How Las Vegas is helping unsheltered pet owners: ‘Always keep the animals in mind’

When Renee Benoit lost her home, one of her most pressing concerns was how to keep and care for her two service dogs, Cinnamon and Oreo.

Do temporary shelters allow pets? How about camping? Can cinnamon and oreos stay safe and healthy in an unfamiliar situation?

“I was scared,” Benoit said. “I didn’t know what to do, where to go. I have a disability, but it is difficult to get a place on your own without help.”

Fortunately, Benoit found her way to the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center in downtown Las Vegas, where she discovered the amenities offered by Urban Underdogs, a local nonprofit dedicated to providing food, aid, and supplies for pets belonging to veterans, seniors, and low-income families. and disadvantaged population.

Although she is still looking for permanent housing, Benoit said her yard kennel and support from Urban Underdogs have given her a way to keep her family together.

“Being here, it really helped me,” she said.

Harlan Thompson, program manager at Courtyard Homeless Resource Center, said hello to Louie inside the shelter’s pet precinct in downtown Las Vegas on Wednesday, December 8, 2021 (Daniel Clark/Nevada Independent)

Most shelters do not allow pets and require people to trim their belongings. Pets and possessions create a sense of home for many individuals, and having to give them up or leave them contributes to more stress and anxiety during an already traumatic experience.

For many individuals, the loss of a pet is equivalent to the loss of a family member and for those who depend on service animals for mental health support or physical assistance, the situation can have dire consequences.

When the city opened the yard, it intentionally set up a place for the pets so customers wouldn’t have to decide between keeping their pet or getting a place to stay, Jocelyn Bleut Fisher, director of community resources for the City of Las Vegas, said. Space is not limited to dogs and cats. Turtles, guinea pigs, birds, gliders and other pets used the facilities at the center, Pluit Fisher said.

“Pets are like a family, and no one wants to make this sacrifice or this decision to divide their family in order to provide services,” Bloit Fisher said.

At the center, clients are responsible for providing fresh water and food for their pets, cleaning cages, and other daily tasks. Individuals can ride a pet in the center, but stay in another shelter or somewhere else entirely. Urban Underdogs helps provide pet food, supplies, trash bags, and other essentials.

In November, the city received a $20,000 pet kennel grant from the Better Cities for Pets Grant Program backed by Mars Petcare, the pet food subsidiary of the candy company. City officials hope the money will help continue to provide essential supplies for pets and expand support for non-sheltered pets. Bloit Fisher said some of the money will also go toward helping people pay pet rental fees and pet deposits.

“Sometimes apartment complexes charge a pet rental fee or a pet deposit. So it’s hard to get money just to move into your own place, let alone money upstairs so you can move in with your pets,” she said. “So we’ll be able to help some of our homeless customers pay those fees as well.”

Lisa Craigd and Susan Skanto have experienced this struggle firsthand.

With the help of an aid organization, Craighead said she found a room she could stay in, but had to leave her dog Joey Joey behind.

“My case manager said, ‘Well, just take care of them or give them away,'” Craighead said. “This is my child. I lived for her six years and was homeless for only two years. It wasn’t her fault that I ended up here and just abandoned her or killed her, it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Saccento said she was evicted from a rented home three years ago when she couldn’t keep up with the rent, and has since been working on finding an affordable place to live. So far, every choice would require her to leave her dog Johnny behind.

Susan Saquinto sits with her dog Johnny at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center in downtown Las Vegas on Wednesday, December 8, 2021. She is able to keep her dog with her due to the unique resources of the yard. (Daniel Clark/Nevada Independent)

“He is my life. I love him so much. He never saved me,” said Saknto. “There would be nothing in this world that I would not do to this boy. I would never give it up or ever give it to someone else.”

Craighead has heard horror stories from pet owners including cases of pet abuse or pet theft. She said she couldn’t imagine losing Joy Joy.

“It would be easier for me to take the balm and throw it away,” said Craighead. “But I wouldn’t throw it away for that.”

Lisa Craighead sits with her dog Joey Joey at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center in downtown Las Vegas on Wednesday, December 8, 2021. She is able to keep her dog with her because of the unique yard resources. (Daniel Clark/Nevada Independent)

Craighead added that the space and resources for yard pets have been a blessing, noting that she lost housing when she was 57 and that having a safe place for Joy Joy relieves her daily stress.

She hopes that government officials and other groups that work with non-sheltered residents will continue to consider the needs of pet owners when addressing shelter and housing problems.

Always keep the animals in mind and make sure they only have space,” said Craighead. “It might not be much for some people, but it’s enough for us to manage.”

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