Homeless islander says no-pets rules limit access to services

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Steve Wotton spends most of his days roaming the streets of Charlottetown, dragging two shopping carts that he fills with cans, his dog Nova leashed by his side.

Shelters and the Charlottetown Outreach Center don’t allow animals unless they’re a licensed service dog, said Wotton, who lives homeless.

“I need this dog because I’m in a situation right now where I don’t have a family. She’s the one on this earth by my side,” Wotton said.

“When I’m having a seizure she’s there to tell someone in her own way that I’m having a seizure or she’s keeping me conscious so I can call someone for help .”

Wotton said he feared that without Nova by his side, he could die.

“I can name at least five situations where I couldn’t help myself. I could have choked on my tongue.”

Wotton is on a waiting list for pet-friendly accommodation, but hasn’t had any luck yet. (Tony Davis/CBC)

The Charlottetown Outreach Center won’t even allow the dog on the property, Wotton said.

A CBC reporter saw a worker ask Wotton to get his dog off the property when he was at the edge of the parking lot on Wednesday.

Other places have been more understanding, Wotton said.

“I’ve been to the casino, I’m going to the racetrack to groom the horses…she lays right under, she’s awesome,” he said.

“At this time, pets are not permitted in emergency shelters,” Ministry of Social Development and Housing officials confirmed in an email.

“Each emergency shelter operates on the basis of its policies and procedures, not set by the government, but by the governing body of the organization,” the email reads.

While there are exceptions for service animals in most situations, Wotton said he was told he needed to get a license to prove Nova is a certified service dog. He tried different ways to achieve this, such as contacting local dog trainers, but said he was unlucky.

“Right now, I live in a tent. Me and Nova have been surprised several times by the torrential rains. I’m in tent number four,” Wotton said. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Officials of the PEI Human Rights Commission. confirmed that there is no place on the island to have a dog certified as a service animal, but according to the commission’s website, a license should not be provided in all cases.

“If the animal is clearly identified as a service animal and behaves appropriately, the handler should not have to provide confirmation that it is a service animal,” reads- on the commission’s website.

A few years ago, CBC spoke to Wotton when he was looking for an apartment for himself and his dog.

Wotton said the inability to find affordable, pet-friendly accommodation has meant he has been living in a tent for four months.

“If a person is applying for social assistance and is homeless, or does not have long-term housing in place, and has multiple barriers to housing, they would be immediately put in contact with the housing navigator to obtain suitable housing,” Social Development Department staff said in an email.

Right now, I live in a tent. Me and Nova have been surprised several times by the torrential rains. I’m in tent number four.—Steve Wotton

Wotton said he was on a waiting list for pet-friendly accommodation, but did not yet have a place to live.

“Why don’t I have a place right now and there have been people before me? How am I excluded or different from these other people?” Woton said.

Charlottetown police officers often tell him to leave places where he is camping, he said.

CBC attempted to contact the Charlottetown Police Department to ask how often officers received calls or dealt with complaints from people trying in the city, but got no response.

Wotton said he did his best for his dog – he had two large bags of dog food in his cart and always collected water from old bottles to keep Nova hydrated.

But he said having a dog without a roof over his head presents unique problems.

“Right now I’m living in a tent. Nova and I have been caught in torrential rain several times. I’m in tent number four.”

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