Many state-run or municipal-run public housing agencies allow pets for some people with certain restrictions. For instance, tenants in public housing developments in California who are either disabled or 60 or older may keep up to two small pets per apartment. Minnesota, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia also allow elderly and disabled tenants in state-owned housing to have pets. On the municipal level, the Boston Housing Authority allows a maximum of two pets in one- and two-bedroom apartments and a maximum of three pets in three-bedroom apartments. One town over, the Cambridge Housing Authority allows only birds and fish in their family developments, while cats and dogs are allowed in the elderly developments.
In certain instances, people suffering from a mental or physical illness can apply for "reasonable accommodation" exemptions under the American Disability Act by citing the therapeutic benefits of their pets. Likewise, parents with children afflicted with certain disabilities such as autism may also qualify to get an allowance for pets. These requests often require a note from a doctor or medical professional. They are usually decided on a case-by-case basis.
Another complication adding to the issue of pet homelessness is the role of breed-specific bans.
As many as 17 states have county agencies with bans on specific breeds of dogs in public housing. One of the most well-known cases is in New York City, where the New York City Housing Authority banned the new ownership of more than 25 dog breeds, including American pit bull terriers, Rottweilers and dobermans. The ban applied to new ownership and to those tenants who already owned qualifying dogs but failed to register their dogs and provide valid vet records by a deadline.
When the ban went into effect in May 2009, 113 dogs were immediately surrendered to the New York City Animal Care and Control Centers, 49 of which were euthanized.
In August, the Obama administration released a statement criticizing housing bans and other forms of breed specific legislation, or BSL. The statement was the official response to an online petition that called for a federal law outlawing regulations that target dogs by breed and which has so far garnered more than 30,000 signatures.
The administration didn't support a federal ban directly, but did say it was in agreement with the American Bar Association's formal call for "breed-neutral laws."
For many people with pets struggling to find or keep housing, the administration's response is not enough.
According to the nonprofit Pet Partners, "people can suffer, emotionally and physically, from the stress of being forced to choose between their homes and their pets, and animals are often needlessly abandoned and euthanized."