CINCINNATI — For 13 years, Dan Johnson and his cat, Snowy, were inseparable. Raising her since birth, Johnson considers the cat his family, and the retired veteran wanted nothing more than to spend his days watching TV with Snowy curled up on his lap.

Then in March, Johnson, who had been living with family, suddenly found himself faced with a difficult choice: move into a shelter and surrender his pet, or try to keep Snowy while homeless.

What You Need To Know

  • Between 5-25% of homeless people have pets.

  • Found House takes in pets for temporary shelter while their owners look for housing.

  • Most animals stay for around 70 days.

  • The program also offers food, medical care, and housing assistance.

“I don’t know what I was gonna do, but I couldn’t leave her,” Johnson said.

For her part, Snowy wasn’t well suited for separation. Besides Johnson, there are few others with whom she’ll socialize rather than hide.

“She’s just like a daughter to me,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t go nowhere without her.”

It’s a dilemma many families face as they deal with housing insecurity. National estimates have determined between 5-25% of homeless people have pets and as most emergency shelters take in people only, those animals often end up living on the streets with their owners or surrendered in already crowded animal care facilities.

Snowy has been staying at Found House since March. (Spectrum News 1/ Michelle Alfini)

In Cincinnati, Found House, formerly the Interfaith Housing Network, has been working to provide a third option, temporary shelter for pets, while their owners get back on their feet and find safe, pet-friendly housing.

Garrett Parsons is the director of the pet support program, which runs on donations, volunteer work, and grant funding. Through the week, Parsons manages the kennel, which houses a few dozen dogs and cats in the hopes that both they and their owners can find a forever home together.

“Our average length of stay for 2022 is 70 days,” Parsons said.

For longer stays, Parsons said he tries to get animals out in foster homes, but in about 80% of cases, he said pets end up back with their owners. Those that don’t, end up adopted.

“A lot of the times it’s because of the lack of pet-inclusive affordable housing and sometimes pet owners just have so much going on they’re going through so many crises they know their pet is safe with us they make that hard decision,” he said.

Since the program got off the ground about seven years ago, Parsons said it’s helped keep more than a hundred wanted pets out of Hamilton County’s already crowded shelters, and helped dozens of families hold on to their furriest members.

He acknowledges the program is fairly unique. There aren’t many organizations dedicating this many resources to the pets of homeless people, which Parsons believes is due to misconceptions about what homelessness looks like.

Most of the clients who use Found House’s pet program are families and for most, homelessness is temporary. They may be staying in a shelter, living with family or friends, or find themselves in a situation where they can’t care for their pet for a few weeks or months.

Johnson plays with Snowy during a visit to Found House


Parsons believes, instead of treating pets like a luxury, the best way to help the animals and families in those situations is to offer whatever they need to stay together.

“I think to myself, thank goodness that animal is with them and not at the shelter because they do have enough animals there,” he said.

Besides temporary boarding, Parsons said the pet program will give food, help with medical expenses or pay pet deposits on clients’ apartments.

“Sometimes all they need is that little extra help,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the client side, Parsons said he does what he can to help them find safe, affordable pet-friendly housing, and offering owners a chance to visit and maintain a relationship with their pets in the meantime.

Johnson has been taking advantage of the help since March.

“As soon as I find housing for me and Snowy, she’ll be back home with me again,” he said.

He’s already begun the application process and hopes that the finish line is just a few weeks away. Because without Snowy, no housing would ever feel like home.

“I think about it all the time,” he said.