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The Truth About Homeless People And Their Pets You Need To Know

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Fact: Homeless people would rather sleep on the street with their pets than go into a shelter without them.

Why do homeless people have pets?

Living on the streets can be a very dehumanizing existence. People act like you’re invisible – or worse, they want you to make yourself invisible. It is important to remember that homelessness is an isolating experience – and people who are homeless often have no support or love from family or friends. For some, days and even weeks can go by without anyone acknowledging their existence, or showing them kindness and affection, and that can chisel away at one’s already fragile state.

Eventually, people learn to survive on the streets – but it is a scary place to be, especially when you are faced with adjusting to this new reality. A pet can be the one thing that gives them the courage to face each day. Their furry friend is often the only other creature in the world who seems to treat them with unconditional love and compassion.

Having a pet to provide companionship, protection, and love can be a major contributing factor whether someone survives or not. They are a lifeline for their owner and a source of courage, strength, and love for someone struggling to survive.

Keep reading to learn more about how pets of the homeless are not only a trusted companion but are even capable of saving a person’s life in more ways than one.

Young beautiful lady is smiling while holding her cat and having her dog beside her

Can homeless people take care of their pets?

It is a common misconception that homeless people can’t take care of their pets. As an expert and huge advocate for keeping homeless and their pets together, we can assure that people experiencing homelessness love their pets and will always find ways to provide for them. As a matter of fact, a homeless pet owner would rather sleep on the street than choose a bed in a shelter that doesn’t allow pets.

When it comes to owning a pet, people experiencing homelessness are not much different than people who are housed: they love their furry companions, take good care of them, and treat them as family. So, next time you see a homeless person and their pet on the street, put your worries to the rest, the pet is well cared for.

A homeless senior man is cuddling his little cute puppy in his coat

Why do homeless people need pets?

Sense of Purpose and New Hope

Being homeless is one of the most difficult challenges someone can face. For most homeless pet owners, their pet is the only solace they have in this harsh world. 

Many studies show that having a pet decreases the use of drugs and alcohol as well other high-risk behaviour.

Animal companionship is extremely important in people’s lives – it gives them a sense of purpose, and also teaches them responsibility and accountability.

Young woman is cuddling her beautiful dog

Mental and Physical Safety

Homelessness is a physical and mental threat to someone’s well-being. Having a pet to care for, and that cares for them in return, is not only good for someone who is struggling with mental health issues but it can actually make them physically healthier

A person feels a stronger need to take care of themselves because they are needed to take care of their pet. In cold months, their pet is a source of warmth and companionship. Not only does having a pet reduce stress and lower blood pressure, but it can improve immunity, lower risk of stroke and heart attack, and ease physical and mental pain.

A homeless man is hugging tight his  puppy

Human Kindness for Pets of the Homeless

While those who are homeless often feel invisible to the rest of society, having a pet can actually help them feel seen again. People are much more likely to socialize and acknowledge the homeless if they have a pet with them. 

However, we need to realize that it is not the pet who is homeless, it is the human. Once the owner has a place to call home, so does the pet.

Lady is interacting with a dog of the homeless man on the street.

What are the challenges for homeless pet owners?

Unfortunately, having a pet is often a barrier for people needing to find shelter, access services or housing. It is very common, that people are forced to choose between a shelter bed and staying on the street with their pet. Needless to say, most people choose the latter.

Although there has been some noticeable progress for pet-friendly shelters in Canada, there are still a lot of unmet needs and challenges to housing homeless people with pets. Fred Victor’s Bethlehem United Shelter is one of the few long-term shelters in Toronto that allows pets to accompany their owners.

A homeless man is sleeping in front of the store  with his beautiful dog

Supporting People with Pets

In 2008, Fred Victor opened up the first pet-friendly shelter in Canada. Since then, Fred Victor has been a leader in offering supports that help keep people and their pets together.

We understand the crucial role that pets play in people’s lives. We have seen many people come through our doors, buoyed in their journey out of homelessness by the love of a pet.

Fred Victor provides a safe place where people and their pets can stay together – and we also provide food, toys, vet clinics, etc. The animals are a welcome presence, providing friendship and comfort to all residents, and they really become an integral part of the community.

In 2020, we received a $50,000 grant from PetSmart Charities of Canada to help us continue preserving the bond between homeless people and their pets. The grant will help us expand our pet-friendly services across our housing and shelters in the City of Toronto. We will also continue working to find appropriate housing so that people and their pets can find a place to call home together.

A lovely couple with their dog are sitting on the bench in the park.

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