When Kathy's marriage broke down, she needed to sell her house and rent a property. Ultimately she ended up having to leave the property and her job to live with relatives. Why? Because she had two dogs.
"I found it extremely difficult to find somewhere to live with two spaniels," she explains. "I ended up renting a completely unsuitable place at £650 per month, on a salary of £16,500pa, and spent all the money I had made from the sale of my house on rent and bills. In the end, I had to leave and lost my deposit. I also had to leave my job as the only relatives I could stay with live too far away to commute."
Research conducted by Dogs Trust for the Lets with Pets campaign revealed that Kathy's story is far from an isolated case. Of the 5,695 UK pet owners surveyed, one in three was unable to find a suitable home. According to FindaProperty.com's Rental Index for 2011, non pet owners take an average of 50 days to find a home; for over half of pet owners, our new survey reveals, this extends to anything from two months to a year.
This comes as no surprise to Lorraine Hershon, whose family struggled so much to find a home in Southport before moving to Northumberland, that they ended up buying a caravan and living in it for three months.
"It was a nightmare situation: my husband, son and I plus three dogs living in a caravan! At least it was over the summer so it wasn't too cold. Thankfully because we live in a very rural area now the attitude to pets seems to be more relaxed, but finding suitable properties is still a huge problem for most owners."
Don't we know it. Dogs Trust rehoming centres have seen a 56% rise in the number of people handing in dogs due to housing problems in the last five years. We are deeply concerned, especially considering our non-destruction policy, that more people might be forced to face this agonising decision, or might even have their dog put to sleep out of desperation.
Our Outreach Projects Manager Clare Kivlehan runs Lets with Pets. She urges letting agents to keep an open mind about pet owners.
"Since launching, we've seen a marked increase in the number of people contacting us for advice," she explains. "We have signed up over 100 lettings agencies across the UK as campaign supporters, but our research shows that the majority are still not giving pet owners the chance they deserve. We're campaigning for lettings agents and landlords to take a 'Pets Considered' approach, rather than rejecting all pets."
The campaign also aims at making it easy for owners to search on property websites rather than having to make special enquiries, and is keen to hear from any agencies keen to back the campaign.
Of course, we know what people will ask: why should landlords be keen to welcome pets? Well, for a start, almost half of UK households has a pet, according to this year's PFMA Pet Population statistics, and since so few of them are currently catered for by major lettings agents, there's a valuable gap in the market.
Ben, a landlord from Norwich, found that out to his advantage. "The tenants brought their dog with them on the second viewing so I could meet him and see for myself that he was well behaved. They even offered to pay a higher deposit. They moved out after 18 months and the property was left in a good condition with no sign of a dog ever having lived there. I found that because we offered the property to tenants with pets, we found tenants very quickly. I would definitely rent my property to tenants with pets again."
We know that pet owners tend to spend longer in each property, and, as Dorian Gonsalves, MD of lettings chain Belvoir, says, "it's concerning to think that people may opt to sift through private adverts to find a property and dismiss lettings agencies altogether for fear of them not being able to help." He comments that since Belvoir frequently receives requests from pet owners, it simply "made business sense to give our offices the opportunity to sign up to Lets with Pets."
Pet owners can also do their bit to present themselves as responsible tenants. Offering a higher deposit and introducing their pet, as Ben's tenants did, are both recommended. We also provide a template for a 'pet CV', complete with behaviour profile, references, medical history and emergency contact details, and suggest offering to pay for professional cleaning upon vacating the property.
Despite the hundreds of heartbreaking stories we've heard at our centres, through the survey and on our Facebook Page, we hope that by offering support and advice to tenants and encouragement and resources to landlords and lettings agents, we'll begin to see more happy, healthy pet owning households across the UK. So if you have property to let, do consider supporting us so that together we can maintain our reputation as a nation of pet lovers.