Why Are Pets So Important To The Homeless?
Western societies inexorably share archetypical images tied to our collective memories. Among those images, we find the one of Le Mat, The Fool. A powerful image of a pet and a homeless, sharing a special bond based upon love and seasoned with tough life circumstances.
Although ancient, sweet and human, such an image is surrounded by stigma. Silently, pet ownership amongst the homeless is frowned. In general, societies believe that those who do not live in such fortunate circumstances have no means to take care of pets.
However, pets and homeless keep looking and caring for each other. In fact, a study published last year from Canadian anthrozoology professor Beth Daly suggests that one-in-four homeless people have pets. Have you ever wonder why?
The answer is simple: Pets are a vital source of emotional support for their owners, especially those who lack companionship, unconditional love, loyalty and dependability. So much so that many low – or no-income people who own pets often make their pet’s wellbeing a priority.
Pets and the Homeless: Unconditional Love
Despite the misconceptions associated with the homeless people’s capabilities to properly take care of pets, pet ownership amongst homeless people is beneficial for both the person and the pet. We have yet to encounter a homeless person not putting their pets needs as priority, or taking as good of care of them as they can.
In fact, some interesting facts directly contradict misconceptions about their willingness to care for their pets. According to the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University, we have learned that:
The health and welfare of homeless’ dogs are practically the same as a dog living in a conventional home.
Dogs owned by homeless people are less likely to be overweight. Same, they are at a lower risk for presenting behavioural problems such as aggression.
A pet to a homeless person sometimes is the only thing helping them to get through the day. For homeless people with pets, their furry fellows are most of the times the only thing keeping them alive.
Sense of Purpose
Pets provide drive and purpose to the homeless people, helping them keep sober in drug addiction, alcohol use, and depression. Furry friends strengthen the homeless’ will, and in this sense, they also help them stay away from problems, and jail. Pets also help them choose to keep trying.
As pets give the homeless a reason to stay away from problems, they are at a lower risk of engaging in high-risk behaviours. As a direct consequence, it lowers their need for demanding social services’ assistance.
Finally, homeless people who own pets declare that they devote their energy on providing love and care to their little fellows. In other words, they focus on doing as much as they can to ensure they will keep their pets with them, no matter how.
Safety and Warmth
Sleeping on the streets can be a hazardous situation, especially for women. Homeless people are very vulnerable, and unfortunately, they can experience violence in all their shapes. Counting on a dog and even a cat when living on the streets is sometimes the only source of protection they have.
A pet provides unconditional love translated into loyalty and makes them fierce protectors. Barks and scratches can make a huge difference when danger shows its ugly face.
Also, having a furry pet at a side during winter lowers the risk of suffering frostbite and hypothermia. As most homeless shelters do not accept pets, plenty of homeless people refuse using them even in the harshest conditions and prefer weathering with their pets.
The Importance of Pets to the Homeless
Most of the times, a pet means the only valuable bond to this world for a homeless person. As pets are non-judgemental companions who offer unconditional love and support to their owners, people living on the streets develop unique feelings and a bullet-proof sense of responsibility for their pets, which gives drive and purpose their lives.
Plenty of the homeless who own pets and contact us for help, respond to this profile. There’s no question, the bond between the homeless and their pets restores the faith in humanity… and Animal Food Bank understands it. As a matter of fact, this is the fuel that propels our engines.
So the next time you pass by a someone begging for change on the street with a little furry fellow wagging its tail around, don’t feel sorry for them. Instead, keep for yourself the beauty of is the archetypical image of The Fool, and the sense of wellbeing, belonging and happiness they share when taking care of each other.
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Originally Published: Nov 27, 2020
Updated: Jan 11, 2023