Friday, February 19, 2010

Necessities: Animal Companions

Recall the number of times you've seen people living on the streets who have animals with them.

Look at the photo section of websites like that for the tent city Dignity Village.

What do you notice, with more frequency than you might expect?

What I notice are the animal companions. For quite awhile, Dignity Village had only photos of people with pets; only later did they start adding pictures of dwellings, gardens, and so on.

For some of us, having an animal companion is as necessary to our survival as food and water. Yet few mental health professionals acknowledge the link, which is more prevalent for women, or argue on behalf of those who would be denied an animal companion for the sake of property rights, as though such purported rights should outweigh the right to survival.

The vast majority of landlords in British Columbia, including government-run BC Housing and private subsidized housing projects, would deny us that necessity. Rare is it to find in this province a dwelling that will accommodate someone who has an animal companion; as rare, is it to find government or private subsidized housing developments that allow pets.

Therefore, people who are already challenged to manage with so little money, and who also may have health challenges, are challenged further to find places to live. Such people are expected to choose between having housing they can afford, are actually DENIED housing they can afford, and staying with their animal companions who they need as much as they need air to breathe.

The rationale for denying tenants animal companions is always this: "Some people don't look after their pets properly." In landlord-speak that means: "I've a right to protect my property from damage; since pet owners are more likely to leave the place in a mess than people who don't have pets, I don't rent to them."

Hogwash. Owners are as likely to get their places trashed by non pet owners as they are by people who have pets.

You needn't take my word for it.

A couple of years ago, I heard of a property owner who rents ONLY to pet owners. Said she'd found them to be more reliable, considerate and clean, compared to tenants to whom she'd rented who hadn't pets. She'd been renting various properties to people for decades - unfortunately, all out of my budget's reach.

As for my place, a 400-square foot bachelor apartment, you'd never know there were two cats here. There's no smell, no damage to floor or carpet, no sign of them anywhere. I brush my cats daily, which helps reduce cat hair from getting everywhere. I dust and sweep the place regularly and keep the litter box spotless.

I keep the litter box in the tub, near the faucet end and pull the shower curtain almost completely across. This requires the cats to walk to the end of the tub to enter or exit. The commode sits on an upside down rubber mat with the grippers facing upward. As the cats exit their commode, the mat's grippers pick up litter bits from between their furry toes. The litter box I keep clean by removing any solid waste immediately. For litter, I use pine wood pellets, which have a nice natural scent and happen to be the least expensive and most natural litter to use. (The SPCA uses it too.) When wet, the pellets expand into sawdust.

My one guilt is sometimes I forget to remove Kiltie's scent marking, the black streaking one finds at shin level at the corners of walls. When I do remember, the streaks are gone in a single swipe. Don't know why, but only Kiltie marks her territory, never Brodie.

Both cats are well-behaved and never spray. For scratching, they've a cat condo and (sigh) this upholstered computer chair.

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