by Joan Clair
In the Bay Area, thousands of people face eviction, homelesness and economic hardships because landlords have raised their rents beyond all reason. We are often told that all this injustice is simply due to the inexorable workings of the marketplace.
Since the market economy is a faceless abstraction, it offers a convenient way to draw our attention away from the real-life landlords and real estate owners who have caused this economic misery through their greed and reckless profiteering.
The so-called market economy has caused countless cases of eviction-for-profit and displaced thousands of renters in the Bay Area. This system exalts profits at the expense of life, and might better be called the “Heartless Market Place.” Along with causing homelessness for thousands of human beings, this heartless system has also caused untold suffering for the animal companions of tenants.
The heartless market place is an area where no pets are allowed. Many tenants are unable to find an affordable place to live where pets are also allowed, and are thus coerced to surrender their pets to a “shelter” which puts the animal to sleep in a few days if no home can be found.
Just as homeless pets face death by being euthanized in animal shelters, many homeless people die on the streets through lack of shelter and housing. Our society has an uneasy conscience about the deaths of homeless people on the streets and countless homeless animals in shelters.
Two groups are discriminated against in rental housing: nonhuman animals and low-income people. Animals are not protected by anti-discrimination laws regarding housing. In other words, “no pets allowed” is legal. Similarly, landlords are not required to consider Section 8 housing applicants for their housing units.
“No Kill” Animal Shelters
Great strides have been made in the “no kill” animal shelter movement which began about 30 years ago. However, millions of unwanted animals are still euthanized in shelters yearly, and even “no kill” shelters turn away animals that are not considered adoptable.
There are many reasons why animals end up in shelters: economic difficulties, job loss, divorce and break-ups, death in the family, and foreclosure. However, underlying all these hardships, another problem often results in the death of companion animals — namely, the inability, when a crisis hits, to find housing where pets are allowed. “No Pets Allowed” is a typical restriction in the heartless market place.
With skyrocketing rents and stagnation in workers’ wages, it becomes more difficult to find any affordable housing at all.
However, even with these inequitable conditions, a new way of looking at the nonhuman creatures who share our lives has emerged and is gaining strength.
More and more people regard the nonhuman animals who share their lives with us as family members, rather than as members of a different and less worthy species. As a result, when for any of the reasons listed previously a person must find new housing and cannot because of “No Pets Allowed” stipulations, it is the loss of a family member that is at stake.
The Loss of a Family Member
The loss can mean a death sentence for the nonhuman family member who is turned over to a shelter when a new home cannot be found. Under similar circumstances, would we turn over a human child to a shelter which permits euthanasia if we could not find a residence which allows children? Fortunately, human children are now covered by anti-discrimination laws regarding housing. However, at one time, they were discriminated against as well.
Now the laws must be changed so that nonhuman animal companions, such as dogs and cats, are included in the category of family members who, along with other family members such as human children, cannot be denied housing.
There are safeguards landlords have in regard to any new residents, including a right to check references, including those from prior landlords. Young children and young animals can pose risks, but not ones that cannot be corrected.
The anti-discrimination laws in housing make it mandatory to accept service animals. Animals that are not designated as service animals may be as well-behaved. Finding responsible renters is what’s important. And, obviously, there are already legal restrictions in place regarding the keeping of wild or dangerous animals in rental units.
Ending Needless Deaths
Eliminating the “No Pets Allowed” practices of landlords would greatly reduce the number of pets that are killed in shelters or put out on the street. It is a measure that would take the “no kill” animal shelter movement to a new level of success in saving lives.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has said we must “abandon the archaic and unjust boundary of ‘human’ that we use to justify inflicting pain, suffering and death on billions of beings.”
In my own life, I have experienced discrimination towards nonhuman family members with my dog, Wind-of-Fire, my cat, Moon, and my dog, Clair. When I came to attend a Berkeley seminary in 1980 with my dog, Wind-of-Fire, I was promised housing for both of us. Within a week of arrival, I was told I had to get rid of Wind-of-Fire or move off campus. I did neither, and we won out in the end, but my consciousness was changed.
We also had to fight the school administration’s plan to establish a “No Pets Allowed” policy, and we won that battle also. However, these threats to my family member made me realize how vulnerable nonhuman animals are in our society, even in liberal institutions.
My next animal companion, Moon, was a cat whose human companion had left him with her roommates when she went to a graduate school with a “No Pets Allowed” policy. None of the roommates related very deeply to Moon. As a result, he was left outside at night and injured. He was a very angry cat when he finally came to me. Had I not taken him, he would have been brought to the pound and more than likely put to sleep because of his justifiable anger.
Finding a Dog Dumped Out of a Car
Next, I found my dog, Clair, on the street in the business district of Berkeley after she’d been dumped out of a car. There was a “No Pets Allowed” policy in the mobile home park where I lived at the time. I dearly loved Clair, and she needed my support, so I had to move with her and my trailer to another park in order to keep her. [See “The Bonds of Love: Cast Off on the Street,” Street Spirit, November 2012].
As we have reported in Street Spirit, in spite of their disadvantages, many homeless people have refused to go into a shelter which does not permit nonhuman family members. They’d rather remain on the street than give up their dog or cat.
The “No Pets Allowed” policies of landlords are a civil rights issue. Such discriminatory practices should be revoked. We are unaccustomed to seeing that pets may have rights, and this may seem like an extreme position to some. However, once the “archaic and unjust boundary of ‘human’” as described by PETA, is understood, with all its destructive consequences, a new respect and appreciation for nonhuman animals emerges.
Giving pets legal status as family members in anti-discrimination housing laws is a logical next step in the battle to provide protection for groups that have suffered housing discrimination based on gender, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, disabilities and families with children.
It would be a wholesome step in building a more just society. When joined with other steps to alleviate human homelessness, it could lead to more humane living spaces for all of us. We must build more affordable housing, fight for a living wage, advocate for more decent levels of disability and welfare benefits, and eliminate the economic inequities which are dragging our society down at present.
And while we continue this struggle for economic justice, let us remember to defend and protect the lives of the animals who give us so much love, and offer such irreplaceable companionship. For many of us, they have become members of our families. They cannot be abandoned in shelters where they may be killed.
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Berkeley City Council Member Proposes the Abolition of “No Pet” Policies
by Joan Clair
In October of 2014, Jesse Arreguin submitted a proposal to the Berkeley City Council to consider disallowing “No Pets” policies as a condition of tenancy. Unfortunately, there were not enough votes to support his position. The recommendation was tabled.
However, this was a remarkable first step to end discrimination against nonhuman family members in housing. To our knowledge, it was the first such attempt in the nation. We hope this will lead to similar proposals and eventual legislation.
Arreguin presented many practical reasons for initiating such a recommendation. These included more cost-effective options for animal care services, better treatment of animals and a greater number of adoptions as a result of the availability of more housing, thereby saving the lives of more animals.
Arreguin also showed how landlords would still have legal protections. The animal advocacy groups he contacted were supportive of this measure. The following excerpt from Arreguin’s proposal is a clear statement of humane values.
“Allowing pet owners to keep their animals when they seek housing will also help cut down on the number of animals abandoned in Berkeley…. If fewer animals are abandoned because their owners are able to keep them no matter where they live in Berkeley, there would be fewer animals needing the shelter and care that BACS provides daily. Conversely, allowing tenants to have pets may increase the adoption of animals from BACS with resulting animal registration fee revenue. This would save the lives of animals who might have been abandoned and hurt or killed, and allow BACS to save more lives by giving them more room in the shelter and save more money to continue to provide top-notch care to the animals who come to BACS in need.”
For more information, contact Jesse Arreguin at (510) 981-7140; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Building, 2180 Milvia Street, 5th Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704. The proposal can be found at http://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/2014/10_Oct/Documents/2014-10-21_Item_24_%E2%80%9CNo_Pet%E2%80%9D_Policies.aspx .