Pets of the Homeless: Providing for Your Pet When You Can’t Provide for Yourself

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, in September 2014, there was an “all-time record” 58,056 homeless people sleeping each night in the New York City municipal shelter system. A recent study revealed that over 3,357 unsheltered homeless people sleep on New York City streets, with nearly 60 percent sleeping in Manhattan. Between 5 percent to 10 percent of homeless people in New York City have dogs and/or.

With groundbreaking numbers of homeless people living in New York City, it is hard to believe that the homeless burden themselves with the ownership of an animal. However, in many cases, the homeless community finds solace, protection, and companionship through their pets. By caring for their furry, four-legged friend, many homeless people sacrifice their own starvation and habitation for their dogs or cats.

Throughout New York City, a majority of homeless shelters do not allow pets. As a result, these homeless shelters reject hundreds of homeless people and their pets each night.

Photo Courtesy // Pets of the Homeless Organization
Photo Courtesy // Pets of the Homeless Organization

Currently, there is only one shelter available for the homeless and their pets. In May 2013, the Mayor’s Alliance partnered with Urban Resource Institute and its People and Animals Living Safely (URIPALS) pilot programs to provide co-sheltering for families and their pets. The PALS programs specifically works with victims of domestic violence, in an effort to provide “essential support in the form of crucial expertise and technical assistance by addressing the link between animal welfare and human welfare.” The Mayor’s Alliance and the Urban Resource Institute are “seeking funds and resources to equip its facility to accept dogs and expand the program to other shelters.”

In an effort to change the harsh reality for homeless people and their pets, the nonprofit organization Pets of the Homeless provides pet food and veterinary care to the homeless living in New York City and across the United States. Pets of the Homeless’s mission is to “feed and provide basic emergency veterinary care” to homeless people’s pets, thus relieving the “anguish and anxiety of the homeless who cannot provide for their pets.”

Throughout New York City, there are 11 donation sites that collect pet food and pet supplies for those in need. By working with distributing organizations, such as local food banks, pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, these collection sites provide the necessary resources and services for homeless people and their furry companions.

Hundreds of homeless people with pets in New York City struggle to provide for themselves and their beloved animals. Through nonprofit organizations like Pets of the Homeless and shelters like URIPALS, humans and animals are given a second chance in life.

The Price of Being Sick: How One East Harlem Vet Clinic Strives to Charge Less and Help More

“I knew a man that lived right on the corner of 116th and First Avenue that had to go to the bank around the corner to take out a $10,000 dollar loan just to cover his dog’s vet bill one year,” East Harlem pet shop and veterinary clinic owner Joseph Spataro recalled. “It just breaks your heart. That dog was his everything. And the vet screwed him over for all his money.”

For many dog owners, the greatest doggy burden on their bank accounts are regular veterinary office visits that can cost anywhere from $82 to $165 dollars. Many people believe they are getting a discounted price at places like PetSmart and ASPCA but end up paying hundreds more than they expected and have to return for costly follow-up visits, said Spataro.

Spataro’s love for animals and love for his East Harlem neighbor’s prompted him to open up a veterinary clinic atop his pet shop, 15 years ago. Located on 116th Street between First and Second Avenues, Ideal Pet Veterinary Clinic provides veterinary medical services for only $35 dollars.

Embedded within the heart of El Barrio, Ideal Veterinary Clinic opens its doors four times a week to the residents of East Harlem and surrounding neighborhoods. From ear and eye infections to vaccinations to micro chipping, Spataro’s veterinary clinic accepts all customers at a small price.

Photo// Charlotte Gibson
Photo// Charlotte Gibson

“We don’t want people to have to worry about taking out loans for their animals just to cover their medical expenses,” said Spataro. “We care about the dogs and we will charge you what’s right.”

Currently, the median household income in East Harlem is approximately $31,444 dollars, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many East Harlemites live paycheck-to-paycheck and struggle to pay the rent each month, which makes owning a dog extremely burdensome on their livelihood.

For East Harlem pet owners Mary Ann and John DiSalvio, affordable veterinary clinics like Ideal Pet Veterinary Clinic are necessary for caring their pets and their bank accounts. Without affordable veterinary options, the couple said they wouldn’t be able to properly care for their dogs’ needs.

“We love them and we’d do whatever we had to for them, but it’s too expensive. There has to be more options out there. More doctors have to participate in helping the situation like Ideal,” John DiSalvio said.