For the past year, the Devia family has chosen to be homeless rather than give up their beloved dog.
Carol Devia, her husband Peter and her teenage sons Leandro and Christoffer own Camilla, a lab mix, and Rocco, a pit bull. Both are sweet, housetrained dogs, according to the family. But only one is keeping them from moving out of a car that they have been living out of in Walnut Creek, Calif.
“When landlords see Camilla, they have no problem with her. Everybody will take her,” Carol Devia said. “But as soon as they see Rocco, they say ‘Oh no.’”
Animal welfare advocates say this is part of a housing crisis for pit bull owners, with some landlords forcing families to choose between a roof over their heads and their beloved pup.
“It’s not uncommon for people to say ‘I can’t take the dog to the shelter where it will be killed,’” said Donna Reynolds, the director of Pit Bull advocacy organization BAD RAP.
“What we’re finding is our inbox is filled with people who say ‘I’m about to go homeless, can you take my dog?’” she added.
The Devia family never expected to be in that situation until Carol and her husband were fired from their newspaper delivery job at the same time last year for a breach of security. Carol Devia said she had nothing to do with the breach and that she was terminated wrongfully.
When the family told their landlord what happened, they were evicted from their apartment, Devia said, noting their savings, credit and stability began dwindling rapidly. Worst of all, she said, they couldn’t find a new place to live that would let them bring Rocco, the kind of dog that slept next to them every night.
“I can’t find a place unless I give up my dog, and everyone tells me to, but I can’t do that,” Devia said. “We’ve had Camilla her whole life and Rocco her whole life.”
The issue went viral last weekend, when the owner of a rescued pit bull took to Craigslist to find out the name of the dog’s former owner, who abandoned her in a Manhattan apartment after being evicted.
The dog was underweight and had a few burns behind her ears in the shape of cigarette burns, according to the post. But Alex de Campi — the New Hampshire mother who wrote the post — said she has sympathy for the previous owner of the pit bull she calls “Cathy.”
“These people could have found her on the street and taken her in,” de Campi told ABC News. “She could have had three or four owners. She’s not hand shy in any way, meaning she’s not afraid of my hand, which would be an indication of abuse.”
The reason she wrote the post, de Campi said, was in hopes of reaching the former owners to let them know that their old dog was safe and loved.
Cathy became “a 65-pound lapdog,” as de Campi put it.
But Rocco was not always a model pit bull, Devia said. One time, when a Dachshund peeked his nose into Devia’s yard, Rocco ran over to the dog and broke his snout, Devia recalled.
After the incident, the family had to go to court, take a class, and pay $500 for three years for a special dog license on top of a $200 per year insurance plan, she said.
The dog has been well-behaved ever since, Devia said, especially since he began going to classes at BAD RAP.
“We’ve noticed a huge difference in his behavior,” she said. “He’s like a totally different dog. He wants to meet everybody and lick everybody.”
For now, Devia said her family spends a lot of time driving back and forth between wooded areas where the dogs can get exercise and parking lots where they can get Wi-Fi and make food with their Crock-Pot plugged into the cigarette lighter. They’re working new jobs delivering newspapers at night and sleeping in their car during the day, she said.
For families who are struggling to find housing that will accept their dog, Reynolds suggest they ask friends for help, post on Craigslist, and talk to rescue organizations. They can also consider getting an insurance policy on the dog, so any liability doesn’t fall to the landlord – though so far, that hasn’t helped the Devia family.
“It was hard in the beginning but then you kind of consign yourself to it and say okay,” Devia said. “I’m alive, I’m working. I hit bottom, so now I’ve been there and now the only place I can go is up.”