How to help pets experiencing homelessness in Lawrence during the extreme cold

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Post updated at 12:08 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18:

We recently published an article with some ways to help people experiencing homelessness in Lawrence during dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills. 

Elina Alterman, a spokesperson for the Lawrence Humane Society, offered some ways people can also help pets who are experiencing homelessness alongside their owners. 

After a woman and her dog were found dead last week at a Lawrence park, advocates want to make sure people know that the Lawrence Community Shelter is able to accommodate pets whose owners come to the shelter at 3655 E. 25th St. Between 10 and 15 pets per night have been staying at the Lawrence Community Shelter over the past few days, Lacee Roe, director of community engagement for LCS, said via email Monday. 

However, not everyone wants to stay at LCS, for a variety of their own reasons, Alterman said.

The humane society is opening up options for pet owners by boarding some dogs during the extreme cold. The Amtrak station in East Lawrence, for instance, is open for overnight shelter for people during the cold snap, but pets are not allowed. (Read more about that and other sheltering options at this link.) 

“Of course the pets and their owners will be reunited as soon as the temperatures get warmer and the owners are ready to get their pets back,” Alterman said. “This is in no way a surrender of their pets.” 

Mister Mister, a dog the Lawrence Humane Society boarded last winter, is pictured on his way to be reunited with his owner. (Lawrence Humane Society / Contributed photo)

The humane society runs a Crisis Pet Retention program that aims to help keep pets with their families as much as possible by providing resources, including pet food.

“We work with folks all the time — pet owners that are low-income or low-resourced or unhoused, a whole variety — and we can tell you better than anyone that someone’s income does not determine what kind of pet owner they are,” Alterman said. 

Ways to help

The best way for the community to help Lawrence Humane Society care for pet owners and pets experiencing houselessness is by donating pet food (preferably dry food for cats and dogs), blankets, and dog sweaters and jackets. Sizes L-XXL are best, Alterman said. 

People can drop off donations of pet food, blankets and other gear on one of the tables outside LHS at 1805 E. 19th St., just east of 19th and Harper streets. Staff members are present from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, and they collect donations periodically. Those who wish to donate money to the CPR program can do so at this link.

Lawrence Humane Society always needs more fosters to take in dogs — especially bigger dogs, and dogs that need to be the only dog in a home, Alterman said. 

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LHS also has some fosters committed to the CPR program and who only want to foster pets whose owners are trying to get back on their feet. Right now, that generally means pets whose owners are seeking shelter, Alterman said. 

But any dog who goes home with a foster frees up a kennel, potentially for another person’s pet to stay at LHS temporarily. 

People who are interested in fostering dogs for LHS can sign up at lawrencehumane.org/foster. You can specifically request to foster pets through the CPR program, Alterman said. 

Alterman said as of Monday afternoon, LHS had eight dogs boarding whose owners are unhoused because of the cold weather. Most of those dogs will be spayed or neutered during their stays at the request of the owners, Alterman said, and one had already been spayed during a previous stay.

Ways to get help

LHS staff members have been visiting camps to try to reach people directly and encourage people to seek indoor shelter, Alterman said.

If people who need to bring in their pets in order to seek sheltering can call LHS to give a heads up, that’s ideal, but if that’s not possible, just show up from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., she said.

LHS’ main phone number is 785-843-6835. People should visit the Pet Resource Center, which is the lime green side of the building at 1805 E. 19th St., and let staff know.

People who wish to seek assistance from the humane society’s CPR program can apply and find more information at this link. Learn more about the program at lawrencehumane.org/crisispetretention.

Home Sweet Home Dog Resort in Lawrence is also offering help for pet parents who need it. Alterman said Home Sweet Home was boarding three dogs as of Sunday evening so their owners could seek shelter from the frigid weather. 

The location at 2140 Haskell Ave. can be reached at 785-832-8100, and the 1837 Wakarusa Drive location can be reached at 785-856-0903. “If you or someone you know is struggling to keep their dog safe during this weather, please don’t hesitate to reach out,” Home Sweet Home wrote in a Facebook post

Those who wish to stay with their pets at the Lawrence Community Shelter will need to have proof that their pets’ vaccinations are up to date, but there are several ways to make that happen and that factor won’t bar new guests from staying at the shelter.

Roe said LCS’s current policy states that “All dogs, cats, and ferrets aged 4 months and older must have current rabies vaccination as required by law. If the animal is not vaccinated as required, the guest will have 10 days to obtain proof of vaccination or the animal will not be allowed to return to shelter until documentation is provided.”

Alterman said LHS has vaccinated many pets by going out to camps at least once or twice a month, so there’s a good chance many of the pets at the shelter already have their shots up to date. But even for pet owners who have homes, it can be tricky to keep up with paperwork, Alterman said. LHS can pull up vaccine records in their system to send to LCS anytime, Alterman said.

“Our goal is to help people meet this expectation and help them be successful regardless of weather conditions,” Roe said. “We are thankful to have a great partner like LHS because they make it easy to get those records or schedule a vaccine right away, and we love the outreach work they’ve been doing to help folks with pets at various camps. Our guests are grateful for this as well and they are typically very willing to do the steps required to ensure that their pets are taken care of.”

For pets who need their shots, Alterman said LHS is happy to help, either by arranging to bring the pet to LHS to vaccinate them there or by having their vet visit LCS to vaccinate multiple animals. Gusts can reach out directly to the humane society or ask community shelter staff members to reach out.

‘Everyone is deserving of companionship’

Some may believe that people who are unhoused should not have pets at all. Alterman, who previously worked as a social worker, said that’s a perception she’s been trying to combat for the past few years. 

“Everyone is deserving of unconditional love. Everyone is deserving of companionship,” she said. 

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She said LHS has seen people choose to feed their pets before they feed themselves, and seek out things such as vaccinations and coats for their pets before themselves. 

“Those pets are their top priorities. We’ve heard countless stories of folks who have said that their mental health would be in a major crisis if not for their pet,” Alterman said. “So many folks feel like they can’t be apart from their pet because their mental health is so contingent on that companionship.”

Some people have said their pets are their reasons for waking up in the morning; for staying clean or trying to get clean; and for everything they’re trying to do better in life, she said. 

“You see people work so unbelievably hard to find housing, to jump through a million hoops to get and keep that housing just so they can house their pets,” Alterman said. 

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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