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Full Tummy Project feeds homeless people's pets

East Orlando organization runs soup kitchen for animals

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photo: Photos courtesy of Pets of the Homeless, License: N/A

Photos courtesy of Pets of the Homeless

Most shelters, soup kitchens and service organizations, though, do not offer resources for animals. It's not because they don't care – it's all they can do to help the influx of homeless people who come through their doors daily. Most probably don't even realize how many people they feed might need additional help feeding or housing a pet.

So, people with pets who find themselves with no place to go have to make some tough decisions. A lot of the time, they give their dogs or cats up to shelters, many of which reported a dramatic influx of animals when the housing market first crashed and the economy plummeted. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimated in 2009 that approximately 63 percent of people living in the United States kept pets – with one in every 171 houses at risk of foreclosure during that time, the organization figured that between 500,000 to 1 million animals were going to be affected by the gasping economy. Many of those animals would be at risk of ending up in overburdened animal shelters, the ASPCA speculated.

Though the economy has stabilized somewhat, a Hunger and Homelessness Survey released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors in late 2012 indicated that homelessness is on the rise, based on requests for emergency assistance. The survey figured that 46.2 million Americans, or 15 percent of the population, lives in poverty.

"I just spoke to a woman yesterday who said she's homeless and she lost her job because of illness, then she lost her home," Lowry says. "The face of homelessness is different now than what it used to be, and anybody could be homeless tomorrow. And what are people going to do? Are they going to give up their pets? For some people, that's like giving up their children."

And for a lot of pets that are given up, the future is pretty bleak.

"If it comes down to somebody giving up their pet," Lowry says, "and say it's an older pet – if they take it to a shelter, there's a chance that dog or cat isn't going to be adopted. It could be, but a lot of people want a young dog that's going to live a long time. A lot of those [homeless] pets that end up in the shelter are going to be euthanized."

Rather than abandon the one thing they have left that they love to an uncertain future, Lowry says, people will sacrifice their own comfort – they'll live in tents in the woods, they'll sleep on people's couches, they'll sleep in their cars.

"I know that it's an issue and sometimes people will stay out in the woods rather than a shelter because they want to stay with their pets," says Muffett Robinson, director of communications and community relations for the Coalition for the Homeless in Orlando. She says that, like most shelters, the coalition's shelter does not have the resources to accept pets. Occasionally, she says, if someone with a pet arrives and needs help, volunteers may try to find someone who can temporarily house it. "We'll try to call around and help people, but there aren't really many resources out there right now," she says.

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