Durham County

How the cost of housing is even impacting Durham’s dogs

Sophie Mendoza, 2, watches the contests with her dogs Tinkerbell and Max (left) at Barktoberfest on Sunday in Durham Central Park. Hundreds of dog lovers and their pets gathered at the event held by Durham Parks and Recreation and Beyond Fences (formerly the Coalition to Unchain Dogs).
Sophie Mendoza, 2, watches the contests with her dogs Tinkerbell and Max (left) at Barktoberfest on Sunday in Durham Central Park. Hundreds of dog lovers and their pets gathered at the event held by Durham Parks and Recreation and Beyond Fences (formerly the Coalition to Unchain Dogs). mschultz@heraldsun.com

Things didn’t look good for Cinderella.

The reddish-brown German shepherd mix had always been more of a people dog, friendlier to humans than other canines.

When her owners had to find a new home several years ago, they could not find another home where they could afford to keep her.

So Amanda Arrington, founder of Beyond Fences (formerly the Coalition to Unchain Dogs), attended a forum in a Durham neighborhood last month to hear what the candidates had to say about affordable housing

Cinderella’s home eventually fell into disrepair; the property was sold years later and redeveloped.

“I just thought it was so ironic that there was this forum at a place where we had [built] a [dog] fence and that house was torn down,” Arrington said.

But more on Cinderella in a moment.

On Sunday, hundreds of dog lovers gathered in Durham Central Park for Barktoberfest. The event, held by Durham Parks and Recreation and Beyond Fences, raised about $10,000 for Beyond Fences, which helps low-income pet owners in Durham.

The group has built over 1,000 fences for dogs in the past decade and has since expanded its focus. It keeps in touch after building a fence or paying for a spay/neuter surgery, sometimes coming back with fresh straw for an outdoor dog house or taking a pet in for shots because the family doesn’t have a car.

Lately, it’s been getting more calls from clients losing their homes – and afraid of losing their pets.

“It was always sort of sprinkled throughout our work,” Arrington said Monday. “Housing is a tough issue for people living in poverty in general.”

“Then [beginning] a few years ago we just felt like we were overwhelmed with the number of people who had been in the program for years and all of a sudden had to move.”

“It was every single day,” she said.

Displacement

There is little research on the displacement of pets due to gentrification.

In 2015, an ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) study examined the “re-homing” of cats and dogs in the United States.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed Open Journal of Animal Sciences, estimated 1 million households re-home, or surrender, their pets every year. About one-third give their pet to a friend or family member, one-third give their pet to a shelter, and the rest give them to a vet, a stranger or set them loose.

The most common reasons cited were the pets themselves (46 percent), family situations (27 percent) and housing issues (18 percent). For respondents who rented instead of owned their home, however, housing issues were the No. 1 reason for giving up a pet.

Anecdotally some animal shelters have reported upticks on animals being surrendered by people who have to move when property is sold or redeveloped.

The Animal Protection Society of Durham has seen an overall decrease in cat and dogs coming into the East Club Boulevard shelter as its spay/neuter and education programs help reduce unwanted animals in the county.

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Angelo Illiano and Yuri Cain, with Bob the pug took third place as “Where’s Waldo” clones in the look-alike contest at Barktoberfest on Sunday in Durham Central Park. Hundreds of dog lovers and their pets gathered at the event held by Durham Parks and Recreation and Beyond Fences (formerly the Coalition to Unchain Dogs). Mark Schultz mschultz@heraldsun.com

From October 2016 through September 2017, the shelter took in 4,736 animals. That included 1,319 animals surrendered at the front desk or to an animal control officer in the field.

“I would say the number one response (given at the desk) is that there’s nothing wrong with the animal, it’s because they have nowhere for that animal to go,” executive director Shafonda Davis said.

Displacement has always been a factor in people giving up their pets, Davis said.

One type of displacement cited for surrenders – evictions – was higher a few years ago during the recession. There were 136 animals surrendered to the shelter due to eviction in 2008, compared to 63 in 2016, she said.

But Davis said because Beyond Fences works mostly in East Durham and other areas affected by rising housing costs, it makese sense that they are getting more calls.

“Their clientele is in the areas [where people] are being displaced by gentrification, so they’re seeing it more,” she said.

Affordability

Many Durham neighborhoods, especially those near downtown, have seen property values double and triple in recent years.

In order to afford a two-bedroom apartment, a family needs to earn $31,778 a year, according to Stronger Together, a partnership of the N.C. Housing Coalition and the N.C. Community Development Initiative and Initiative Capital.

Most experts consider housing to be affordable when it requires no more than 30 percent of a houshold’s total income.

That’s out of reach for many in Durham County, where the coalition estimates 45 percent of renters and 22 percent of homeowners – just over 39,000 households total – pay more than that.

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Danielle O’Neille throws a Frisbee to Ratchet the border collie on Sunday in Durham Central Park. Hundreds of dog lovers and their pets gathered for Barktoberfest held by Durham Parks and Recreation and Beyond Fences (formerly the Coalition to Unchain Dogs). Mark Schultz mschultz@heraldsun.com

Arrington works full time as the director of Pets for Life, a program of the Humane Society of the United States modeled on the volunteer-driven Beyond Fences.

Beyond Fences has tried many things to help people keep their pets, she said.

They’ve talked with landlords. They have arranged discounts at kennels “until just financially it became impossible for us.” They have built temporary fences at relatives’ houses.

In some cases, when the family has no transportation, they have taken the dog to the shelter.

“We’ll sit and cry with them and hold their hand,” Arrington said. Voluteers will visit the shelter a few days later, and “we’ll let the family know we saw her yesterday.”

Cinderella’s story

Arrington thinks all people should be able to have pets, even if they may have difficulty paying for them.

“I think it would be very sad if pets became an option only for the wealthy,” she said. “Pets bring joy. They bring comfort, and they bring unconditional love.”

“That shouldn’t depend on ZIP codes or where you come from,” she said.

The family that had to give up Cinderella has struggled to regain its footing, Arrington continued.

And for a while, the German shepherd mix did too.

Her stoic, “old soul” demeanor didn’t connect with those passing her cage at the shelter. Two months passed.

And then a new family adopted her.

They brought her to Barktoberfest on Sunday.

Her new name is Bella.

Mark Schultz: 919-829-8950; @HeraldSunEditor

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