State Will Pay Vets to Treat Homeless People’s Pets

The new California budget sets aside $5 million to staff homeless shelters with veterinarians to provide care for pets of people who live on the streets or in vehicles.

San Francisco just confirmed that it has more than 8,000 people living on the street, as the 2019 homeless point-in-time count showed a 17 percent increase in homelessness citywide. That analysis does not count dogs, but nationwide, an estimated five to 10 percent of unhoused people have pets. Applying those numbers locally, it’s fair to guess there are around 400 to 800 dogs or pets partnered with unsheltered people, who can often struggle to spay, neuter, or vaccinate their animal companions. 

That is, until now. The 2019-20 California budget went into effect last Monday, and includes a brand-new $5 million fund to provide grants to support veterinary care for pets of people experiencing homelessness. 

“Homelessness is one of the most critical issues we’re facing in the San Francisco community,” San Francisco SPCA President Jennifer Scarlett says in a release. “How to provide veterinary care for the pets of those experiencing homelessness is a problem for many organizations. This funding will help make a significant impact and provide life-saving services to those who might otherwise go without.”

Many like to throw judgment at people who have dogs despite not having a place to live. But as we learned from this excellent 2016 SFist profile of homeless San Franciscans with dogs, pet companionship helps diminish many of the psychological burdens of homelessness, and can provide therapeutic support for people in drug or alcohol recovery. Further, most of these pets are animals who themselves would have just ended up in shelters, or worse.    

The $5 million for veterinary care at homeless shelters was squeezed into this year’s state budget but is actually part of a bill called SB 258 that was introduced by Van Nuys state Senator Rober Hertzberg and co-authored by our own Scott Wiener. That bill, which would further expand veterinary services in shelters, has passed the state Senate and is working its way through Assembly committees.

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