It’s Raining Dogs, Cats, and Injustice: Systematic Oppression Towards Pet Owners in the City of Newark
by Katherine DeMottie
In post-war America, pet ownership has become a staple of many households. Dogs and cats specifically have proven themselves to be valiant companions, however the expected standard-of-care towards them is only reflective of that provided by the stereotypical White, middle/upper class household. People of color and lower classes (too often one and the same) are inhibited by systematic oppression that aims to dismantle their relationships with animals rather than nurture a heathy bond.
This site aims to discover the ways in which systems of oppression have affected pet owners in Newark and what, if anything, can or has been done to alleviate these obstacles.
1. “Best Friends for Tenants’ Pets”
Author: Marian Courtney
Date of Publication: January 1, 1989
The author of the article interviews a man named Conrad Wolfson, a man recently forced to move out of his apartment of 29 years because the building decided to no longer allow his mix-breed dog. Instead of giving up his beloved pet, Dune, Mr. Wolfson made the difficult decision to move to the closest pet-friendly rental he could find in Jersey City where he has teamed up with Newark animal rights activist Isabella Troupiansky. Together they have been lobbying in support of a bill in the NJ State Legislature that would allow tenants to keep their pets in situations similar to Mr. Wolfson’s. The bill, which has been presented to the Senate for the past 10 years, has changed drastically from its original intention and in its current form would only protect current pets housed with tenants. In addition, it would allow landlords to charge up to a $150 pet deposit to protect against damages. While many have voiced concerns for a stronger bill, the struggle to protect landlord rights and tenant rights simultaneously hangs in the balance. Nevertheless, Mr. Wolfson and his cohorts believe the therapeutic, family-oriented purpose of pets to be their driving force.
The source suggests that struggles over pet-friendly housing were not unique to Mr. Wolfson and that it has been an issue before the state government for over a decade. The author primarily interviews those on the tenant-pet side of the argument, but attempts to present an unbiased standpoint on the issue. While Jersey City is beyond the scope of my project, the debate at hand is one that surpasses municipal boundaries and is a threat to city-dwellers everywhere. However, the article does specifically mention Newark as a city facing similar issues through Ms. Troupiansky, a “Russian emigre living in Newark in the only apartment building she could find that allowed her to keep cats.” This article establishes a broad history for my argument that renters experience certain barriers to pet ownership that homeowners, or those wealthy enough to afford pet-friendly housing, do not. The only legal recourse renters have was created shortly after the publication of this article – a law prohibiting landlords from denying senior citizens pets in senior housing projects.
2. Legislation For Low Cost Animal Neutering
Author: Newark Department of Engineering
Date of Publication: December 9, 1980
This is a letter sent from the Newark Department of Engineering to Senator Wynona Lipman in support of legislation that would fund low-cost spaying and neutering for dogs and cats. Spay and neuter surgeries prevent these animals from procreating and thus reducing overpopulation of domestic animals. The letter is signed by several people below the typed portion indicating widespread support for it in the city of Newark.
3. Change.org Petitions:
“Shut Down Pet Shop in Newark NJ”
Author: Leanne Mariano
Date of Publication: March 29, 2016
“Keep the Petco Store in Newark Open”
Author: Barbara Russo-Salcines
Date of Publication: September 8, 2020
“Stop Killer Vet, Dr Yablon!”
Author: Adriana Dasilva
Date of Publication: “7 months ago”
These are all petitions that in some way involve taking away resources from Newark residents. While the pet store in the first one did appear to be conducting inhumane business, perhaps more government oversight and regulations could have kept the store open the proper way. As for Petco, the franchise simply decided the store was not profitable enough and they closed it, and thus the burden of pet-care unjustly falls on Newark residents even more. As for the last petition, I may be a bit biased since I have some involvement with the situation. However, the countless tragedies that have occurred at that practice cannot keep multiplying and something needs to be done. The final tragedy, however, will be that Newark residents will have even less access to veterinary care.
4. “N.J.’s biggest city finally opens a dog park for its furriest residents”
Author: Barry Carter
Date of Publication: September 7, 2019
This is a news article about the opening of the first ever dog park in the city of Newark. Residents responded favorably to the addition of the park, many citing the beneficial uses for both their dogs’ exercise and their own. In addition, residents remarked on the social aspects of the park as a place that “brings people together who are strangers to each other.” Whereas residents previously had to drive out to places like Millburn and Maplewood for dog parks, they can now enjoy the luxury within their own backyard.
5. PET FRIENDLY PLACES IN NEWARK
Author: Allison Freeman
Date of Publication: n.d.
This is a list for tourists or Newark newcomers to use when seeking pet-friendly things to do within the city. However, despite being the largest city in the state of New Jersey, other than outdoor parks there are only 5 pet-friendly places according to this list: two hotels with weight restrictions and a $75 fee to stay with a pet and 3 restaurants that are included because they have outdoor seating. One of these restaurants does appear to be particularly dog-friendly, but the others do not seem to directly encourage pets in the same way. For someone visiting Newark with a pet, this list is not exactly convincing them to stay.
Bir, Courtney, Mario Ortez, J. Olynk Widmar Nicole, Christopher A. Wolf, Charlotte Hansen, and Frederic B. Ouedraogo. 2020. “Familiarity and use of Veterinary Services by US Resident Dog and Cat Owners.” Animals (Basel) 10 (3): 483-.
In a 2020 study, scientists found significant trends among United States pet owners and their use of veterinary services, notably pertaining to income, age, and location.
This source will be instrumental in establishing the preconceived notions when it comes to veterinary care in general in America. Since my project pertains to Newark, the data regarding low-income, younger populations (which matches Newark’s make-up) will be of use to me. The study found that the likelihood of visiting a veterinarian decreased with income bracket and age. Additional studies have associated financial issues as a “barrier for pet owners when it came to preventative, sick, and emergency care” (17). Newark is the largest and poorest city in New Jersey, so this would understandably be an issue for pet owners to keep up with frequent, up-front costs. Furthermore, the majority of study respondents indicated that they went to a local vet clinic and location was a primary reason for selecting that clinic. However, cost was still a barrier, and only the inclusion of discounts seemed to incentivize people to seek veterinary care who would not have previously. Respondents, interestingly enough, did not indicate that payment plans would incentivize them. Considering Newark has only one vet clinic within the entire city, seeking medical care for pets becomes a significant burden for residents.
Welman, Malina. 2019. “The Starting Point: Structuring Newark’s Land Use Laws at the Outset of Redevelopment to Promote Integration Without Displacement.” Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems 53 (1): 43–87.
The 2017 zoning ordinance in the city of Newark historically dedicated at least twenty percent of new housing to be available for moderate- and low-income residents. Situated within the post-war trends of suburbanization and socioeconomic segregation, the ordinance will not significantly contribute towards its goal of urban revitalization without additional measures in place to preserve affordability.
This article will provide key background information for my project. Newark has a long history of socioeconomic segregation, and establishing that early on will be key for my later analysis of the disparate trends affecting pet owners in the city. Primarily, however, this will set the stage for my first argument regarding the exclusionary pet-policies enacted by landlords throughout the city. In Newark, there seems to be a lack of accountability for landlords to the city, thus allowing them to increase rent at will and possibly engage in illegal practices, such as prohibiting their tenants to have ESA/service animals perhaps? (Will need some evidence to support this). Furthermore, even if the city did enact stricter rent control laws like the article suggests on page 80, this likely would not prohibit landlords from charging additional fees and/or monthly payments to have a pet on the property. I definitely still have to comb through this article more, but as of right now it is a promising source of expository information.
Aliment, Ruby; Rankin, Sara; and Lurie, Kaya. 2016. “No Pets Allowed: Discrimination, Homelessness, and Pet Ownership.” Homeless Rights Advocacy Project (Seattle University School of Law) 3.
This article highlights the prejudice and burdens faced by homeless and impoverished pet owners.
I began reading this article in detail expecting it to be a wealth of information, however I found that it more often leads me to other sources that I would likely use in the same way the authors of this article did. For example, studies that prove pet ownership can “alleviate stress, lower heart rates, and lower blood pressure” (10) will be essential for me to demonstrate that pets should be available to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status or race. The author in this article makes the same point in relation to homelessness. However, the author of this article frequently makes generalizations based on anecdotal evidence, such as their claim that “pets provide a source of protection for their owners” which is only supported by their one interview conversation with a local homeless woman. This article also talks about exclusionary pet policies in both businesses and housing, which will be useful to my project. The authors specifically cite those policies that encourage impoverished people to give up their pets in exchange for services (13), which I can use in conjunction with statistics from the Newark animal shelter on how many people surrender their pets for landlord issues. Overall, I found the evidence in this article to be exceptionally similar to what I would need for my arguments, however the article as a whole did not provide any new insights.
In the city of Newark, New Jersey, pet owners are disproportionately offered resources to care for and maintain their pets in a pattern that correlates with both skin color and income. Newark is the largest city in New Jersey with an estimated population of 282,011 people as of 2019. It is also the second-most racially diverse city in the state with 89% of the population consisting of minority, non-white residents. Approximately one third of the entire city is living in poverty, which is vastly higher than the state average of around nine percent. A study conducted in 2012 by St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center estimated that half of all households in Newark owned pets, a trend common amongst New Jersey municipalities and reflective of the overall state rate of pet ownership. However, despite the same rate of pet households as any other NJ city, there are drastic differences in the amount of resources available to the residents of Newark. Pet owners in the city, who are overwhelmingly people of color and low-income, are offered little to no access to medical care for their animals. This can deteriorate the human-pet bond that so many cherish and in some cases inhibit it altogether, imposing unjust limitations on the privileges of people to enter into and enjoy that relationship.
In comparing Newark with the surrounding towns and cities, you can see that Newark is disproportionately different from its neighbors. Nearly the entire city falls into the range of having a household income less than $49,043 or less. East Orange, Orange, Irvington, Elizabeth, and Jersey City also share similar income regions. This is no surprise, as these are all heavily populated urban areas with many factors that drive the cost of living down. They are also communities with the highest percentages of people of color living there, which is the result of the area’s long history with “white flight,” suburbanization, and the systematic oppression of minority communities by local, state, and federal policies. The disproportionate rate of social vulnerability (a measure by the CDC that calculates the potential negative effects on a community caused by external stresses to human health) in Newark is particularly jarring, albeit yet another documented consequence of centuries of racism and classism. Because the residents of Newark have been subjected to this treatment for so long, they have involuntarily become ill-equipped to manage their healthcare in any crisis situation.
There are many services and luxuries that are bereft of people living in these areas and veterinary care is no exception. If you were to search “veterinarians in Newark, NJ” on any search engine, you will find exactly one licensed DVM office in the entire city. The largest city in New Jersey, with over 50,000 pet households and over 90,000 individual pets, and there is one doctor for all of them. Obviously, residents can travel outside the city for veterinary care as evident by the map to the right of all the vet places directly surrounding the city, but how do residents that rely on public transportation manage this? Over half of all the households in Newark do not own a vehicle, meaning that they would have to rely on costly taxi and Uber rides (also note that Uber and its contemporaries charge more for their rides in many areas considered dangerous because they pay the drivers more to go there). In addition to the astronomically high fees charged by some vet offices, a simple annual check-up becomes a financial burden for Newark residents. Those who cannot afford medical bills are often forced to either give their pets up, in which the owner suffers, or not treat their pets, in which the animal suffers. There is no victory here.
One observation that is particularly interesting is the services offered by Bully Zone Pet Supplies, a popular pet store in Newark catering to a broad range of pets yet focusing on bully breed dogs. These are dogs such as Bulldogs, Pit Bulls, Staffordshire Terriers, Bull Terriers, Cane Corsos, etc. that compose the overwhelming majority of dogs in Newark (need source). A common health problem with these breeds is cherry eye, or a condition in which the dog’s tear glands become inflamed. Normally, the issue has to be addressed surgically or at the very least with sedation at a vet office, yet this pet store offers “cherry eye removal” for a low cost. While there are not many details about the procedure from the store, one cannot help but fathom the safety and efficacy of performing this operation without the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, let alone the legality. However, a cherry eye surgery can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars at a private vet office, and given the potential for severe complications if left untreated, it is no wonder that pet owners from a low-income community may be turning to riskier, low-cost options. Thus, the lack of affordable, veterinary access in the city has created immeasurable threats to both pet owners and the animals themselves.
Thus, the lack of veterinary care in the city of Newark is alarming and yet another unfortunate consequence of systematic oppression against the low-income POC community. Newark residents are unfairly put in situations where either they suffer or their pets do, which creates needless misery for people already subjected to injustice in everyday life. Pets should be a source of comfort and a means to relieve the pressure from environmental stressors or even a high social vulnerability index, yet Newark residents are devoid of these privileges.