By Justin Chapman
Despite vague apprehensions, concerns, and fears, including a pet into the family is beneficial not just to that family, but to neighbors and even their landlord, Dr. Gary Michelson said during a Pet Week on Capitol Hill discussion in October. “Now is precisely the right time to rethink the policies and procedures that have been mandated by government or imposed by businesses that interfere with a family’s ability to have a pet in rental housing.”
Michelson, co-chair of Michelson Philanthropies and founder of Michelson Found Animals Foundation (MFA), was joined by Steve Feldman, president of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), for a discussion of MFA’s work on pet-inclusive housing policies and animal welfare. Watch the full conversation here.
Hosted by HABRI, Pet Week on Capitol Hill brings together members of Congress, industry leaders, the veterinary community, animal welfare advocates, and research organizations to share information about the importance of pet ownership in America and scientific evidence that shows how policies that strengthen the human-animal bond can improve wellbeing for both people and companion animals.”
Feldman explained that MFA and HABRI recently formed a partnership to create the Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative (PIHI) to address the issue of creating more homes for pets, especially when it comes to rental housing. PIHI published a data-rich report this summer that explored the benefits of truly pet-inclusive housing policies.
“Over the past 10 years HABRI has been a steadfast voice for change on Capitol Hill and all of us would like to add our voices to promote change in support of the human-animal bond,” Michelson said, expounding the emotional connection people have to their pets. “Seventy percent of U.S. households have at least one cat or dog. Their cats or dogs are family members—sentient, feeling, loving, each with their own personalities. For some, they are a relief line to the pain of loneliness.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many feared shelters would be flooded with animals that people could no longer afford to care for. Instead, Michelson pointed out, the opposite happened.
“The benefits of allowing these pets far outweigh the possible downsides.”
—Dr. Gary Michelson
Michelson argued that policies should be based on hard data, such as the statistics provided in the PIHI report. The report found that only 8 percent of rental properties in America are freely open to families with pets.
“There are 48.2 million rental units in the United States and yet less than 10 percent of those units have a pet,” he said. “It would be fair to assume if there were no pet restrictions, that two-thirds of that number would have a cat or dog. That’s more than all the cats and dogs in all the shelters in the country.”
Michelson said MFA advocates for removing pet restrictions from public housing and educating legislators that where pets are allowed, the benefits far outweigh any problems.
“What we’re really asking for is to remove all of the restrictions against people having pets,” he said. “And that means that landlords will allow pets, they’ll allow more than one pet, there won’t be a size or weight restriction, and there won’t be breed prohibitions.”
He pointed out that there is also a compelling economic argument for allowing pets into rental housing.
“The thing that hurts landlords the most is when tenants get up and leave, because that disrupts their revenue stream,” he explained. “There’s always work to be done to rehabilitate the unit when somebody moves out and it’s months before they re-rent it. So if they can retain a good tenant, that’s valuable to them.”
Allowing pets enables good tenants to remain in their units, which benefits both tenants and landlords. Another benefit, Michelson pointed out, is that pets create friendly neighbors because it encourages people to talk to each other.
“They come over and talk to your dog and your cat before they talk to you and all of a sudden you have good neighbors and a sense of community and all those things are positive benefits for the landlord, socially and economically,” he said. “The benefits of allowing these pets far outweigh the possible downsides.”
Feldman pointed out that the research MFA and HABRI funded goes even beyond housing and found that pets are good for people’s mental and physical health. He asked about other areas of animal welfare that MFA has worked on.
In another innovation to keep pets out of shelters, Michelson explained that MFA has been working to develop a single-dose injectable sterilant for cats and dogs that would not interfere with their growth, health, or development, but rather render them sterile.
“If you could lower the intake of cats and dogs into shelters by 50 percent, you would lower the euthanasia rate by almost 95 percent,” he said. Many years in development, the single-dose sterilant project has been “a very large investment, but we have an answer in hand, so it’s going to pay off. It is going to change the world.”
Watch the full conversation here.