CHICO — For more than four years, Brad Montgomery has pondered about the plight of homelessness people with pets.
None of the shelters in Chico allow pets unless they are service animals, leaving few options for those seeking a roof over their head, even if just on the coldest of nights.
The point-in-time homeless survey that took place a year ago revealed 357 people living on Butte County streets had pets — nearly a fourth of the overall homeless population.
A small core group of people is now trying to create a solution so that pets don’t have to be the barrier to shelter. Their idea may not work for everyone but it could at least create hope for a few, said Montgomery, executive director of the Torres Shelter.
“I’m excited to be finally moving forward with this,” he said. “If we wait for the ideal to come to us, we will just be prolonging suffering that much longer.”
The Task Force on Homeless Pets met this week in a small conference room of the Torres Shelter, let by Montgomery and Chico Homeless Animal Outreach. About a dozen people joined them, including veterinarians, animal shelter officials, housing consultants and others affiliated with organizations that serve the homeless.
The proposed model is to create a foster system, where citizens would provide foster care and visitation opportunities for pets of the homeless so their owners can seek assistance from the Torres Shelter, Sabbath House, Catalyst and other service providers.
Chico Homeless Animal Outreach, led by citizens Annie Cox and Robin Tripp, would serve as the liaison to work with vets to make sure animals are vaccinated and in good health and place them in a temporary foster home until they can be reunited with their owners.
“I never would consider leaving my family member behind to seek shelter,” Cox said. “If we want to help the people, we have to got to help those animals,”
While the proponents anticipate they will serve mostly dogs, the service will be available to all kinds of pets people may have on the streets.
For now, the task force is keeping its work close-knit, forming small committees to tackle the establishment of policies and procedures, foster care commitments, and funding and community involvement. When they feel their proposal is solid, they will reach out to the wider community for assistance.
Some in the group were latched strongly onto the concept of finding a way for people and their animals to stay together, but Montgomery said that in his four years, he has not found a way. About three years ago he looked across the nation and could not find a shelter model that allowed pets.
Funding, safety and legal challenges are all obstacles, he said. Many service providers have said they are simply not comfortable branching into that level of service.
While he originally wanted a solution that would help the hundreds of people on the streets with pets, he realized starting smaller could accomplish something faster.
“We’d be proving it — one animal, one person, one dog at a time — that this isn’t a barrier in providing shelter to people,” Montgomery said.
The group realizes many people will not be willing to part with their animal for any reason, even shelter. But in their outreach, Cox and Tripp have found a few people who would, knowing a short separation could mean better lives for them both in the long term.
Visitation will be key, they said.
“We think almost nobody will take advantage of this if they are unable to see their dog for 42 days,” Montgomery said, referring to the average stay at the Torres Shelter.
The only recent occurrence when the homeless were able to shelter with their animals was during the December cold snap. When temperatures plunged into the 20s, the Chico Housing Action Team worked with the Chico Peace & Justice Center to provide an emergency shelter and allowed animals.
This week, when temperatures got frigid once again, they opened another emergency shelter at the Jesus Center, but because the kitchen was the only available place to sleep, state health codes prohibit animals other than service pets.
It was heartbreaking to turn people away, said Cynthia Gailey of CHAT. In most cases, they gave them a hot meal and knew many would share it with their pets as they returned to the cold.
The hope is the task force will find a better solution.
“We want to be able to say that just having an animal is not a barrier,” Montgomery said.
Reach reporter Ashley Gebb at 896-7768, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @AshleyGebb.
See the original article here, on the Chico ER website. Article copyright of the Chico ER.