‘They’re my babies’: Renters forced to give up their pets over lack of housing

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WATCH: The SPCA says a shocking number of people are being forced to give up their pets, in order to find a place to live. Grace Ke has the story – Jan 10, 2018

Just before Christmas, Grant Clarke was living in Surrey with his two cats.

But when his landlord kicked him out of his housing, he was put out on the street with nowhere to go.

He is now living on the so-called “Whalley Strip” along 135A Street. “You could describe it as hell probably,” he said.

Clarke had hoped to keep his two cats with him, as he’s owned the pair for 10 years.

But one ran away for 12 days, and both cats are scared to be in the homeless shelter, so Clarke contacted Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue (VOKRA) for help.

“They’re my family members, they’re my babies,” he said.

Clarke had worked with VOKRA before, so co-founder Maria Soroski said they agreed to help him and keep his cats safe until he can get back into housing.

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“He was in the shelter with his cats in a cardboard box. I mean, what can you do, you have to help him,” she said.

Clarke is refusing to give up his cats but that’s a reality more and more Lower Mainland residents are facing, with rental housing scarce and many landlords banning pets.

Cats have been left on the steps of VOKRA’s offices because the owners can no longer keep them and find appropriate rental housing.

Last October, this cat ‘Little Girl‘ was left outside with a note saying the owner was sorry but they couldn’t find a home that would accept pets.

Soroski said Little Girl’s sad reality has become all too familiar to staff at VOKRA.

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“We get calls weekly, dozens and dozens of calls from people who own cats who have to give them up, for various reasons, but the top reason in the last two years seems to have been housing, housing issues,” she said.

“We can’t take them, but we try to advise them on posting on different things like Craigslist and such, which isn’t great on finding a home for their cat, but asking all their relatives, their friends if they can take the cat.”

“A lot of shelters are full.”

VOKRA takes in homeless cats off the street, not owner surrenders.

Pets OK BC has been calling for the province to change rules that let landlords ban pets from rental suites.

About five pets a day, on average, are surrendered to the BC SPCA because of owner’s housing issues.

The SPCA said about 1,700 pets were turned in last year because of housing issues alone, about the same number as in 2016.

Pets OK BC co-founder Eliot Galan said attempts to have tenancy rules allowing a “no pet” policy amended went nowhere with the previous BC Liberal government, and that the BC NDP seems equally uninterested.

“The housing minister, Selina Robinson, has not yet met with us. She sent her assistants to meet with us, [and] they briefed her on the situation,” he said.
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“But it appears she’s really not taking this seriously.”

READ MORE: Amid housing crunch, B.C. group wants to stop landlords from banning pets

Soroski said she agrees, the solution is to allow pets in housing.

“With less than one per cent vacancy and such a high percentage that don’t take pets, it’s leaving people with no options,” she said.

“Usually they get a renoviction or an eviction notice because of the housing, or can’t find housing or they’re on a deadline, a tight deadline of finding the cats a home,” she said.

WATCH: Originally aired June 5 – A Vancouver city councillor wants to re-open the always thorny issue of whether landlords should be allowed to prohibit pets. Catherine Urquhart reports.

Aside from pets being surrendered or being left outside the VOKRA offices, Soroski said she has also noticed another trend.

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“What we’ve found in the last two years is a huge spike of tame, stray cats in Vancouver,” she said.

“And not all of them have been fixed so they’re breeding out there and giving birth to kittens in backyards and under garages and such.

“What I do is I go there, the person calls me and says the person moved and left [the cat] behind.

“But a lot of times, all their furniture is out on the front lawn because the landlord has evicted them or whatever, or they’ve moved, or they’ve left all the supplies for the cat, the litter box and toys and everything and there’s the cat sitting in front of the empty house. I get calls from people about these strays and they say they just left the cat. I’m sure it’s because of housing.”

She said it’s become such a huge issue in the last year that she has been out dozens of times to go and pick up the cats herself.

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“They’re terrified they’ve been left behind, you can tell they’re indoor cats and they’ve just been left,” she said.

“If the shelter is full, if the SPCA is full, if all the other shelters are full, what choice do they have?”

In the past year, VOKRA has taken in 1,400 cats, including 600 kittens, from all over the Lower Mainland.

“The solution is allowing pets in housing,” she said. “That’s the solution. And the other solution is spay and neutering.”

The BC SPCA hospital will do free spay and neutering for low-income owners.

“You are allowed one pet in B.C. Housing, only on the first three floors, but some people have multiple pets,” added Soroski.

“Our housing is just a mess to begin with. If it’s less than one per cent there’s a lot of people scrambling for housing.”

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver pet owner demands changes to rental rules

Clarke is one of those people now desperately trying to find a home where he can live with his two cats again, but he said it’s tough with the conditions on 135A.

“Seems like nobody’s going anywhere here because if you don’t look after your belongings all day the city comes along and throws your stuff out,” he said.

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“Coming here is a bad, bad thing to happen to me.”

He is struggling to get back on his feet but he’s refusing to give up his two cats.

“My cats are looked after thanks to VOKRA. My cats are my family. I love my animals.”

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