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Calgary woman says the cost of renting with a pet has forced her to live in her truck

For two months, Amanda Lease and her four-year-old dog Krue have been living in her pickup truck — sleeping in underground parkades and in front of friends’ houses in Calgary.

Lease can’t find a rental she can afford, let alone one that accepts pets, she says.

“The housing crisis in this city has put us in this position,” she said.

“Even if you find something in your price range that will allow an animal, they hold bidding wars and take whoever’s got the highest budget.”

She says it’s been hot and stressful, but she would rather be in this situation than give up Krue — she needs him and he needs her.

A blue heeler mix sitting on a bed in the back of a truck
Krue is a four-year-old blue heeler mix who was rescued from an abusive home. (Submitted by Amanda Lease)

Lease isn’t the only one. Some animal welfare services are facing peak demand, in big part from Calgarians who can’t find affordable pet-friendly rentals. Some organizations are noticing more people choosing to go unhoused, while others are struggling to keep up with surrenders.

That’s as Calgary’s rent prices continue to increase and the rental vacancy rate remains at a near-decade low, according to the latest data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. 

‘Giving up a basic need’

In Calgary, Parachutes for Pets aims to help low-income pet owners before they resort to animal shelters.

Founder Melissa David says yesterday alone, she received 11 calls for help from pet owners in the city who have recently become unhoused.

Atop the increasing cost of rent and tight rental vacancy, David says having a pet has become a major barrier to finding a home.

“Our pets are our family. We can’t just simply surrender them to find a home. So now we’re giving up a basic need to stay with our family, and it’s horrifying and it’s really stressful,” said David.

A woman sits behind three dogs in an animal facility with cages in the background.
Parachutes for Pets founder Melissa David and her dogs Hudson, Jack and Charlie. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

She says some pet owners are paying upwards of $300 for pet fees. Others are waiting in line-ups with dozens of other applicants to view pet-friendly rentals, she says.

At this rate, David says she’s expecting the organization to receive 150 per cent more requests than they did last year.

113 animals surrendered so far this year

Last September, CBC Calgary looked into this issue and reported that about 100 animals per year are surrendered because their owners can’t find a place to accept them.

It’s only August, and the Calgary Humane Society has already surpassed that number.

So far this year, 113 people have surrendered their pets because they couldn’t find pet-friendly housing — compared with 68 animals surrendered in all of 2022 for that reason.

That’s according to Anna-Lee Fitzsimmons, a manager with the organization.

She says an estimated 20 per cent of available housing allows pets.

“I don’t think that landlords in this city really comprehend and understand how many animals are becoming homeless and ending up in shelters because there is no access to pet friendly housing, or not enough access out there,” said Fitzsimmons.

Anna-Lee Fitzsimmons, a manager with the Calgary Humane Society, is pictured with her dog, Riley.
Anna-Lee Fitzsimmons, a manager with the Calgary Humane Society, is pictured with her dog, Riley. (Submitted by Anna-Lee Fitzsimmons)

Breed- and size-specific rules, plus hefty pet fees, are a big barrier for pet owners, she says.

She says it’s important that landlords are ensuring they’re renting to responsible pet owners, but she wonders if there are different approaches to measuring that — like requesting copies of spay and neuter certificates, copies of vaccine records or even meeting the animal.

Short-term pet safekeeping space opening soon

Back at Parachute for Pets, David is working on opening up a short-term pet safekeeping space at their new pet advocacy centre that officially opens in September.

The idea is to provide pets a safe space for at least a month while their owners focus on finding housing, so they don’t have to give them up permanently.

David says they’re looking at a capacity of 20 to 25 pets in house, but they’re working on partnerships with local kennels and boarding facilities for long-term or specialized spaces.

In the meantime, she says her organization has pet food hampers and other resources, and she often refers clients to a pet-friendly shelter in Strathmore.

She says longer-term solutions are also needed.

“I’d love to hear something from the city that they’re taking a realistic approach or enacting some sort of plan to address this sooner rather than later,” said David.

Both Parachute for Pets and the Calgary Humane Society say they’re in need of volunteers to help with the growing demand.

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