Photo by Matt Nelson on Unsplash

No Wonder Animal Shelters Are So Full

Blame it on landlords.

dm freeman
Feb 21, 2018 · 5 min read

We’re not ready to buy a house just yet. My wife and I have been married just under a year and we’re still figuring that out. We also live in an economically-depressed area where jobs are in short supply, but I’ve been here since my daughter was a toddler and we’ve built up a beautiful, supportive and close-knit community of friends. At the moment we really love it here, but we’re also not sure yet if this is the place we want to buy property (more on that later, but I married a Canadian, and we’re kind of eyeing that, too, because seriously).

For the moment though, we live in this little 620 square foot shitshack of a cabin that we love. It’s on the same piece of property as another house where my friends and their children are ensconced, and it’s cheap AF, but yeah, it’s small, and it’s also very, very old.

My current landlord is incredible, though— he grew up on this property, never wants to sell it, and pretty much just wants to keep renting it out to people who love it. The problem is, our cabin just imploded.

A few months ago, we had all sorts of septic issues. My wife and I, newly married, suddenly found ourselves learning how to install toilets ourselves and my landlord had a new leech field installed. We then had a rat infestation, and simultaneously, after dropping $500 to have the propane tank refilled, we discovered our stove was infested (gross, I realize, but also fairly common), leaked propane and was marked unusable by the propane company. Literally about five minutes later, the pilot light on our ancient water heater refused to relight. Our gracious landlord had a new one sitting on our porch within about six hours, but when the plumber came to install it, we discovered the plumbing was not, in the slightest, up to modern code. The plumber, unwilling to risk his license, walked out the door.

I admit, we sound like the worst kind of people to rent to — not only do we have two big old dogs and a cat, but I’ve also got a seven year old. The thing is? None of the critters in my care — canine, feline or human — are destructive. My daughter has never taken sharpie to the walls. My old dogs have never chewed the woodwork. The rare carpet accident is always resolved by the immediate rental of a carpet cleaner. Our carpet is spotless. All it took was a meeting for my landlord to assess all the members of our family and we were granted the chance to move in and stay.

When he announced it was time to begin the major renovations, I admit I panicked a little. He wasn’t asking us to leave, but he was letting us know we were about to be amidst a major construction zone. I’m a homebody. I like my home comforts. I like knitting and Netflix, for chrissakes. While simultaneously excited about the prospect of updated plumbing and electrical, I also headed over to craigslist to see if we had any alternative options.

Trying to find a rental around here when you have two decently-sized dogs is nigh impossible. Landlords like mine apparently don’t exist around here anymore unless they’re renting out a grow house (this is California) for exorbitant amounts of money. Otherwise, they’re all moving to AirBnB because it’s easier than dealing with long-term tenants. About the only kind of tenant they want in their rental property is a ghost, it seems.

Rather than actually put any effort into it — meeting prospective renters and their pets, offering an extra deposit option — most landlords simply write you off instantly. NO PETS.

Here’s the thing though: rent to people like us, and you’re guaranteed people who are really, really grateful (“grateful” in our world also translates to “respectful”). We’ve got pets, and they’re not the sort you can carry around in a stupid little bag. This means we need space we can settle into for a bit. We’re newlyweds trying to figure out our future trajectory, so we want to be able to relax and not have to constantly move all the time. We’ve got a kid enrolled in the local charter school, and we’re both employed locally (and in my case, also online, and I rent an office/studio space in town where I operate those endeavors). We’re stable people looking for a stable life, but we’re not ready to buy just yet. This doesn’t mean we don’t deserve stability in our lives, however.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, 63 percent of US families have at least one pet. At least 35 percent of the US population also relies on rental housing. And the worst? 6–8 million animals enter shelters every single year, with one of the most common reasons cited as moving issues. As an avid animal rescue follower on Facebook, I see this all the time too — sad pleas from people forced to give up a beloved family member in order to keep a roof over their heads.

This is ridiculous. This is painful. This is awful. Most animals that enter a “shelter” never exit one except in a body bag. That’s the sad truth of things.

It seems however, that money is the only thing that talks anymore, so I’ll leave you with one last statistic: it costs nearly 2.5 billion dollars a year to deal with all these shelter animals, most of whom will never, ever find another home.

My animals? Guess where they came from? One of them was dumped in the wilderness; the other one was dumped in a shelter after being a hunter’s breeder for years — she’d outlived her usefulness to him. The Maine Coon? Got her off Facebook when her previous owners lost their house (landlord sold it out from under them) — they couldn’t find another rental and they were forced to part with their pets. Thank god I was there to take their old cat off their hands. And thank god I’ve got a decent landlord, too.

Pepper, my big old rescue Maine Coon kitty, doing her job. Thanks baby girl!

dm freeman

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Compulsive storyteller.