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5 Tips for Pet Care During Homelessness

Homelessness wasn't ever something I expected to be writing about, though why not? Let's help each other.

Our 31 year cockatiel; my autistic sons emotional support animal

Our 31 year cockatiel; my autistic sons emotional support animal

There are many many reasons why pets end up homeless with their people.

Often, they are abandoned strays themselves that found companionship and warmth at the side of a homeless human.

Other times, homelessness came for their human companion, and there was nowhere safe for them to be sent to, so their humans took them along.

In my own personal journey, when we fled my abusive family, we thought we would have an apartment to share with friends, making it feasible to take my oldest son's emotional support cockatiel with him, to help him with his autism.

His feathered companion was also being abused there, so even if I had wanted to travel with him, my son couldn't leave him there—just as I could never leave my kids there.

Then, along our journey, we thought we found a home on a farm where the rodent population was out of control, and it seemed feasible and affordable to get two barn kittens, as pest control products are far more expensive than cat food and care products.

Plus, we missed having cats, which we've always had.

Then it became clear that we weren't safe where we were, and that it would be better for our mental health and safety, to leave that situation and work to find a better one for all of us.

So we went through homelessness; for a time, with our 31-year-old cockatiel and two young barn kittens.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some tips for helping ensure they are comfortable and well cared for until you have stable housing.

1. Be Prepared to Rehome Them

In my experience, it's never easy to rehome a pet or surrender them to a shelter.

You want to do anything to keep them with you; especially when they help you get through the situation emotionally.

Though if you're not able to provide for their most basic of needs and help keep them comfortable and warm, then you're putting them through unnecessary pain.

In most cases, depending on your pet, you can care for them affordably throughout homelessness.

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Though in case you ever cannot, prepare yourself to find a way to rehome them or to surrender them to a shelter; as the alternative is that they may perish in your arms.

Our kittens Barracuda and Prometheus

Our kittens Barracuda and Prometheus

2. Make Sure They Stay Warm

With our two furry kittens who could cuddle up together and cuddle on our chests at night, it wasn't hard to keep them warm.

With my son's cockatiel, that's been more of a challenge.

Cockatiels are from Australia and are used to much warmer drier climates than we have in the Pacific Northwest.

The temperature around him should never be less than 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and even then, it's pushing it.

To keep him warm, we've relied primarily on the car's heater and getting creative to get more gas, and having a small electric space heater when we've been able to find moderate temporary shelter on farms and ranches.

There were some times in the winter when we'd try to stay with friends when our car stopped working, and their power went out, which almost took our bird.

I got creative and turned a backpack into a front-load baby carrier with warm blankets and body heat, that helped him stay comfortable and warm until the power was back on.

We also found a heater blanket gifted to us by a friend that helped keep him warm on colder nights.

With dogs and cats, blankets are also a must; though you can also buy or make them sweaters and other wearable items to help them stay warm and dry throughout your period of homelessness.

Some other ways you can create heat to keep your animal companions warm and cozy on colder days:

  • Propane heaters made for indoor use
  • Campfires
  • Wrap them in human clothing
  • Using a duffle bag with clothing
  • Using instant hand warmer packs
  • Using your body heat

3. Make Sure Your Pet Has Toys and Stimulation

Just like children, pets need regular stimulation for their mind and body.

For dogs and cats, this is often easily provided by taking them for walks and making sure they have appropriate toys for stationary times.

For birds, it's much more about interacting with them and giving them challenges to solve; any species of parrot needs this especially.

If you have another kind of pet with you, look up what its play needs are, and do your best to create situations where they can play and get exercise just like they would if you were in your own house, apartment, or cabin.

With our kittens, we take them for 2-3 daily walks; sometimes in parks, sometimes just in a friend's back yard.

We also made sure they had cardboard scratching posts, mousey toys, and sticks with strings, and we bring them new boxes they could play with until we found a use for them or used them for bedding.

With my son's cockatiel, he spent time teaching him new tricks, talking and singing to him, and every few weeks, rearranging his perches in his cage.

We also took him out when it was warm enough to do so, to meet other people and animals, which he's always enjoyed.

We found that one of his favorite things to do is to sit near wild bird feeders; at a safe distance and just watch the other birds do their thing.

In general, you just need to make sure you're not keeping them locked up all the time; either in the car or wherever you're sleeping, with nothing to do or play with.

It's no better for their mental health than if you did that in a home or apartment.

Make time for them every day, no matter what else you're going through, and they'll adapt to the rest with you.

4. Have Leashes and Harnesses

Aside from following leash laws that are required in most cities these days, having leashes and harnesses for any pet that's going through homelessness is practical and best for both of you.

If you have a canine companion with you, this is generally easier to get them used to.

Kittens are also easy to harness and leash train, as are young birds.

Older cats and birds are more of a challenge to train to wear a harness or tether and walk on a leash, though it's still important to do so.

This ensures they won't get lost in new areas, won't be taken by anyone, won't get into fights with other animals, and that they can't run out into roads and traffic.

It also helps provide a sense of security that you're the leader of the pack, kindle, or flock, and are keeping them safe.

Leash and harness training our kittens

Leash and harness training our kittens

5. Keep Them Cool When It's Hot

The weather and natural elements can present some of the greatest complications for humans and pets who are used to air conditioning and stable shelter.

When you're homeless, often it's often more about staying within areas that have resources your pets might need.

In this case, a breeze, some shady places to play and rest, and access to water to get wet and to drink.

This is often best if you can find ponds, lake beaches, and gentle creeks—which are abundant here in the Pacific Northwest.

Staying near them with your pets can help ensure that they stay cool and that if it still gets very hot, you can wet them down.

It also doubles as insurance that you're making sure you yourself are staying cool enough in the hot weather.

Most of this is most easily done if you have a working vehicle; as many parks with access to bodies of water now charge for staying overnight or they don't allow anyone to stay overnight at all, though even without access to a vehicle, you can also carry around a cheap spray bottle and wash clothes to help keep your pets cooled off.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 PermissionGiver

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