Free Program Keeps Displaced Pets Out of Shelters

Temporary Pet Guardians matches pet owners with guardians who care for the animals until their owners can retrieve them.

Temporary Pet Guardians

Courtesy of Temporary Pet Guardians

For Maya Richmond, the coronavirus pandemic brought back memories of the housing crisis in 2008 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Both led to a wave of lost homes and overflowing animal shelters. This time, Richmond, executive director of the nonprofit Animal Welfare Association in Voorhees, was determined to keep displaced pets out of shelters. In April, she initiated Temporary Pet Guardians, a free program that matches pet owners with guardians who care for the animals until their owners can retrieve them.

The idea came about when Richmond’s neighbor was forced to sell her house to pay legal bills for her jailed husband. The woman, who worked during the day and slept on friends’ couches at night, managed to keep her dog, but not Sidney, her cat. Richmond, who has two dogs and two cats of her own, took in Sidney for six months, until the woman saved up enough to find a place to live. “I felt bad for the cat,” says Richmond. “I wanted to make sure he was safe.”

The experience got Richmond thinking about other homeless pet owners. “They are often too embarrassed to ask for help,” she says. “It’s easier for someone else to connect them with a willing volunteer.” Temporary Pet Guardians matches pet owners and volunteers through the organization’s website. To date, 28 animals, mostly dogs, have been placed in temporary homes. The guardian and owner work together to decide what each can provide in the way of food and routine medical care, while the original owner remains responsible for any emergency medical costs.

[RELATED: The Poignant Stories Behind 3 Local Animal Sanctuaries]

Richmond predicts that once New Jersey’s moratorium on evictions ends (60 days after termination of the state’s health emergency), a growing number of people will be homeless, creating an even greater need for the service. The program serves mostly South Jersey, but pet owners elsewhere can apply for help. “We wanted to create a program to help people and their pets,” says Richmond. “We’re preparing for the [eviction crisis] that’s going to happen.”

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