An Ottawa family is being forced to choose between a roof over their heads and their pets.

Sharon Ellis and her three children are homeless and living in Emergency Shelter provided through the city of Ottawa, but the city does not allow animals in shelters.

The family says the pets are part of their family and part of their therapy.

Sharon Ellis never thought she'd end up in a homeless shelter.  A series of tragedies, including a car accident, resulted in her living in a little motel room with her 3 kids and 3 pets, waiting for affordable housing.

“Emotionally, it throws you some curve balls,” says Sharon Ellis as she sits in a motel room which the city rents as overflow for emergency housing, “and you want to forget about what you're going through and try to live a normal life.”

A big curve ball was delivered in the form of a letter from the city of Ottawa that said dogs and cats aren't permitted.  They were initially told to get rid of the pets by September 27th.  That deadline was extended recently to October 4th.  "Failure to adhere to these terms and conditions...will result in discharge from the emergency housing,” reads the letter from the city of Ottawa.

“They have to make some accommodation for their pets in the given time,” says Aaron Burry, the General Manager of Community and Social Services with the city of Ottawa.  “We can't continue to supply the expense which goes with looking after additional animals.  That’s the issue for us in the city.”

The family is crushed.

 “If they come here and take our dogs,” says 11-year-old Shaylynn, Ellis’ daughter, “it's like us going to their place and saying they're not allowed to have their animal and take it away from them.  How would they feel?”

“I’m willing to do anything,” says Ellis, “even sleep in my car.”

In fact, that's what Ellis did a few days ago, hunkered down with her dogs in the back seat of her car to keep them out of the shelter.  But that didn't work either.  Ellis is pleading with the city to review its rules regarding pets. 

“We went through some very trying times in our lives and in the midst of that, the dogs and cat brought us joy,” says Sharon Ellis, “they brought us happiness and we couldn't bear to be parted with them.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, the General Manager of Ottawa’s Social Services, Aaron Burry, called the motel after receiving information from CTV Ottawa with respect to the pet-friendly status of the motel.

“They had an agreement with the city,” says Burry,”that we would be placing people there without pets.  Now the motel is saying that the pets can stay and they will waive the costs to us.”

Ellis and her children are relieved.  Sharon Ellis has recently gone back to school and just completed her Grade 12 and said she is trying desperately to make a better life for her family, all of them, pets included.      

“I don’t want a hand out, I want a hand up.”