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If you're unhoused with pets, it's difficult to access shelter or even go to the emergency room

For someone who’s homeless and has an animal, it can mean making difficult decisions about seeking shelter or even accessing health care. 

Central Arizona Shelter Services, or CASS, allows service animals and documented emotional support animals inside its facility, and on the Key Campus, where CASS is located in downtown Phoenix. 

"And the documented piece is the big piece there," said Phillip Scharf is the interim chief executive officer at CASS.

So you can’t just bring in a pet dog or cat, which are the only kinds of animals allowed.

"If we know that there's a client that wants to gain access to shelter that does not have that documentation, we're trying to work with our partners to either gain access to that documentation or make referrals to other agencies that can help with that work," Scharf said.

But it takes time and money. And some unhoused individuals will choose to stay with their pet instead of going into a shelter or even the emergency department if they’re unable to bring them along.

And when a client does end up in an emergency situation, it’s difficult.

"Our clients are separated and have no ability oftentimes to know, what is the current status of that animal or my possessions, right, because ... we lose the ability to know where our things are. And certainly theft being a high issue within the vulnerable population, all those things are decision makers," Scharf said.

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KJZZ senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.