How easy is it to own a dog in your area?

We were recently asked to examine the facilities and resources in our various regions that would enable a person with limited means or mobility to have a pet.  Here’s what I came up with:

Map It Exercise –  Rhode Island

The following is a summary of information I found in my home state of Rhode Island (RI), using the ANZ 524 rubric to assess the level of difficulty for a low-income person to keep a pet dog in this state.

Housing

Rhode Island has two types of housing assistance for qualifying persons: public housing, which is administered by the state; and housing subsidized under the federal HUD Section 8, which is managed by municipalities under state and federal guidelines.  Companion animals are not allowed in state-owned public housing.   Individual landlords who rent under Section 8 can make their own rules regarding pets, if they comply with federal laws regarding assistance animals.  Elderly and disabled persons can have pets, if they provide a deposit for any damage.  Landlords can implement breed restrictions for subsidized apartments at their discretion, within the limits of HUD requirements, and must comply with HUD guidelines on pet deposits.

There is a shortage of affordable housing in RI.  A May 2017 study estimated that 3,000 additional units will be needed in coming years.

I found twelve fenced, off-leash dog parks in RI.  They are scattered throughout the state and are easily accessible.

Veterinary Care

RI has no shortage of veterinarians, including specialists and emergency clinics.

The Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association Companion Animal Foundation (RIVMA CAF) provides subsidized care, or vouchers for low-income pet owners.  It also provides grants for participating veterinarians to provide care for low income pet owners.  The Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA) has Marvin’s Fund, which provides assistance to eligible elderly and low-income pet owners, as well as the Pets In Need low cost veterinary clinic.

The RISPCA runs a low-cost clinic that provides full services and surgery for low-income pet owners.  In addition, the Potter League for Animals runs a monthly health clinic that offers low cost vaccinations, prescriptions and wellness checks.  PAAWS.org and the RI Community Spay/Neuter Clinic offer free spay and neuter services to needy owners.

Veterinarians are aware of these programs, but they are not well advertised. This is problematic, since owners who are not aware of the available aid will avoid taking their pets to the vet, assuming that they can’t afford care.

There are two local Trap/Neuter/Release programs that work in specific communities that have identified feral felines as a significant problem.

Training and behavior

I was unable to locate any training or behavioral assistance programs that are offered at no cost.  The lowest cost program that I could find was offered at PetCo and cost over $100 for six classes.  There are individual classes and behavioral consulting programs offered by certified professionals, however they tend to be very expensive.  A pet owner whose companion animal has a behavior problem has no affordable options in this state, which may compound the difficulty in finding housing.

Transportation

RI does not have a commuter rail system, but does have an extensive bus network.  Companion animals are not allowed on public transportation in this state, except for the ferries that serve the island communities.

There are several private companies that offer pet taxi services operating in this state.  They are not subsidized or geared to low income customers, although they offer discounts for regular customers.  For the most part, pet owners must provide their own transportation.

 Basic Care

I found several food banks that provide pet food for qualifying pet owners.  These include the Providence Animal Rescue League, Maggie’s Pet Pantry and Animal Rescue Rhode Island; all of which provide pet food at no cost.  The food assistance is limited to dogs and cats (up to three pets per household), for up to six months.   This is truly basic assistance, providing food but no equipment or perishable supplies.

These programs are not well advertised.  A person without internet access would have trouble locating food assistance for their pets.

Discussion

I should note that the veterinary and food bank programs are available to state residents who can provide evidence that they are receiving some form of public assistance.  This process of qualifying for assistance can take over 30 days, and can be extremely difficult for people who do not have transportation, internet access or a fixed address.  I have not found any temporary help or respite programs in this state that are based solely on financial need.  The only respite care that I found for companion animals was for owners fleeing domestic violence.

I found that support programs generally required low income people to travel to the places that are providing service.  I would like very much to see the veterinary and basic care programs deliver services to communities, reducing the need for car maintenance and fuel on the part of low income and senior pet owners.

 

Attachment:  Scoring Table for Rhode Island.

 

Category Criteria Score Comments
       
Housing Subsidized housing 2 Companion animals are not allowed in public housing, local landlord policies are applied in Section 8 subsidized housing, in keeping with federal regulations on service and support animals.  The Potter League for Animals provides respite housing for the pets of people who are hospitalized or displaced.
Housing Breed Restrictions 1 Landlords receiving housing subsidies are allowed to implement breed and size restrictions.
Housing Pet Deposits/Fees 2 Landlords receiving housing subsidies are given state guidelines for the maximum amount that can be charged.
Housing Areas for pet recreation (i.e. dog park)/”designated” pet areas 2 Most municipalities have at least one accessible dog park.
Veterinary Care Veterinarians within 20 miles 3 Numerous veterinarians throughout the area, with prices ranging from reasonable to very expensive.
Veterinary Care Discounts for those on assistance/Payment Plans/Care Credit/promissory notes 3 Low cost care is available from the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association Companion Animal Foundation (RIVMA CAF), and the RISPCA
Veterinary Care Other services for low income pet owners (e.g. clinics for S/N, vaccines, microchips etc.), vouchers for S/N, local non-profits 3 PAAWS.org and the Rhode Island Community Spay/Neuter Clinic provide free spay and neuter services.  In addition, the RISPCA has a low cost veterinary clinic that provides full services for low income patients.  The Potter League for animals has monthly health clinics that offer vaccinations, wellness checks, etc.
Veterinary Care Local programs for TNR, local public transit may or may not allow pet owners to use system to go to vet appointments 1 There are two local TNR programs that have internal capabilities for transport.  Companion animals are not allowed on public transport systems.
Training and Behavior Phone-Based Resources 0  None located.
Training and Behavior Training Classes 1 Low cost training is available through pet supply chain stores.
Training and Behavior In-Home Training 1 In home training is available, but is pricey
Training and Behavior Behavior Consulting* 1 Behavior consulting is available, but tends to be very expensive.
Transportation Public Transportation options 1 Companion animals are not allowed on public transportation, with the exception of ferries serving island communities.
Transportation Cost 1 The private companies that offer pet transportation are generally dog-walking services or pet taxis.  They have rates for regular customers, but are not discounted services.
Transportation Size/breed restrictions 3 The private companies do not have size restrictions
Transportation Flexibility of pick-up times/locations 3 The private companies have pick-up/drop-off services.
Basic Care Pet food bank and available supplies 1 There are several pet food banks for persons who qualify.  The Providence Animal Rescue League, Maggie’s Pet Pantry, and Animal Rescue Rhode Island all offer food assistance at no cost.  The services are limited to food for dogs and cats.
Basic Care Cost of goods 3 Pet food is offered at no cost to qualifying owners.
Basic Care Eligibility 2 The programs are open to all state residents who can provide qualifying information (proof of income, proof of receiving state assistance).
Basic Care Limitations on food 2 Although several pet pantries are active in Rhode Island, they provide service only for dogs and cats.  No such services are available for small or exotic animals.