Every state tenant and his dog

State tenants should have the right to have dogs. This is because all New Zealanders have the right to have dogs.

It was revealed yesterday that Housing NZ has tightened its policy on state tenants and dogs. Tenants will only be able to have dogs in “exceptional circumstances”. The new policy won’t affect people who have animals that support them with disabilities, or for whom the dog provides therapeutic support.

Instead it will affect those people who have a dog for the reason most people have pets: because they like them. This will have consequences: one US study found that even for “everyday” people (people who do not face significant life stressors), pets provide many benefits. Pet-owners were happier, healthier, and better adjusted than non pet-owners. They were more likely to experience feelings of belonging, self-esteem and a sense that life was meaningful. They were better able to stave off feelings of rejection. Pet ownership is a path to independence, rather than the barrier described by Housing NZ.

Of course, many people cannot experience these benefits. People who don’t like dogs, like me. People who live in apartments or other buildings not suitable for dogs. Many private renters live in homes whose owners do not allow pets. But private renters, at least in theory, have the option of looking for a house that allows a dog.

Housing NZ is happy to help tenants move to the private rental sector if they are unable to meet their needs under the new policy regarding dogs. In effect, Housing NZ is offering tenants a choice between keeping their pet, and moving to the private rental sector. Choose your home, or your pet.

For a new state tenant who may have to choose between a state home and keeping her dog, the choice is also difficult: a state house has advantages over a private rental, including the fact that it’s more likely to be safe and warm.

When the idea of the stricter policy was first announced, Housing NZ said that disallowing most dogs would save the taxpayer money spent in staff time, in cleaning up the damage made by dogs, and in others costs that dogs incur such as vet bills. But a wider view of the costs would include considering the wellbeing costs of giving up a dog – as well as the costs to wellbeing of giving up a home in order to keep a dog.

Furthermore, stigma is a key problem experienced by tenants of the state worldwide. We should be working on eliminating the things that make a state tenant child feel or be perceived as different, rather than on creating them.

It is reasonable that state tenants should not have dogs in properties not suitable to dogs. But dog ownership should not require exceptional circumstances. In the words of Bob Kerridge of the SPCA “What they are doing is depriving families of the enjoyment of having an animal…. Unless they were causing a problem I think that would be very unfair.”

As Housing NZ tenant Chanel Brogan puts it: “I’m a grown adult – I feel discriminated against”.

Housing NZ tenants include New Zealand’s poorest people. We should consider what it means for human rights when we decide that the poorest are not allowed to have what the rest of us can have.  ImagePhoto: New Zealand Herald

Note: This also appeared in the Otago Daily Times on 27 January 2014.

1 Comment

  1. Karen Batchelor says:

    It goes very much further than discrimination and the welfare and happiness of our poorest.

    The proven health benefits and savings for our health services will be impacted especially with the aging population in NZ. Some of these people, especially those living alone, may be so distressed by the loss of their companion animal that they may even suicide.

    There are some 40,000 dogs in Housing NZ tenancies. Most of those dogs will need new homes or face death. NZ’s economy is depressed with a low wage environment, high cost of living including increased dog registrations so it’s hard to rehome dogs already without causing tenants to dump tens of thousands of them. The SPCAs and pounds will be inundated and most of those dogs – healthy dogs who had a safe home – will die.

    There will be consequences for the staff that have to carry out these killings. The people forced to participate or find another job will suffer considerable ongoing emotional distress.

    This anti-pet agenda will have a huge and far-reaching impact on our already stressed economy. 40,000 dogs that will no longer need worming, vaccinating, feeding, toys, bedding, walking etc. and a whole bunch of owners who just got a massive emotional hit and are now sedentary and depressed. Being a tenant is a rotten enough situation, especially state tenants, but being a tenant whose landlord has the power to make you kill your dog is a nightmare of unimaginable horror.

    This will affect everyone depending upon the pet care industry: vets, vet nurses, receptionists, their suppliers, their cleaners and their staff and suppliers, even dog walkers/sitters, boarding facilities, pet food manufacturers, pet shops.

    As NZ continues to so rapidly become a nation of tenants because of the housing affordability and supply crisis, and the pet population shrinks, the livelihoods of huge numbers of people are affected. That in turn will affect their ability to own their own homes and pets.

    Not the least impact has to be that on children who will be traumatised and deeply disaffected when they see Mum and Dad kill their four-legged family member to keep a roof over their heads.

    This policy is truly evil.

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