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A new era for pets in rental housing

From Animal Sheltering magazine November/December 2015

Wayne Pacelle and his adopted dog, Lily.

As animal advocates, you’ve probably seen firsthand the distraught faces of people surrendering animals because a new landlord doesn’t allow pets. And as pet owners, you may have struggled with this problem on a more personal level, scanning Internet listings for hours for an affordable apartment that will welcome not only the human members of your family, but the ones with fur and paws.

For people with limited housing options to begin with, especially in underserved communities, restrictive rental policies can result in relinquishment of their pets to shelters, contributing to the stream of homeless animals that often overwhelms the ability of adoption organizations. For others, housing restrictions may prevent them from adopting in the first place, denying animals homes they so desperately need.

That’s why I was so excited in September to announce the launch of our Pets Are Welcome campaign, designed to transform pet policies in the housing industry. We’ll be working closely with industry leaders to do away with outdated housing policies and restrictions. Age restrictions are common, with bans extending to young puppies and kittens on one end, and senior pets on the other. Some facilities require declawing of cats—a mutilation that is unwarranted and inhumane. Many housing providers and insurance companies still restrict dogs by breed or size—a practice driven by unfounded stereotypes of certain breeds and fears of liability.

Our Pets Are Welcome campaign will also share information with renters, so that they have the best problem-solving tips and guidance on pet behavior, housing etiquette and pet health, helping them succeed and become more desirable renters.

Our long-term goal is to keep pets in their homes and increase adoptions. Currently, 35 percent of U.S. households rent, and according to industry polls, 72 percent of renters have pets. Millions of pets and their families depend on rental housing.

As a trillion-dollar industry, the multifamily housing sector has the potential to play a tremendously positive role in building a more humane economy. When the industry began embracing a wide range of “pet-friendly” policies in the 1990s, it was because the industry recognized the increasing number of U.S. households with pets and the value of those pets in people’s lives. People were willing to pay extra deposits and fees to keep their pets, and this amounted to a financial opportunity for housing operators. The trends have been moving in our direction. We see many companies in the industry building on these principles, offering luxury amenities like dog parks, valet walking services and grooming spas. They recognize that you can have commerce that’s both profitable and humane.

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We are celebrating companies that are already showing responsible and responsive policies, and we’re looking for more to join the campaign. We’re working with industry leaders like the National Apartment Association, pairing our expertise on pet behavior and animal management with their industry knowledge, to be sure property owners and managers get advice and guidance they can trust.

What apartment owner or homeowner would tell a family that they cannot have a child or a grandparent come live with them? They are part of the family. The same is true for pets. It’s time for the era of excluding pets to end.

Help us spread the word in your community. This campaign will get a major lift if you participate. You can access our materials for renters and the housing industry. We believe that, over time, you’ll see the results in fewer homeless animals—and an easier path next time you’re looking for a new place for your own pack.

About the Author

Wayne Pacelle is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of The Humane Society of the United States. Under Pacelle's leadership, The HSUS has been approved by the Better Business Bureau for all 20 standards for charity accountability, voted by Guidestar's Philanthropedia experts as the #1 high-impact animal protection group, named by Worth Magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities, and is ranked in the top 10 for nonprofit brands.