Cecilia Ma Li is a Sacramento Valley College Corp Fellow with Cool Davis and a fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in Animal Biology. Cecilia is from San Francisco where she enjoys doing outdoor activities and exploring nature. She plans on pursuing a master’s or a PhD in Animal Behavior upon graduating from UC Davis. She is pictured here with her pets.

The unhoused population in Davis and Yolo County is highly impacted by extreme weather conditions, especially extreme temperatures caused by climate change. Most local shelters for people experiencing homelessness still don’t accept pets, however, there are some in Yolo County that do allow people experiencing homelessness and their pets to stay.

Efforts to address the issue of pets in shelters should involve collaboration between government agencies, non-profit organizations, and the community to develop solutions that balance the safety and well-being of all individuals, including those with pets, during times of emergency.

Local shelters may not be ready for increased temperatures

The link between climate change and homelessness is complex and multifaceted, affecting both the physical and emotional well-being of individuals experiencing homelessness. Davis currently experiences 18 days of temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Homeless individuals often lack access to adequate shelter and may be more exposed to the elements. Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can lead to heat-related illnesses, dehydration, and even fatalities.

In addition, Davis is expected to experience around 32 days at temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher per year on average by 2070. The City of Woodland is currently experiencing 16 days at temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. It is estimated to increase to 33 days on average by 2070. This projection is alarming.

Davis and Yolo County have several shelters that offer different types of services. However, these shelters may not be equipped to handle the increased demand for shelter during extreme weather events. Existing shelters may be overcrowded, leaving some homeless individuals without a safe place to seek refuge. The constant struggle for survival in harsh environmental conditions contributes to chronic stress.

Pets are part of the family

For many homeless individuals, their pets are not just companions but vital sources of emotional support and a sense of connection. Homeless individuals may already feel vulnerable and marginalized, but the inability to bring their pets into shelters during times of crisis can contribute significantly to stress and emotional hardship.

Homeless individuals often form strong emotional bonds with their pets. These animals provide companionship, unconditional love, and a sense of purpose. The inability to bring their pets into shelters can compound this vulnerability, making it harder for individuals to access the support and resources they need to transition out of homelessness. Separation from their pets during a crisis, as a result of seeking shelter, can lead to feelings of profound loss and isolation.

In a cross-sectional study run in 2022, studies at two clinics in Sacramento, California and Davis, California for the homeless population (n=48), showed 100% of respondents agree that their pet is considered a family member (Colon C., personal communication, 2022 Mar). Other studies have shown the homeless population have reported better mental health outcomes due to owning a pet (Conway 2021). This includes experiencing fewer symptoms of depression, reduced feelings of loneliness and stress, increased happiness, and a decrease in suicidal ideations.

A few individuals also shared that they received their canine companions as gifts, valuing them for the company and protection they provide while living on the streets. The strong bond between a person and their pet contributes to a greater feeling of security, improving the overall well-being of those experiencing homelessness.

Mercer Clinic in Sacramento serves unhoused families with pets

I have been volunteering at the Mercer Veterinary Clinic which provides free veterinary care to the pets of individuals experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity in Sacramento and Yolo counties. The clinic runs once a month on the 2nd Saturday and serves approximately 20 to 40 clients. I enjoy talking with the clients and learning more about their journies.

From engaging with clients, I have learned that most of them generally agree that they would turn down a housing opportunity if it meant they had to also give up their pets. To unhoused individuals, pets can provide emotional support and a sense of safety. They depend on their pets for protection, as having an animal can discourage potential threats and serve as an early warning system.

Fourth and Hope shelter

Fourth and Hope is a non-profit homeless shelter in Woodland that provides housing, food, and clothing for individuals experiencing homelessness and hardships. From my interview with shelter managers, I learned that they are one of the few homeless shelters that allows service or emotional support animals to stay with their owner in the shelter. The shelter does ask the animal to be clean and pest free to create a clean environment for everyone. There are currently three individuals with animals in the shelter and everyone enjoys the company of the animal.

Proposed pet friendly state legislation

Although many homeless shelters currently do not allow pets, a proposed bill in the California Legislature, introduced by Democratic Sen. Bob Hertzberg of Van Nuys, aims to change that. The bill suggests allocating $5 million in state general fund grants to homeless shelters, enabling them to provide shelter, care, and veterinary services for the pets of individuals staying there. This could be beneficial for both the public and the homeless population, as many homeless individuals with pets may currently refuse or be denied shelter. Increasing resources for shelters that accommodate pets can potentially reduce homelessness and improve community well-being. The California State Senate approved SB 513 and it was returned to the Secretary of Senate pursuant to Joint Rule 56 on February 1st, 2024.


In conclusion, significant efforts are underway to increase the presence of pets in homeless shelters. This trend reflects a growing acceptance within communities and an expansion of resources tailored to benefit both pet owners and their animals.


Cecilia Ma Li is a Sacramento Valley College Corp Fellow with Cool Davis and a fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in Animal Biology. Courtesy photo.