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Islander experiencing homelessness says no-pet rules limit access to services

Steve Wotton spends most of his days walking Charlottetown streets, dragging two shopping carts he fills with cans, his dog Nova on a leash by his side.

Shelters and the Charlottetown Outreach Center don’t allow animals unless they are a licensed service dog, said Wotton, who is experiencing homelessness.

“I need this dog because I am in a situation right now where I have no family. She is the one being on this earth that is by my side,” Wotton said.

“When I take an epileptic attack she is there to tell somebody, in her way, that I am having an epileptic attack or she keeps me conscious so I can call somebody for help.”

Wotton said he worries 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 housing, but has had no luck yet. (Tony Davis/CBC)

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

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

Other locations have been more understanding, Wotton said.

“I’ve been to the casino, I go to the racetrack to groom horses … she lays right underneath them, she’s great,” he said.

“At this time, pets are not permitted in emergency shelters,” officials with the department of social development and housing confirmed in an email.

“Each emergency shelter operates based on their policies and procedures, not set by government, but the organization’s governing body,” the email said.

While there are exceptions for service animals in most situations, Wotton said he has been told he has to get a license to prove that Nova is a certified service dog. He has tried different ways to get that done, such as contacting local dog trainers, but said he hasn’t had any luck.

‘Right now I am living out of a tent. Me and Nova have been caught in the rainstorms quite a few times. I am on tent number four,’ Wotton says. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Officials with the PEI Human Rights Commission confirmed there is no place on the Island to get a dog certified as a service animal — but according to the commission’s website a license shouldn’t have to be provided in all cases.

“If the animal is clearly marked as a service animal and is behaving appropriately, the handler should not have to provide confirmation that it is a service animal,” reads the commission’s site.

A few years ago CBC spoke to Wotton while he was searching for an apartment for him and his dog.

Wotton said the inability to find pet-friendly affordable housing means he has been living out of a tent for the past four months.

“If a person applied to social assistance and is homeless, or does not have long term housing in place, and has multiple barriers to being married, they would be immediately connected with the housing navigator to secure appropriate housing,” staff with the department of social development said in an email.

Right now I am living out of a tent. Me and Nova have been caught in the rainstorms quite a few times. I am on tent number four.— Steve Wotton

Wotton said he’s on a waiting list for pet-friendly housing, but doesn’t have a place to live yet.

“Why do I not have a place right now and there has been people put in ahead of me? How am I excluded or any different from these other people?” Wotton said.

He’s often told to move from locations where he is tenting by Charlottetown police officers, he said.

CBC attempted to contact Charlottetown Police Services to ask how often officers get calls or deal with complaints of people tenting in the city, but did not hear back.

Wotton said he does the best he can for his dog — he has two big bags of dog food in his cart and is always collecting water from old bottles to keep Nova hydrated.

But he said having a dog while not having a roof over his head presents unique problems.

“Right now I am living out of a tent. Me and Nova have been caught in the rainstorms quite a few times. I am on tent number four.”

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