Pets in flats campaign seeks to get landlords on its side

PET SHOPS, estate agents and landlords are being invited to join a Guernsey project which is helping to safeguard mental health.

Bea Smith and Pancake, her therapy rabbit, after whom the project has been named.  (Picture by Peter Frankland, 29467013)
Bea Smith and Pancake, her therapy rabbit, after whom the project has been named. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 29467013)

The Pancake Project aims to increase the number of properties where pets can be kept by tenants, some of whom are currently being separated from their animals in order to find somewhere to live.

A rabbit called Pancake inspired the initiative. The two-and-a-half-year-old bunny is an emotional support animal registered with Bea Smith’s GP.

Ms Smith was forced to live without her pet when she moved into a refuge in February of last year.

‘Despite the fact that it is a place completely revolved around mental health and keeping people safe, they wouldn’t allow me to have Pancake with me,’ she said.

Her response was to set up a Facebook page highlighting the problem and making islanders more aware of how crucial pets could be to enable their owners ‘to live and thrive and just generally be healthy’.

‘For me, I have chronic pain and PTSD, so Pancake helps me, whether it’s coping with the pain or coping with a flashback or if I have depression,’ she said.

The charity Action For Children responded and subsequently Pancake became the first pet to be allowed into one of its apartments. However, the Covid-19 lockdown prevented that from going ahead.

It was a several months before Ms Smith was able finally to secure a suitable flat, where Pancake could roam about freely.

Since launching her project to help others in a similar predicament, she has been inundated with requests for help, including from off-island pet owners who are being prevented from moving to Guernsey because of this problem. The project currently has 3,000 followers on Instagram.

Ms Smith has been working with estate agent Swoffers, which has begun using a system of logos to indicate which types of pet are allowable in each rented property and the hope is that other companies will follow suit.

She has also educated landlords about practical solutions to some of the problems they associate with pet ownership, such as corrugated plastic sheaths around electric cables and skirting board protectors.

Meanwhile, the project has teamed up with the GSPCA, which can, for a fee of £10, inspect properties before a contract begins and can then advise on the measures that might be necessary to mitigate the effects of keeping a certain type of pet.

The next stage of the project is to bring pet shop owners and landlords on board as representatives for pet-owning tenants, to encourage further reform.

‘I truly believe that landlords would get more enquiries if they allowed pets,’ Ms Smith said.

However, she stopped short of wanting legislation to force change on landlords, preferring a softer approach.

‘If we just chuck something at landlords saying “no, you’re not allowed to say that”, they’re going to retaliate.’

The emphasis will instead be on what concerns landlords have and how they can be overcome, while offering them a variety of alternatives to saying, simply, ‘no pets’.

Ms Smith is hopeful that landlords will recognise the mental health benefits to their tenants and hop on board.

‘I mean, really, how many landlords aren’t going to allow a goldfish?’

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