The Daily Dilemma of the Homeless & Their Pets

Story by Rebecca West
Ask any number of people their views on the homeless population with pets, and you’re likely to get a mix of responses. A lot feel bad for the animal and feel it’s unfair of the owner or irresponsible to keep them under the circumstances. But they may not be considering the emotional benefit to the owner or know the relationship, its timespan, or the lengths they’ve gone to in order to keep their pets with them — including turning down temporary shelter and even longer-term prospects because the animal was a deal-breaker. In many cases, surrendering a pet could very well lead to euthanasia of the animal and, at the very least, contributes to overcrowding at shelters and rescues.

On bicycle or foot. Exposed to punishing heat and bitter cold. The near-constant dilemma of where to find shelter and even food. This is what the vast majority of homeless are faced with daily, and it’s doubly difficult for those with pets. Finding a safe, dry environment that’s preferably climate controlled can be near impossible — at least for any real length of time — when you have a dog or cat in tow.

So, where does that leave those without a roof? We did some digging and spoke to some groups that serve as resources for humans and pets about the problem, and this is what we found out. While food sources for humans and pets are fairly plentiful, lodging is scarce. Many are living in their vehicles. Some are couch surfing in temporary situations with family and friends. Both groups are technically considered homeless, but they’re not facing sleeping on the streets, in encampments, or worse.

According to Amber at Cody’s Friends, volunteers have reported a number of encounters, including that of a young hearing-impaired man who lives in his car with his dog. A volunteer helped him late this summer with pet food and booties. Now he comes to Cody’s Friends and gets what he needs. Another case involved a very young woman who had sought shelter beneath a bridge within sight of the facility with a Chihuahua puppy. She approached the warehouse in search of food for her dog and was so exhausted that she fell asleep inside, likely feeling safe enough to close her eyes to rest for the first time in a while. Neither wanted anything more than assistance for their pets — which speaks volumes. Fact: most people will try to meet their pets’ needs before their own.

On the flip side, one woman told volunteers that she wanted to get off the streets and of applying at McDonald’s. She noted her clean appearance, but they wouldn’t hire her because she doesn’t have a permanent address, a common sticking point for people trying to get back on their feet. Another of the women had a good job and lost it.  That’s how she ended up in her present predicament. Both want off the street.  They’re not choosing to live there.

One shelter for women with pets we’re aware of is Sister Jose’s Women’s Center, located at 1050 S. Park Ave, Tucson 85719. Their number is (520) 909-3905 or admin@sisterjose.org. We spoke with them, and they informed us they’ll take women with dogs or cats, but they must be vaccinated and controllable for safety’s sake.

For men, there’s the Primavera Foundation Men’s Shelter at 200 E. Benson Hwy, Tucson 85713. Frequently cited as among the best by guests, they’re only accepting service dogs at this time. They do offer Go Kits for dogs Wednesdays 10:30a–12:30p with pet food, collapsible bowls, leashes, collars, booties, and other basic supplies. Their number is (520) 623-4300 or primavera.org/.

For veterinary care, there’s also Woofs without Roofs. Every second Sunday of the month at the Z Mansion in downtown Tucson they organize a free veterinarian clinic to provide medical care for pets of the homeless. The Paw Vet Center can help with other medical needs.

And finally, to put everything into perspective, Leanna Taylor, executive director of The Arizona Pet Project in Maricopa County, wrote a comprehensive piece on the subject that everyone should read. https://dtphx.org/2021/06/03/community-voices-pet-owners-disproportionately-affected-by-housing-crisis/. She also shared this with us:

While The Arizona Pet Project currently operates within Maricopa County, we are very open to the possibility of providing support and services in the Pima County region. Funding is needed, though. The organization is also pursuing state-wide grants to support veterans with their pet-related needs, particularly related to homelessness and rapid rehousing. 602-882-8627 or info@azpetproject.org

This is the time of year when people need help the most. If you can, please consider reaching out to one of Tucson’s shelter or aid resources to see how you can make a difference in the lives of animals and their humans.



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