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New partnership to keep unsheltered and their pets together

By Kristen Hackbarth

Women and families who are experiencing homelessness will have the opportunity to keep their pets with them at the Our Place shelter through a new collaboration between Washoe County’s Regional Animal Services and Human Services Agency.

Our Place opened less than a year ago at the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services campus in Sparks.

The partnership will help to meet the basic needs of pets with “welcome kits” for the animals, including food and vaccines, a crate or bed, bowls, leashes or litter boxes. Both organizations also created a system to ensure the pets are cared for and health and safety are prioritized.

“One of the barriers we saw most often was the inability for those with pets to access shelter,” said Kimberly Schweickert, an HSA coordinator. “When creating Our Place, we knew we wanted to be as inclusive as possible and eliminate barriers to those experiencing homelessness from seeking shelter.”

According to Feeding Pets of the Homeless, a Carson City-based nonprofit, “many shelters, motels and other assisted housing programs do not want to have pets on their property, due to health department restrictions, and safety of the others they serve.”

But for unsheltered people, pets are often a lifeline, providing comfort, warmth and security along with companionship.

In February, having a pet was thought to be one of the obstacles to getting more unsheltered people inside and out of the cold as a winter storm swept through the region. At the time Dana Searcy, who runs Washoe County’s Built For Zero program, said they’d put together over 350 empty beds in the community, some of which went unfilled.

Since then, local officials announced the addition of a “safe camp” area on the new “Super Shelter” campus which could potentially allow for individuals to access services and keep their pets. Plans for the shelter include pet facilities, but, according to Acting Assistant City Manager Arlo Stockham, that’s not part of the project’s first phase.

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