already know, the PIT Count has its limitations for accurately enumerating the homeless population. Objective 2 of your plan also recognizes the importance of maximizing the use of Homeless Management Information Systems to collect data on homeless populations. This can also be a more effective way of counting people who are homeless with animals. Knoxville, TN's continuum of care has included questions about animal caretaking in HMIS, giving their continuum of care the ability to make more accurate estimates of their population of people who are homeless with animals and to plan initiatives accordingly.

In Objectives 3 and 4, you call for the provision of affordable and permanent supportive housing to end and prevent homelessness. As permanent housing gets looked to more and more as the solution to ending and preventing homelessness, I urge you to keep in mind those people with animals who are traditionally kept out of such programs due to the ubiquitous "no pets allowed" rule. In such circumstances, people who are aware of the Fair Housing Act and its protection of Emotional Support Animals often turn to this process to access housing. However, the longer I work in this field, the more I recognize that this additional process is cumbersome and unnecessary. Programs with proper support and staff training that are simply “pet friendly” will remove barriers to access.

It can be assumed that animals who accompany people who are homeless do provide emotional support, just as animals who belong to the domiciled provide emotional support. Although there is no comparative case study on housing programs designed to prevent and end homelessness that are pet friendly and those that are not (thus requiring proof of emotional support or service animal status in order to have animals on site), an interview with Breaking Ground, New York City's largest provider of permanent supportive housing which has some pet-friendly building, suggests that there are no greater or fewer animal related incidents according to whether or not the building is pet-friendly. 

Objective 8, which draws attention specifically to homeless youth, should also incorporate plans for addressing youth with animals. The research shows that homeless youth often have animals for companionship and protection, and that they are more likely to have positive feelings about a provider and their engagement experience if the provider is friendly towards their animals. Innovative youth programs like Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets in Seattle, WA can be looked at as a model for incorporating and allowing animals on-site in drop-in centers and co-sleeping situations.

For those of us who experience the reciprocity of loving and caring for an animal, surrendering our animals is unthinkable. So, we hope and work to see a day where the culture of homeless services institutionalizes practices that engage and include us and all of our family members, including those with fur. To go back to your vision, "No one should be without a safe, stable place to call home." A house is not a home. Home is safety. Home is where our relationships thrive. And for some of us, home is where our dog is. 


Christine Kim,   Founder & Executive Director of My Dog is My Home

Christine Kim, 

Founder & Executive Director of My Dog is My Home







To submit your own feedback to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, visit their call to strengthen their plan. The comment period ends on November 15, 2017.

Libraries Can Reach Homeless Patrons by Including Their Dogs

Photo by Alastair Gee for  The Guardian.

Photo by Alastair Gee for The Guardian.

By Corina Bardoff, MSLIS & Christine Kim, MSW

In an attempt to survive the oppressive summer heat, a homeless couple and their dog cower in the diminishing shade of their shopping cart. Just across the street, treasures including books, computers, internet, and above all else on this hot day, air conditioning loom in the public library - a seemingly easy escape from the elements. However, despite the institution’s general mission to freely provide the public with access to information, a growing discussion within the library sciences is uncovering that entry is actually more of a privilege, and one not enjoyed by everyone. Homeless individuals are often seen as nuisances and are unwanted for their smells, luggage, lack of “appropriate” library etiquette, or in some cases, for their pets.

In a recent study exploring the experiences of people who are homeless with animals in Bloomington, IN, library access made a strong and surprising appearance on the list of needs and hardships identified by participants. Other more expected gaps in services created by the “no pets allowed” rule were shelter, permanent housing, and soup kitchens. Participants of the study were particularly apt to mention libraries as a place they wished they could utilize in extreme weather or if the only perceived shelter resource was an overnight shelter in which residents were expected to leave during the day. Next to an actual home, the library seemed to be the most desirable indoor location for human-animal families experiencing homelessness during daylight hours.

However, just about all libraries do not allow pets. Moreover, patrons experiencing homelessness often do not have a safe place to leave their animals while they use the libraries. How can libraries open their doors to homeless human-animal families so they can meet their information needs? This article is a call for imaginative solutions.

There is already one example of libraries welcoming animals into their facilities: many public libraries host programs in which children who are reluctant readers can read to dogs. These well-received therapeutic programs are operated without much worry or criticism that the dogs will trigger allergies or frighten other patrons. Perhaps this could serve as a model for accepting other animals in the library. Therapy dog reading programs usually take place in a limited area to accommodate other patrons who may be allergic or react negatively towards dogs. Likewise, a library allowing other animals on the premises with their humans could designate certain animal-friendly and animal-free zones.

Although requiring that all animals be certified therapy animals to be given entry may be too high a hurdle for homeless patrons, there may be similar behavioral tests their animals can pass, such as the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test. A library that wants to make itself more accessible to homeless pet owners could administer the test during targeted outreach events, such as the service fair for companion animals of the homeless in Bloomington, IN where the study was conducted.

Libraries can even partner with innovative companies like Dog Parker in Brooklyn, which offers climate-controlled dog houses where subscribers to the service can leave their dog for a limited time. At a library, the service could be connected to a patron’s library card. Brooklyn Public Library already holds a similar partnerships with ZipCar, allowing the company to park their cars in branch parking lots in exchange for discounts to library cardholders and monetary support to  branch programs. Using something like Dog Parker as a creative tool to address unequal library access for homeless patrons with animals would also benefit patrons with dogs who are not experiencing homelessness, serving the entire community.

Libraries are the new frontier of homeless services in general. Along with the growing trend of libraries hiring social workers and other outreach workers, public libraries across the country demonstrate great creativity in the programs they offer to welcome, include, and assist patrons experiencing homelessness. Some host casual coffee conversations where patrons can connect with one another and staff, as well as receive referrals to social support services. The Salt Lake City Public Library hosted a resource fair called Project Uplift that connected patrons experiencing or at-risk of homelessness with information and resources, plus free meals. The Dallas Public Library offers one-on-one assistance with referrals, resume and career help, and more at their “Homeless Engagement and Leadership Program desk,” or “HELP Desk.” Library staff and social workers should also consider creating relationships with animal welfare organizations, giving them yet another tool to engage homeless library patrons.

Now that this previously invisible problem of unequal access to the library among homeless pet owners has come to light, there is an opportunity for libraries to think creatively about solutions that fit their entire community’s needs. Of course, the onus to be inclusive is not solely on the library--the whole homeless service system needs to make accommodations for people with animals. If shelters, housing programs, and other social services that help prevent and end homelessness make arrangements for animals, these human-animal families may not have to yearn for the safety of a library. Moreover, whole systems--federal to local to the individual-- must make a shift in the way we address homelessness altogether. Until there is a serious commitment to end and prevent homelessness, with a definition of homelessness that includes people with animals, outposts like the library will continue to feel the effects of the faltering welfare system.   

Advocacy Alert -- US Interagency Council on Homelessness calls for feedback

The US Interagency's Council on Homelessness' (USICH) current federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, Opening Doors, has been opened to feedback from stakeholders across federal, national, state and local organizations. 

If you are a representative of a group that works with or advocates for the homeless, please email USICH to request that their strategy address the unequal access to shelter and housing experienced by homeless pet owners. Please remember to include specific recommendations, such as including the promotion of pet-friendly practices in shelters and housing programs, and strengthening relationships with animal welfare organizations to address the intersecting needs of animals and people.

To send your comments to USICH, review their Participation Guide and use their Recommendations Form.

Advocacy Alert -- PAWS Act

Did you know that only three percent of domestic violence shelters allow companion animals? Without a safe environment for their animals, as many as one-third of those subjected to domestic violence delay their decision to leave a violent situation out of fear for their animals' safety. Perpetrators of domestic violence are known to kill or injure pets and use them to manipulate the victim to stay in or return to the abusive situation.

The Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act will help bridge the gap between the tremendous need for services for domestic violence survivors with companion animals and the ability of agencies to meet those needs. Under this act, domestic violence protections to include pets, and by establishing a federal grant program to assist in acquiring a safe shelter for companion animals.

Please speak up to protect pets and women from domestic violence by making a brief phone call to your legislators. You can say, "I am a constituent, and I am calling to ask you to please cosponsor S.322/H.R.909, the Pet and Women Safety Act, and do all that you can to support it to help pets and victims of domestic violence." You can also use the Humane Society's form to send an email message to your legislator.

Bloomington, IN Service Fair #2

We are getting ready for our second service fair in Bloomington, IN. This year we are partnering with Trinity Episcopal Church, a participant of Bloomington's interfaith winter shelter system, who will graciously host us after their Blessing of the Animals service on September 30th. 

Do you live in Bloomington? Consider making a donation of supplies to the service fair. Please drop off any pet supplies and winter items (blankets, gloves, sweaters, etc.) that you would like to give to the community on Saturday, September 30th by 10AM at Trinity Episcopal. You can also help us with outreach. Please download the flyer and post it in locations where the homeless congregate and pass the information along to anyone you know who works in social services.

A Message from Myra Vandenberg--Original Participant of the My Dog is My Home films

It has been four years since Prince and I participated in the My Dog is My Home documentary series. AND four years since Prince and I have come off the streets to find a place to call home. Wow! What a ride we have been on since then! For one, Prince was joined by a brother who I adopted from some folks who lived right around the corner from the original location of The Animal Museum--where My Dog is My Home was founded! I named Prince's adopted brother Happy, because that's exactly what he is and how he makes both me and Prince feel every day!

I am wonderfully blessed to share my life with Happy and Prince. I take pleasure in their unconditional love and loyalty, and I happily return it in kind. At the same time, I worry.

On June 22, 2017 I turned 65. Shortly after I had a mild stroke. It was a frightening time, and all I could think about was my dogs. What if I could no longer take care of them? What if I died before them? Who will care for them like I do? The thought of my two beloved pets ending up in a shelter was enough to send chills down my spine. 

On top of that, Prince suffered a tick infestation and earlier in the year, he was diagnosed with heart worm. And Happy was not making it easy for Prince or for me to rest! Happy may be happy, but sometimes his puppy energy can be trying. But with caring organizations like My Dog is My Home and my new friends at Bark Avenue Foundation, I found the support I needed to help pull us through rough times.

There have been a number of challenges we have had to face as a family. But I would never abandon my boys in times like these, because they have been there for me, through homelessness, through sickness and health--through thick and thin! 

Thank you for caring about us. And thank you for fighting a good fight for others like us. We hope that this is just the beginning of a movement to help the people and animals who find a home in each other despite having little else.

Celebrating Unsung Heroes of the Animal Advocacy Movement - Nominations Now Open for the LISA SHAPIRO AWARDS

My Dog is My Home is proud to be a part of the judging panel for the 2017 Lisa Shapiro Awards honoring the unsung heroes of the global animal advocacy movement. Nominations are now officially open! Please help us say thank you to your favorite inspiring grassroots animal activists by nominating them at This year’s award comes with a no-strings-attached $2,500 cash prize. Nominations are open until August 13.

"Multispecies Care and Poverty Politics" Article Published in Feminist Geography Journal

Gender, Place, and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography recently published an academic article that uses the My Dog is My Home art exhibition to study and politicize the human-animal bond in circumstances of homelessness. By using feminist care theory to examine the narratives within the exhibit, the authors challenge conventional views of poverty, property, and relationships that render homeless lives disposable. When asked why she chose to write the article about My Dog is My Home, Kathryn Gillespie--co-author and post-doctoral fellow in Animal Studies at Wesleyan University--stated,

"We have both been so moved by the work you and the experts of My Dog is My Home are doing. We learned a lot that has informed our own respective thinking in animal studies and relational poverty studies from the project."

Read the article abstract below. If you'd like to view the full article and you have access to a university library, click here to be taken to the online journal. If you do not have access to a university library, please contact Kathryn Gillespie at for a PDF of the full paper.


‘My Dog is My Home’: multispecies care and poverty politics in Los Angeles, California and Austin, Texas

Kathryn Gillespie & Victoria Lawson (2017): ‘My Dog is My Home’: multispecies care and poverty politics in Los Angeles, California and Austin, Texas, Gender, Place & Culture, DOI: 10.1080/0966369X.2017.1339021


My Dog is My Home is an art activist project in Los Angeles dedicated to sharing testimonies about the redemptive bonds of care and love between homeless persons and their canine companions. These testimonies politicize the structural violence and oppressive norms about propertied citizenship and notions of home that operate to render homeless human and animal lives disposable and ungrievable. Informed by the experts’ testimonies on multispecies homelessness and an engagement with feminist care theory, we bring relational poverty studies into conversation with critical animal studies to reject this framing of homeless lives as disposable and to trouble the idea of property as the fundamental basis for value. We problematize these notions by highlighting the insights gained from witnessing the entangled empathetic relationships forged between homeless humans and dogs. These relationships are not only a window into the political economic material conditions and discourses that reproduce homelessness and the animal-as-property. We conclude that studying these bonds offers a collective politics of multispecies mutuality, care, and love.

HUD's New Joint Component Projects Require Pet Accommodation

Thanks to a pet-friendly transitional housing program, Spirit and Miniaga can now be at ease in their long-awaited permanent home. HUD is now planning more low-barrier, pet-friendly programs designed to quickly move people experiencing homelessness  and  their animals into permanent housing.

Thanks to a pet-friendly transitional housing program, Spirit and Miniaga can now be at ease in their long-awaited permanent home. HUD is now planning more low-barrier, pet-friendly programs designed to quickly move people experiencing homelessness and their animals into permanent housing.

Spirit and Miniaga (pictured above) were once among the uncounted number of homeless human-animal families who struggle to find shelter or housing together. Luckily, Spirit found his way into a rare pet-friendly transitional housing program that eventually paved the way to permanent housing. Soon, people experiencing homelessness with their companion animals may not have to rely on luck to find respite for the whole family. 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has created a new tool to help communities combat rising homelessness. Communities will soon be able to apply for a new type of government sponsored housing program called "joint component" projects, which combine the activities of transitional housing* and rapid re-housing**. Joint component projects will provide crisis housing, financial assistance, and wrap around services*** with the goal of moving program participants into permanent housing as soon as possible. People should be able to access their brief stay without pre-conditions, meaning that such projects have low barriers to entry. Pet ownership is listed as one of the circumstances that must be accommodated in order to meet joint component housing's low-barrier requirements. 

In the department's most recent notice on joint component housing, HUD also stresses thoughtful planning of projects, asking communities to establish performance benchmarks for their programs. Among the questions HUD recommends communities consider when developing performance measures is:

"How well will the project accommodate people with a variety of needs, including different household configurations, service needs, or pets?"

Funding and applications for joint component projects are not yet available. To read more about joint component projects, click here

*Transitional Housing - A project that has as its purpose facilitating the movement of homeless individuals and families to permanent housing within a reasonable amount of time (usually 24 months). Transitional housing includes housing primarily designed to serve deinstitutionalized homeless individuals and other homeless individuals with mental or physical disabilities and homeless families with children.

**Rapid Re-Housing - An intervention informed by a Housing First approach which rapidly connects families and individuals experiencing homelessness to permanent housing through a tailored package of assistance that may include the use of time-limited financial assistance and targeted supportive services.

***Wrap Around Services - Wraparound is a term used to describe a process by which service providers agree to collaborate to improve the lives of children, families and adults by creating, enhancing, and accessing a coordinated system of support through a strengths-based, client-driven model. An emphasis is placed on identifying and enhancing the client’s natural and informal supports, or to assist them in finding new informal supports.

Internship Opportunity

Do you have an interest in organizational capacity building? Consider joining the My Dog is My Home team to help us with one or more of our national projects. We are currently looking for Community Organizing and Program Development interns for the 2017-2018 academic year. Our multi-pronged approach to increasing access to shelter and housing for homeless human-animal families will give interns experience in comprehensive community assessment, education and training, building sustainable partnerships, and identifying and promoting effective practices.

Interns will work closely with MDIMH’s leadership and local partners to support capacity building efforts in Philadelphia, PA; Bloomington, IN; Toledo, OH; and other cities as needed. Partnering organizations that interns will be asked to engage will be from both animal welfare and homeless service fields.

This internship is remote, 14-21 hours per week.

Visit the "Work With Us" page for a full description of the internship.

Art Exhibition and Social Work Continuing Education Event


Homelessness and Animal Companionship in Toledo and Nationally

Held in partnership between University of Toledo’s (UT) Social Work Program and My Dog is My Home


Exhibit open for viewing from 5:00PM - 8:00PM

Continuing Education presentation from 6:00PM - 8:00PM

Presentation attendees are eligible to receive 2 social work CEUs.


Cherry Street Mission Ministries' Life Revitalization Center

1501 Monroe Street

2nd floor library

Toledo, OH 43604


Exhibit Overview:

My Dog is My Home, a national organization dedicated to increasing shelter and housing access for homeless people with companion animals, is bringing a pop-up version of its landmark art exhibition to Toledo, OH this September. Featuring photographs, paintings, and historical prints, the show illuminates the life-saving and often misunderstood bond between homeless people and their pets. The organization’s founder and director, Christine Kim, curated the show for the Los Angeles based Animal Museum in 2013. My Dog is My Home continues to use the exhibit as a tool to start discussions with communities across the country about creating resources for homeless pet owners.

The exhibition will be on view at Cherry Street Mission Ministries' Life Revitalization Center’s library hall on Monday, October 2, from 5:00PM - 8:00PM. A special social work continuing education presentation on the topic of homelessness and animal companionship in Toledo and nationally will be taking place in the inside the library from 6:00PM - 8:00PM. Both components of the evening are free and open to the public, with the exception of a processing fee for attendees interested in obtaining social work CEUs. The exhibition will remain open and on view while the presentation is taking place.  


Presentation Overview:

On February 18, 2017, My Dog is My Home (MDIMH), the University of Toledo's (UT) Social Work Program, Humane Ohio, Toledo’s PET Bull Project, and Toledo Area Humane Society partnered to bring free services to companion animals of the homeless. While the event was designed to deliver services that directly benefitted animals, one of the service fair objectives was to document the unique human needs and circumstances that present themselves in human-animal homelessness. As previous research shows, when faced with a "no pets allowed" rule in shelter and housing, people experiencing homelessness will often forego these services to care for their furry family members.

But the narrative of Toledo's population has yet to be told. With the location-specific data that researchers from My Dog is My Home and the UT Social Work Program collected from the service fair, we can begin to paint a more nuanced picture of the state of homelessness and animal companionship in Toledo, including what local providers can do to bridge the gap in services. The UT Social Work Program and My Dog is My Home will be presenting the findings at at a social work continuing education (CE) event which will be held at Cherry Street Mission Ministries’ Life Revitalization Center in downtown Toledo. The event will be composed of two parts -- (1) an art exhibition and (2) a formal CE presentation. Attendees are eligible to receive 2 social work CEUs from the event.

All parts of the event will be open and free to the public; however, only the presentation will count as a CE activity. For attendees who wish to obtain social work CEUs, My Dog is My Home will be charging a processing fee and requires pre-registration. For registration information, please visit the Eventbrite page linked below.


CEU Registration: Click here


Contact Information:

For CEU related inquiries

University of Toledo College of Health and Human Services

Social Work Program in the School of Social Justice



For all other inquiries

My Dog is My Home


Happy Pride Month!

A foundational question My Dog is My Home has always asked itself, it's supporters, and it's challengers is "What is home?" This June, we are reminded to also ask "What is family?" 

My Dog is My Home believes that the matter of animals as family is related to other critical discussions about family. Despite great institutional gains, society continues to grapple with the idea that our families' strongest ties are not limited to biology or tradition. Growing pains can be felt in our work, where we see the disproportionate challenges alternative families face when attempting to obtain services. The battle ensues on political and interpersonal grounds, in instances ranging from equal access to housing to equal services at a florist*. So in our commitment to challenging dusty notions of what a family can and should look like, we support and align ourselves with other movements that also struggle for the empowerment of their families. 

Family should be defined by the commitment and care amongst its members, regardless of its members' housing status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other characteristic that may differ from the mainstream. As Myra, a formerly homeless My Dog is My Home ambassador and Hollywood trans community member, well states,

I have a lover and I have my dogs. I'm not going anywhere without them--home, street, or wherever. We may not look like the family that came out of Home and Garden magazine, but that's what we are. And I'll be damned if anyone tells me differently.

Happy Pride Month! 


*Ingersoll v Arlene's Flowers - A Benton County Superior Court judge ruled in February 2017 that a florist violated the Washington state’s anti-discrimination law when she denied service to a gay couple for their wedding. The ruling came in a lawsuit (Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers) filed by the ACLU on behalf of Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll.

Philadelphia Pet Food Pantry Now OPEN

Thanks to the incredible work of Philadelphia's Home Run Collective, a new pet food pantry for homeless human-animal families is now stocked and open for distribution! My Dog First, the service and program development arm of Home Run Collective, will be working with My Dog is My Home on other initiatives in the Philadelphia area, including a service fair for companion animals of the homeless this fall.  

The pet food pantry is not open for walk-ins. To access the pantry, potential clients must have a referral from a Philadelphia outreach team. For more information, please contact the Outreach Coordination Center at 215-232-1984.

Why Science Matters to My Dog is My Home

In these times of unabashed alternative facts, My Dog is My Home believes it is more important than ever to uphold and highlight one of our foundational values, which states--

Approaches that are creative and grounded in evidence are not only possible but necessary to address complex and intersecting social problems

Through our commitment to building the evidence base* for addressing homelessness and animal companionship, we are fighting the rise of scientific ignorance in public policy. To safeguard our operations from personal agendas and ego, we commit to basing our actions on an accurate understanding of the problem and its solutions. We do this by working to "distinguish between what feels good and what's true"**, which is why we begin every project in a new community with a thorough assessment. If the results of the assessment show something different than what we expect to see, our understanding of the problem is enriched by the new information and our approaches are tailored to meet the needs that have revealed themselves through the scientific process. In short, data matters in our endeavor to produce the greatest positive impact possible.

If you didn't get a chance to read our assessment on Bloomington, IN in last month's newsletter, click HERE for the report.

*What is evidence based practice? As defined by the Social Work Policy Institute, "Evidence-based practice is a process in which the practitioner combines well-researched interventions with clinical experience and ethics, and client preferences and culture to guide and inform the delivery of treatments and services." 

**Sagan, C. (1995). The Demon-haunted world: Science as a candle in the dark. New York: Random House.

First Annual Couch or 5K Fundraiser - Philadelphia, PA

My Dog is My Home is partnering with My Dog First, a volunteer group from Philadelphia which has formed to provide pet supplies to homeless and low-income animal guardians. Together, My Dog is My Home and My Dog First will organize the City of Brotherly Love's first service fair for companion animals of the homeless this winter. If you live in the Philadelphia area, please support our efforts by attending the Home Run Collective's "Couch or 5K" fundraiser on April 22nd. 

Date: Saturday, April 22, 2017
Time: Race begins at 9am SHARP
Location: The Woodlands - 4000 Woodland Avenue, Philadelphia, PA
What: 5K race around the cemetery bottomless coffee and vegan donuts (from Dottie's Donuts), outdoor pop-up lounge, fundraiser, raffle, and supply drive. 
Race Entry Fee: $35 in advance, $40 same-day registration
Other Notes: DOGS WELCOME!

For more details, visit Home Run Collective's Facebook event page

Indiana Senate Bill 314

My Dog is My Home has teamed up with Street Outreach and Animal Response from Indianapolis to advocate for Indiana's passing of Senate Bill 314, which will give judges the ability to include pets in protective orders issued to survivors of domestic violence.

SOAR and My Dog is My Home urge Indiana residents to contact your representative. Ask them to not only support this legislation, but to request an amendment--that the law extend protection to guarantee a survivor's right to access shelter with their animal. 

Find your representative's name and contact information here.

Need guidance on what to say to your representative? See the ASPCA's Advocacy Alert on SB 314 for talking points and an example of an email you can send to your representative. But don't forget to customize! Remember to include a request to expand the bill so companion animals in orders of protection can access shelters with their families. Use the text below as an example.

Thirty-two states already allow pets to be included in orders of protection, and I would like to see Indiana allow for it as well. But most domestic violence shelters do not have pet-friendly policies. I also urge you to expand this bill to ensure pets in protective orders are able to enter shelters with their families. 

Advocacy Research Day

My Dog is My Home is to be a featured speaker at IPSL's Second Annual Advocacy Research Day at the College of Mount Saint Vincent. Speakers include students and organizations using research as a means to advocate for social, economic and racial justice! This event is free and open to any member of the community. Click here to learn more about attending the conference.

Date: Thursday, March 30, 2017

Time: 10am - 6pm

Location: College of Mount Sinai Saint Vincent in Riverdale, NY