By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Councilman Gary Kendrick with his late dog, Ocho.
November 15, 2023 (El Cajon)—By a unanimous vote, El Cajon City Council members approved allocating $30,000 for the Humane Society to provide shelter for dogs belonging to homeless people for up to 30 days, providing the person enters a program for the homeless. The individual can choose any homeless program, in El Cajon or elsewhere, to help them get off the streets. The measure also funds up to $2,000 in veterinary care per pet.
“It’s removing one more barrier to getting people off the street,” says Councilman Gary Kendrick, who introduced the measure, noting that local homeless shelters won’t accept pets. “A lot are saying, `I don’t want to lose my dog, so I won’t go into a program.”
The homeless person can retrieve their dog from the Humane Society after they complete a program in 30 days, or sooner if they choose. “They can leave the program and get their dog bag at any time,” assures Kendrick, a dog owner.
The city allocated $30,000 for the first year of the program. That includes $2,000 for the city to create contracts for everyone in the program. The cost for the Humane Society to shelter a dog for 30 days is $400 per animal.
The shelter will provide medical care for pets, up to the $2,000 per-dog limit, including vaccinations and treatment of medical conditions, as well as dog licensing.
“Chances are the dog will be a lot better coming out than he was coming in,” Kendrick told East County Magazine in an interview after the vote.
The city of Carlsbad has a similar program, but it only provides only two weeks of shelter for homeless pets.
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, a medical practitioner accustomed to treating homeless people experiencing mental health crisis situations, pointed out that two weeks is not enough time for a person to get clean if they are addicted to drugs or alcohol, so El Cajon opted for 30 days.
The Councilmembers have long been empathetic to the homeless. Two councilmembers, Michelle Metschel and Phil Ortiz, have been homeless in the past. Councilman Kendrick has taken homeless people into his home for temporary lodging after they completed a program to help them transition off the streets. Councilman Steve Goble has helped build emergency sleeping cabins for the homeless. Mayor Wells, also a musician, headlines a concert each year to raise money for the East County Transitional Living Center, a shelter that provides services to help homeless people and families transition off the streets.
“After 30 days, I think they’re in a lot better frame of mind,” says Kendrick of the new program to enable help for homeless people without making them give up their beloved pets. “I hope we spend the entire $30,000, because it gets people off the streets. That’s the goal.”