Ziggy is Toronto mayoral candidate Ari Goldkind’s 13-year old black lab mix, a familiar sweet face to many of Goldkind’s fast-growing legion of supporters. Today, Goldkind announced Project Ziggy, an initiative to make pet ownership and care more accessible to low-income and homeless Torontonians.
“Close to half of Torontonians own pets. Pets are so important to the quality of life for so many people,” says Goldkind. “They provide companionship and stress management to every pet owner, especially people who have suffered abuse or trauma and who are coping with related social issues.” He points to statistics and studies that bear out the overall benefits of pet ownership to people of all socioeconomic levels. Pets help people feel happier and more productive, and in many instances literally help them turn their lives around.
“People are choosing, quite beautifully, to take better care of their dogs than themselves.” Goldkind points out the knee-jerk reaction among some is that lower income people shouldn’t have pets. Project Ziggy is about encouraging Torontonians to see and appreciate that vulnerable residents have the right, and possibly an even greater need, to own and cherish animals, particularly those from rescue shelters. “It’s an investment that doesn’t cost the city a dime, and it will make our city a better place to live,” he says. It’s about saying yes to pet ownership in our city, for anyone who loves animals and wants it to be part of that beautiful experience.”
“The city’s current pet ownership restrictions and inadequacies have a direct relationship to income inequality, and I think that’s cruel to both animals and people. Landlords, particularly for lower-income residences, and Toronto Community Housing buildings all across the city place restrictions on the size of dogs people can own and whether pets are permitted at all. There is only one homeless shelter in the city, the Fred Victor Centre, that allows dogs at all, and that’s capped at five animals. And pets are often unsafe there.”
Goldkind states that shelters abound with pets waiting to find their forever homes. “Lower income people who have or want pets care no differently than pet owners in the Beaches who cherish their pets. Lower income people, with some support from the city, would take wonderful care of their pets. Yet our animal shelter system gets more crowded every day with animals whose owners can’t afford veterinary care. It’s a cruel circle, and a genuine social justice issue.”
Goldkind seeks to take the lead on this issue and to seek the backing of council to:
- Expand access to affordable veterinary care and pet food banks for lower-income residents, by enlisting financial support and in-kind donations such as food and medicines from pet food and medicine manufactures, pet insurance companies and other pet industry stakeholders, as well as volunteer efforts
- Ease the restrictions placed on pet ownership, particularly in lower-income TCHC and private rental buildings, in a way that sufficiently balances and addresses legitimate community concerns such as allergies and aggressive animal behaviour, and increasing pet accommodation in the city’s shelter system
- Explore pet care employment programs such as dog walking and residential pet care that can help more low-income residents earn money and even assist seniors with pet care, creating dignity for all.
- Spearhead a donation- and volunteer-driven effort to expand the city’s network of pet food banks, such as the Toronto Humane Society headquarters on River Street and Woodgreen Community Services, so that it includes at least one pet food bank in all six of the city’s former Metro Toronto municipalities
“There are thousands of people who put their pets first when they are forced to choose between feeding themselves or their pets, between vet bills and their own health care,” Goldkind says. “A city that treats its animals with kindness treats its people with kindness, and the entire city benefits in so many ways when we invest in a fundamental relationship of love like people have with their pets. That’s why Project Ziggy is so important to me.
People often say that I rescued Ziggy from the Humane Society 12.5 years ago. Whenever they say that, I correct them and say “actually, Ziggy rescued me.”
Mr. Goldkind will be at the Iranian Congress Mayoral Forum at 3pm today, speaking at 315pm, and would welcome speaking to you about this initiative there.