Animals, Victims of the Housing Crisis

Much has been said about the uptick in adoptions sparked by the pandemic, and many fear that these animals, often purchased impulsively from unscrupulous sources, will soon be abandoned. However, this anticipated crisis is eclipsing another and perhaps even more important one: that of moving season, a time of the year when many families who have not found an animal-friendly new home are forced to abandon their companion animal.

History repeats itself, year and again. The Montreal SPCA, like many other organizations, appeals to the solidarity of landlords and implores them to give animal guardians a chance. Quebec law allows owners to prohibit tenants’ animals in their rental units. In the current housing shortage, landlords are at an advantage, yet despite this freedom to choose their tenants, “no animals” is often checked by default.

Yet, half of Quebec households have an animal. The more fortunate among them are able to come to an agreement with their landlord, perhaps by volunteering to put down a deposit, while others just buy a home. Unfortunately, not everyone is so privileged: low-income families are most affected by no-pet clauses, given the limited availability of housing options. These are the ones who are forced to make the most heart-wrenching decisions.

In many cases, it is after months of searching and having exhausted all other options that they are forced to abandon their faithful companion. Every year, we see many dogs arrive at our shelter, but also cats and rodents. They are healthy, well-loved animals, who have spent their lives in the same household. These furry family members suddenly find themselves in a shelter just because of their guardians’ changing life circumstances (eviction for renovations, moving for work, separation and divorce, etc.).

As with many other social problems, there is a tendency to point the finger at individual actions rather than to systematic causes. People who are forced to relinquish their animal companions to shelters are treated as heartless, when they are actually the victims of injustice.

Faced with a similar issue in the mid-1990s, the Government of Ontario adopted a law invalidating any clause prohibiting the possession of animals in rental housing. The Montreal SPCA has long advocated for Quebec to follow this example. In March 2015, we launched a provincial petition, sponsored by MNA Manon Massé, to nullify no-pet clauses in residential leases. Despite overwhelming public support—over 22,000 signatures!—the provincial government refuses to take action on this issue.

We are at a deadlock. Yet, solutions to this crisis do exist. Landlords could simply show solidarity with animal-loving renters and consider their animals to be full-fledged family members.

Élise Desaulniers 
Executive Director, Montreal SPCA 

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