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Woodland Park encampment clean-up means less help for homeless pets

Seattle Veterinary Outreach made a plan to help pets at the Woodland Park encampment, but before that could happen the city ordered the encampment to be cleared.

SEATTLE — Tuesday's clean-up of the Woodland Park encampment ruined scheduled plans to help some of the pets living at the camp, according to Seattle Veterinary Outreach. 

Since March, a team with Seattle Veterinary Outreach has been working with a mutual aid group to connect with residents in the Woodland Park encampment and their pets. The team was able to help 11 pets living at the encampment. 

"We provided veterinary exams, vaccines, and microchips. We took down everyone's info and then created custom pet ID tags for each of them and returned those on a later date," said Anna Ludwig, Seattle Veterinary Outreach's Director of Operations. 

Appointments to spay, neuter and provide booster shots for at least five animals were scheduled for May 17. Ludwig said her team was going to pick-up the animals and bring them to a clinic in Renton for surgery. However, the city's decision to clear the encampment Tuesday meant the organization lost access to those pets. 

"We have now lost any any connections that we had to those folks. We have no way of reaching them because they don't have phones. They don't have regular access to the internet. They don't have ways for us to connect with them outside of just going in-person with those mutual aid groups and building those relationships in person," said Ludwig.

The services would have provided a public health benefit. The organization ensures the animals are vaccinated for diseases like rabies and the surgeries to neuter the dogs would reduce the risk of fights. Ludwig said these are services homeless pet owners are often unable to access due to barriers like cost and transportation. 

"People will melt down in tears, because these are services that they've been desperately trying to get for their pets and haven't been able to," said Ludwig.

For more than a year, people had been living at the Woodland Park encampment. At one point it was estimated more than 100 people were living in the park. In February the city developed a by-name-list, which identified 61 people as residing in the park long-term. The city said since since February it has offered 83 referrals for housing. 

  • 55 referrals to Tiny House Villages  
  • 24 referrals to Enhanced Shelters 
  • 4 relocations to Permanent Housing alternatives 
  • 12 voluntary relocations by individuals on the by-name-list  

"The goal since the onset of this coordinated engagement was to ensure that everyone residing onsite received an offer of shelter and that the vast majority were connected to the best-suited shelter and support services," the city said in a statement.

Ludwig said for Seattle Veterinary Outreach clients, referrals don't always guarantee housing. 

"A lot of these referrals require folks to be substance free, or they require them to be a certain age, or they require them to not have a pet or kid. All these different things and it's a lot of times just not attainable for people," said Ludwig. 

The recent increase in encampment clean-ups have made the organization's job more difficult. Seattle Veterinary Outreach posted on Facebook Tuesday about the lost connections from the clearing of the Woodland Park encampment. Ludwig argues the city needs a better plan to connect people with help. 

"It's just this perpetual cycle of trauma that is extremely expensive and unsuccessful. We have to find a better way. We have to find a better way to do better for the people who are in this situation," said Ludwig. 

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