Lack of Housing Shouldn’t Keep Dogs and People Apart
Listen to the episode
In 2018, My Pit Bull Is Family volunteers called over 300 supposedly dog friendly apartments in the Twin Cities. What they found was that only 12 of them accepted dogs regardless of what they looked like.
The reality is that when people surrender their dogs because they’ve moved, it’s not necessarily because they are heartless. It’s more than likely because they have nowhere to go that will accept their pet. The Twin Cities encompasses Minneapolis and St. Paul, plus several surrounding suburbs. That’s a large area with a big population of individuals. Individuals who cannot simply pick up and move to a completely different geographic location.
The lack of pet owner accessible housing is a real issue and when we talk about why dogs are being surrendered to shelters, this is one of the main issues that we need to address. We need to not shame the owners. We need to look at how we can work with landlords and property managers, as well as communities, to fix what is broken.
On top of that, Shannon mentions that many of the pet owner accessible apartments are not affordable. We all know that there is a huge shortage of affordable housing across the country. That number shrinks even further for people who have pets.
For Shannon, and also for us at AFF, the way to address these issues is to work together. In the podcast, Shannon talks about the importance of building a community with organizations and individuals to help you achieve your goals.
Along those lines, we talk about something we discussed in our previous housing podcast, property managers and landlords aren’t the enemy. Most people are reasonable. When we view individuals as allies rather than adversaries, we get a lot farther in bringing dogs and people together to end discrimination.
Want to be on our podcast to talk about the intersection of animal welfare and social justice? Want to yell at us for our opinions? Email us!
Read the podcast transcript
Regina [00:00:00] Hi and welcome to the Individual Animal. A podcast about dogs people and discrimination. I am Regina and that’s Nikki.
Nikki [00:00:09] Hi all welcome to the show and to part two of our housing podcast. Today we have a very exciting guest, as always, one of our grantees Shannon Glenn is here to talk with us today about what she does for housing and dogs. Also Shannon why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your organization.
Shannon [00:00:36] Sure. Well thank you for having me. Again my name is Shannon Glenn. I’m the executive director of an organization called My Pit Bull Is Family. Now the name can be a little deceiving with “pit bull” in it. But we do cater our serving golks with all large breed dogs because we know that people with large dogs commonly face housing discrimination which is our main goal to end housing and insurance discrimination for people with big dogs.
Shannon [00:01:07] So, a little bit about me: I have a masters in advocacy and political leadership and through using that degree program I was really able to help create what My Pit Bull Is Family is today. So back in 2011, a landlord here in Minneapolis decided that housing discrimination really sucked. So her two apartments that she owned were the only two in Minneapolis that allowed all dogs regardless of what they looked like or how much they weighed.
Shannon [00:01:39] So she was a very wealthy individual and decided to start a bumper sticker campaign in which she had volunteers here in Minneapolis send out thousands and thousands of bumper stickers throughout the country. And I was involved with rescue at the time and I decided to take a break from the rescue community and found this amazing advocacy group that was trying to end discrimination for people with dogs like my dog Wilbur. And once I became a volunteer everyone kind of trickled out. So it was just me and a bunch of 4xl t shirts and thousands and thousands of bumper stickers that needed a place to go. At that point we ended up creating My Pit Bull Is Family out of this. And today, it’s a non-profit organization. And we are home of the nation’s largest housing database that accepts all dogs, again regardless of what they look like or how much they weigh.
Regina [00:02:37] I’m trying to think of where to go next because I want you to talk about the database. But first I want you to know I mean you work on the national level and you help people everywhere because of your database. But can you talk about what it is like locally because one thing that we have really started talking about is that you know your experience is not everyone’s experience and sometimes people don’t realize that what goes on in their community may be great but everybody’s isn’t. So I’d really like to get your local perspective on what it’s like for dog owners in Minneapolis because that’s where you are.
Shannon [00:03:18] Absolutely. So Minneapolis takes pride in everything. So we always strive to be the best the best parks, the best bike routes but unfortunately we are following falling short when it comes to being the most dog friendly city in the country. Back in 2018 our volunteers at My Pit Bull Is Family did a research study where we called all of the dog friendly apartments in the Twin Cities. So that includes Minneapolis and St. Paul and the surrounding suburbs so a little less than three hundred dog friendly apartments. And what we found is that only 12 of them except all dogs regardless of what they look like. Now since 2018 some things have changed so there’s a couple more popping up. Larger companies are developing new apartments and that of course because their company policy is that they accept all dogs, that means that the new apartments are as well. But we know that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. There are dog friendly apartments here in the Twin Cities that really are not affordable for the average person. Minneapolis overall is a very expensive city to live in and I think that is something that’s commonly happening throughout the country. But we know that in Minneapolis, our work is really critical even though we have a national focus working at home is really important.
Regina [00:04:44] I mean you touched on something that’s really important is that there is a housing crisis and it does affect dog owners and then because there I mean there were already a limited number of pet owner accessible places. And then once you add how many people are simply getting priced out of living anywhere. And most people are renting now as opposed to owning their own homes. Dog owners really get affected by this and it does you know typically affect people of lower incomes. So Nikki do you want to take a few seconds to talk about our housing grant that we have to that we have to address this issue. OK.
Nikki [00:05:27] Yeah sure. Animal Farm Foundation has a pet accessible housing grant because of the lack of pet accessible housing and insurance being an issue especially with breed restrictions it really puts a burden on the community. So what we’re trying to do is find organizations that are working to find ways to have more pet accessible housing in their community and organizations that are working with insurance companies to try to break that discrimination barrier. So Shannon does such great work with pet accessible housing that we recently funded her database that she has now. We gave her some funding to help her with that as well as all of the work she does with trying to get her information out to landlords and to communities so that they have more tools in their toolbox for trying to help the community increase their access to pet accessible housing.
Regina [00:06:32] Oh but one thing I want to say is that you know we are trying to change the language that people use when they talk about this issue because it usually is pet friendly but these places really are not pet friendly. They’re friendly only to a limited number of pets so that’s why we say accessible or maybe their pet deposits are outrageous. Actually one day we’ll have a podcast where we talk about pet deposits where we will disagree about that. But anyway we think that accessible or pet owner accessible is a better way to talk about this issue. And you know people always say well pets are family and they are family to us. And so it’s can you imagine you need to find new housing. And then the only housing available to you doesn’t welcome part of your family for absolutely no reason like they know it’s just based on a stereotype that they don’t do that. So which brings us to the next issue is that housing is… What is it Shannon? One of the top three reasons why people surrender their pets to a shelter or re home their pet?
Shannon [00:07:44] Yeah sure. So we work with a lot of shelters and organizations throughout the country. And I would say that the majority of them tell us that their number one reason dogs are surrendered in their community is lack of housing that accepts them. So we know that housing is a very serious issue. You know here in Minneapolis but also across the country from Philadelphia to Chicago down in California. I mean it’s it’s a really big issue and we need more people to be talking about it and to be getting creative on partnering with landlords and you know making sure that folks can really find a place for the whole family.
Regina [00:08:26] What are some of the other things that you do at My Pit Bull Is Family, because you do a lot more than just have the database. I know you have a couple of outreach programs. You have your Together at Home…. is that what the program is called?
Shannon [00:08:38] Yeah. So are together at home and is a program that we’re starting here in Minneapolis. So what we do or what we did I should say, is we pull data from the city of Minneapolis which anyone can do so I strongly suggest that if you have an issue that you’re really passionate about and you think the city has data, do a U.S. city data request because you have information at your fingertips. So for us, what we did is we asked the city what ZIP codes in the city of Minneapolis have the highest number of dog relinquishment to our city animal shelter. We asked which Have the most Animal Control calls and which ones have the most dogfighting.
Shannon [00:09:24] And there are there’s an amazing organization called People and Pets Together in South Minneapolis. They run a food shelf and their clients or customers are the folks that live in that area. And now I live in North Minneapolis, so a couple miles north, where we’re in a food desert. There are no resources. And of course the top two zip codes are my zip code that I live in and the one next door. So what we wanted to do is really be boots on the ground here in the community. It’s a brand new program that we’re starting but we’re doing a farmer’s market every Thursday, providing food to the community, leashes and collars, and cat food and litter boxes with the hopes of maybe one day having a brick and mortar building that we can provide free training, low cost spay neuter, vaccinations – you know the whole gamut to make sure that our neighbors can keep their pets at home. Our goal is that maybe one day this program can have enough funding so that we can provide grants to our community partner organizations, so that if there’s someone in their community that needs help with a pet deposit and their organization just can’t make that happen for them that we will be able to help them. Or you know we had a guy who was living in a mobile home and he needed maybe a couple hundred bucks of repairs. So we were able to easily fundraise for that and make sure that we could pay the mechanic directly to get that guy and his dog back on the road and keep their family together.
Nikki [00:11:01] So what would you suggest to somebody that would be interested in starting a program like that in their own community.
Shannon [00:11:07] The first thing I would suggest is you know I’m always open to have a conversation with different groups around the country to talk about ideas for programming. You know some organizations, they really appreciate that we have the national database but they want to create one just on their web site that they can have…. And we can have that conversation too of how we can work together and not against each other. Because really the only way that we’re going to keep families together and their pets at home is by working together. It’s going to take all of us to do that. If you’re thinking about starting a pet retention program or providing resources to the community, I would say just make sure that you. Have the funding and the partnerships in your community to do so. And to really understand what outreach is and that is really you know… Talking to the community having them become advocates themselves. So it’s not an us and them but it’s a us together and building that community to make sure that people are are onboard and keeping their pets at home with the resources that you want to provide.
Regina [00:12:15] Can you talk some about the database what it is and how people use it and then give yourself some props and tell us how many people are on your web site every day using that database.
Shannon [00:12:27] Sure. So our housing database is a free tool for anyone to use. If you know if organizations want to have it linked on their web site they can definitely do that. It’s really the first stop where folks are looking for “pit bull” friendly housing. It’s the first thing that comes up on Google and as you said to give us some props…. I think we’re getting like 20 thousand searches a day. I think it was the last time I looked at people doing searches for housing on our website. So it’s it’s pretty crazy that it’s that high of a number. We wish that it wasn’t… that everyone could just find housing but we know that at least there’s a resource out there for folks. So the way that we get our data is pretty interesting. So we have about 50 volunteers throughout the country, not just here in Minneapolis but all over the place that help us do rental research calls every single month. Every volunteer gets assigned somewhere between 10 and 20 dog friendly apartments in a specific city based on the number of folks that are contacting us from there and looking for housing. And then we call the apartments. We track their pet policies it’s all on spreadsheets and then the apartments that meet our criteria of not having breed weight height any size restrictions. They’re uploaded into our housing database where folks can search for a place to live.
Regina [00:14:01] What are your recommendations for people who are having trouble finding housing? So I know you haven’t heard this podcast, yet but by the time this airs other people will… we had Kelsea who works for a National Canine Research Council on and she said that for her, although she is in a more privileged position due to all kinds of things, that for her, she wasn’t afraid to ask people or even to just not ask to just apply. And then if she got pushback, she would just present science and facts to them. And that that actually worked for her.
Regina [00:14:40] But not everyone is in her position. So what do you recommend? Like do you think it’s a good idea to just even apply for places that maybe say they’re not dog friendly or say they don’t accept large breeds or “pit bulls”? I mean do you think that that’s worth it for people to do? What are your recommendations?
Shannon [00:14:58] So I think one thing and I should have said is that I also work with or have previously worked with folks experiencing homelessness and that are typically underprivileged so. When I think of applying for apartments, it can become really really expensive for folks right. So if every apartment has a 30 to an 80 dollar fee for an application that you’re not going to get back if you’re denied, not everyone’s in a position to be able to do that. However it would be fantastic if every single dog owner across the country was equipped with science and facts when it came to dogs. But I think the three of us can agree that we’re not quite there yet. The information is there but not everybody is reading it or has access to it or believes it. So what we need to do is encourage folks to start that search early. We’re not talking start searching for an apartment a month or two before you need to move. We’re talking a year to six months. When you sign your lease you need to already be thinking about how long are you staying there. What’s next for you. Do you think you’re going to be moving. What is going to happen in your life and that can be really hard for a lot of folks. We also encourage people to do pet resumé as you know encourage the landlord. They’re doing application screenings with the human tenants… Have them meet the dog. Have them look at the vet records and any training documents that you have. Get your dog Canine Good Citizen certified. There are a lot of organizations around the country that are providing free or low cost CDC testing. We do it here in Minneapolis. If someone needs CDC testing to potentially get into an apartment, we want to make sure that their dog has the tools that they need to be a canine good citizen. We just really believe that setting your dog up for success is a really good way to have those conversations with landlords and not try to skirt around pet policies which I know could be a entire different podcasts too.
Regina [00:17:13] Actually I think maybe we should address that a little bit. What Shannon Brennan when she says skirt around pet policies is she means people who will just google certify my dog as an emotional support animal. And I actually had someone I’m not going to name them on my friends list who did this.
Regina [00:17:33] And I certainly told her what I thought of it. No problem doing that. Don’t do that. People like I mean of course your dogs are family you don’t want to be separated from them but that doesn’t mean that you should be dishonest or break the law or do something that negatively affects marginalized people, people with disabilities right. It’s not a victimless crime actually because of how it impacts people with disabilities in society when you lie about the fact because you you don’t have a disability you’re just lying to be able to keep your dogs with you. Again we all understand that your dogs are your family and you love them and you don’t want to be separated from them. But that’s just not the right thing to do.
Nikki [00:18:12] It’s just really unfortunate that people feel like they need to go because they don’t have options because of the stigma that landlords have with having pets.
Regina [00:18:23] It’s really heartbreaking. And I also think that this is one thing we talked about with Kelsea but one thing that she fully acknowledged is that she has a lot of privilege and is a very confident person. But not everybody is even if they know the facts. Not everybody is going to feel comfortable presenting those facts to their landlord because there is a housing crisis…. there are not a lot of options for people. So again I think this goes back to understanding that your experiences aren’t everybody else’s experience though because a lot of people would say we’ll just find another place to live. But of course that’s not always possible for most people.
Nikki [00:18:56] Right. Shannon do you have any interesting stories about your work with landlords specifically like they feel like they get quite a bad rap because of all their policies.
Nikki [00:19:09] Oh totally. I feel like we need to stop and pause and give landlords and property managers a round of applause. Right. So. What we do is whenever we do our rental research we follow up with all the apartments and property managers that do not have inclusive pet policies or accessible pet policies. And we send them information on why it’s really great business practice. You know tenants are going to stay three times as long. You don’t have to flip your apartments. Typically folks that struggle to find an apartment make really great tenants. They’re gonna clean up after themselves and all of that.
Nikki [00:19:49] But so recently we have had quite a few landlords respond to our mailings either to let us know that they’re interested in changing their pet policies and they would love for us to work with them on it which is a huge win. I mean that’s fantastic especially if they have multiple properties. We’ve had folks say “you know at the time, we’re not interested in changing our pet policies. However we’re really excited that there is a resource that we can send people to that are calling us.” So at least it’s starting a conversation with folks like hey and there’s a huge need we could fill it if we change our pet policies but at least we have a resource for folks that call us really frustrated because they can’t find a place to live. But we’ve also had really amazing apartments that do have inclusive pet policies that have invited us out to do happy hours with them and really showcase their tenants and the dogs that they have so we can do nail. We can get folks out there to do nail trims with them or vaccinations or whatever it may be the topic that they want. Because landlords really want to find partners in their community to make their community the most pet friendly building or complex that they can in the city. So we want to partner with our apartments here in Minneapolis as much as we can and provide them whatever resources they would like as long as they keep their pet friendly or pet inclusive policies.
Regina [00:21:20] So it sounds like… and this is something that’s very difficult for people but you take an inclusive approach as opposed to an adversarial approach. It’s these make friends not enemies approach. And I think a lot of people think that landlords are the enemy and certainly you know I mean in some cases they might be. But I think this is something that we say a lot here too is that the majority of people are good. And it sounds like that’s what you go into when you try to work with landlords. That’s your mindset.
Shannon [00:21:49] Absolutely. I mean there is a landlord here in Minneapolis and I’ll be sure to send him a link that I’m talking about him. But he and his fiance say they have a pit bull type dog and he owns quite a few properties here in Minneapolis. But unfortunately the insurance that he carries for his properties do not allow him to include all types of dogs. So even just having conversations with him he’s like It’s my insurance. It’s like, “well have you ever thought about switching that up or trying to go with another company… here are a couple that we work with really closely and they’re more than happy to give you quotes. Can I make that connection?” You know it’s it’s all about building your community and really being an advocate and not you know throwing people under the bus just because they can’t do something or change their policies immediately. It’s all about relationship building.
Regina [00:22:46] So it sounds like a lot of landlords also feel like their hands are tied because of their insurance companies.
Shannon [00:22:53] Absolutely. You know this particular landlord said that another company wanted to charge him almost twice as much. So one thing that we have slowly started having conversations with some of our insurance partners is, is there a way that we can offer a discount or some kind of rate if people switched? And that’s very preliminary. So I don’t even know if it’ll happen but it’s always worth an ask. Like how can we better our community through creating partnerships because it’s a benefit for everybody if this were to work.
Regina [00:23:28] It’s a great quote that I just want to put out there again that it’s always worth it to ask and not just in relation to this topic but if you are thinking that you know there’s a crisis in your community, whether it have to do with animal offer or not it’s always worth it to ask and to see how…. There are gonna be other people in your community willing to help with this issue. So it’s worth it to ask. I mean that’s been your experience hasn’t it? I mean you built this great network of people because you haven’t been afraid to ask.
Shannon [00:23:57] Right. And it’s all it’s you have to be able to ask you know I in my life I was one of those annoying street canvassers. So when you walk into a community and there’s just people asking you for money… So we had it drilled into our heads ask everyone because you never know who’s going to say yes. And I still practice that to this day even though I’m not an annoying street canvasser. I might be an annoying executive director because I’m not afraid to ask if it’s going to help create change in our community and across the country for pet owners. So ask.
Regina [00:24:39] But make sure that you’re you’re asking nicely and that you’re you know being a good person while you do it because you never know, even if you’re up against. I say quote unquote up against someone who you think maybe they don’t care about an issue but you don’t know that maybe their hands are tied and they also feel helpless like the landlord you talked about or other you know landlords maybe who they don’t know there are other insurance options out there or they can’t afford the other insurance options out there things are things are a lot more gray than people think they are.
Shannon [00:25:14] Absolutely 100 percent sure.
Nikki [00:25:16] Did we plug your website yet. Because we probably should have did that in the beginning.
Shannon [00:25:22] I don’t think we do.
Regina [00:25:23] Yeah your website address is……
Shannon [00:25:31] mypitbullisfamily.org You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram as well. It’s all really amazing information tons of resources. You know we have links to Animal Farm foundation on our Web site as well with their amazing BSL map. And you know just other amazing partner organizations that we have throughout the country so folks can search an interactive partner database if there’s something that they need in their community. We hope that our partners can help them with it or we can get them connected as well.
Regina [00:26:00] What else do we want to talk about.
Nikki [00:26:01] I don’t have anything else but Shannon if you have any. People love like stories is be really heartwarming stories of things you’ve done within with your work. People always love that kind of stuff. I bet you have a lot.
Shannon [00:26:14] Yeah. Oh hard. We definitely had a lot of folks come up to us at events and say you know we were really only able to keep our dog because of your website. I can’t think of one that personally sticks out. I know one of our volunteers Kathy. She utilized our database way back in the day to find a place to live and now she continuously talks about how great we are with all of the community members that come up to our booth because she was able to keep her dog because of us and that’s why she volunteers.
Shannon [00:26:47] I mean I was on the verge of homelessness myself. I applied for an apartment that was dog inclusive and all of the plumbing needed to be ripped out the day before I was supposed to move in. And so I immediately went onto our website and started searching for apartments that accepted all dogs and through having a relationship with a couple of the properties that we have on our database. I was able to move the next day. So there’s just so many amazing families that I’ve been able to find resources on our website that we don’t always hear about. I wish we heard about every single one of them but we know that there is hundreds if not thousands of them out there.
Regina [00:27:30] Since you’ve touched on this and said that you also work with people who are homeless you know we see this a lot that people some people say homeless people shouldn’t have dogs if you can’t afford a dog you shouldn’t have one. All of those things and I’m sure you see a lot of that in your work. What do you want people to know about that?
[00:27:52] That companionship is in a class or race issue at all. Everyone deserves to have a companion in their life. And you know for some folks experiencing homelessness…. I think one of the last studies was like 10 percent of folks experiencing homelessness have a pet. And I’m sure that number is more now that they are slowly becoming more and more homeless shelters that accept pets. Shout out to Matrix Housing Services here in the Twin Cities that they operate the only truly pet friendly shelter in the state of Minnesota. And I had the privilege of being there shelter director for our winter season and I mean that experience was life changing. I mean we had folks every single night that would have been sleeping in their car or outside and negative 50 degree weather. But we were able to have them inside with food and water for their pets and access to vet care at low cost or free. I mean it was just it’s amazing and these folks were thinking that they would have to give up their pet because they would have to return to the streets. It’s heartbreaking. So everyone deserves to have a pet. And we should be providing resources to those families to make sure that they can stay together.
Regina [00:29:12] What’s also interesting is that you know you when when people do surrender their animal to a shelter you know there are always those comments live in your car with your dog but then those same people I can’t believe homeless people have pets. They shouldn’t have them. So it’s there’s so much discrimination and that’s exactly what we talk about with Animal Farm bringing dogs and people together to end discrimination. That’s exactly what we’re talking about.
Shannon [00:29:39] Well I need a word of advice is you know if you’re on social media and someone maybe a rescue or an organization or a person is talking about a dog that was surrendered due to housing issues and your first instinct is to say “I would rather live in my car than give up my dog.” I would strongly suggest that you don’t type that.
Nikki [00:30:06] And instead say “hey have you heard of my people’s family. It’s a great resource for people that are surrendering a dog.”
Shannon [00:30:09] Right or even just say “Gosh I wish there are resources to keep pets like this out of our shelters.” You know it’s trying to start a conversation instead of talking about a subgroup of people that you know are really amazing folks that have had to make really tough choices in their life.
Regina [00:30:31] Yeah. And also for rescues and shelters who make posts like that. You know some time now I’ve noticed so much more people are saying no judgment. You know in their posts and everything but some still do that. You know… “This sweet dog was cruelly surrendered. The owners were moving!!!” Several exclamation points you know to try to incite that judgment. And I feel like rescues and shelters should know better because they’re in the business of saving lives and bringing dogs and people together. And judgment has no place in doing that.
Shannon [00:31:10] Absolutely because there are probably millions of instances every single year of families that need to surrender their dogs because of housing. And while My Pit Bull Is Family is providing a resource that no one else is providing in the country we can’t do it all. And we know that there are apartments that don’t fit the qualifications that folks need. You know whether it be that they have a criminal background or they have low income or there’s just not an apartment in the area that they want that there are cases where our families need to make that’s really really tough choice and they are going to surrender their pets. And it’s one that no one wants to me.
Regina [00:31:58] OK now I think we’re ready to wrap up or we’re going to think of something else.
Shannon [00:32:02] Well Shannon thank you so much for coming on and telling everybody about what you do and really just thank you for doing doing such hard and amazing work at the same time. I know that you work really hard every day and you’re really passionate about what you do. So thank you so much for that.
Shannon [00:32:22] Absolutely and just thank you to Animal Farm for supporting us as well. I mean we wouldn’t be able to send out our information to our partners without your help. So we’re really thankful.
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