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Pets are irreplaceable family members that provide us with unconditional love, emotional support and help improve our physical health. For many millions of Americans, having a pet shapes their entire lives – from choosing a home or rental to deciding whether or not to have kids. 

Restrictive housing policies can make it difficult for pet parents to find a place to live. These policies can increase the number of pets in shelters as some pet parents are forced to surrender their pets to a shelter when they can’t find suitable housing while other families that want to adopt a pet never have the chance. Advocating for inclusive, welcoming pet housing rules can address these issues and promote the well-being of individuals, communities, and animals.

Having a Pet and Well-being

The science is clear about the concrete health benefits of domestic animals. Pets enrich our lives by

  1. Pushing us to perform more mild and moderate exercise 
  2. Increasing our positive emotions 
  3. Giving us a clearer sense of purpose

Just by keeping us company, our pets fulfill a “fundamental need shared by all humans,” as one recent study put it. They can meaningfully increase our quality of life as long as their care is not an outsized financial or physical burden. 

The benefits of having a four-legged family member multiply for people who are otherwise isolated or struggling emotionally. Managing mental health challenges is made easier by the companionship of a pet. Studies show that having a companion animal helps alleviate worry, provide comfort, and reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. Pet parents also tend to sleep better

Benefits increase in older adults as they are more likely to experience health problems and feel lonelier. On the other end of the age spectrum, having a pet in the house can help children cope with difficult or traumatic experiences. 

Welcoming a furry friend into your home will improve your life. Pets make us happier, keep us active, provide motivation, and help our mental health. 

Pet (Un)Friendly Housing

Finding pet-friendly housing can be incredibly difficult. Across the world, there is a dramatic shortage of affordable housing that welcomes pets. Pet parenthood is emerging as a distinct form of housing insecurity because of the lack of options when choosing housing and the increased costs for pet-owning renters. 

The shortage of affordable pet-friendly housing contributes to overcrowding in shelters. Every year approximately 6.5 million pets end up in shelters. Lack of housing that allows pets is a commonly cited reason for pet surrenders to shelters. 

Michelson Found Animals, a research and advocacy group, reports that a third of renters want pets but can’t get them thanks to their rental policies. Housing that allows pets can be restrictive—banning specific breeds and requiring pets to be under a certain weight limit or over a certain age. Most places that allow pets require deposits and rent increases, increasing the pet’s cost burden. 

Why is pet-friendly housing restrictive and rare? 

Many landlords believe that pets are a liability and pose a risk to their properties. For instance, the idea that some dog breeds are inherently dangerous is a myth created by a mix of prejudice and bad reporting. For instance, contrary to popular misconceptions, statistically the most bite-prone breed is the Chihuahua. All pets are individuals, and animal aggression is often rooted in abuse or inadequate training, not breed.

Landlord advice pages on sites like Zillow and apartments.com also point to property damage as a reason not to allow pets. That problem, though, is similarly fictitious. Have tenants furnish their own homes and request a small pet deposit to mitigate the risk.

“Pets are Welcome”

Restrictive rental policies hurt property owners and families with pets. The advocacy group Human-Animal Bond Research Institute notes that non-discriminatory listings are easier to fill, with real estate brokers beginning to join in.  

The Humane Society of the United States is campaigning for so-called “pets are welcome” policies to replace much more restrictive “pet-friendly” rental listings. If you’d like to support inclusive, accessible, pet-welcoming housing policies in your area, start with the Humane Society’s toolkit. It includes advice on dispelling myths, contacting housing authorities, and framing issues positively. It’ll help you make a real difference and might just let your neighbors find the animal support they need. 

Bio Card 1 - Cate Lemmond