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Unconditional Bonds: The Critical Role of Pets in the Lives of People Experiencing Homelessness

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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. 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. Therefore, when encountering a person experiencing homelessness with their pet, one can be reassured that the pet is in good hands and well-loved.

A middle-aged man hugs a dog on a walk. Close-up.

Why do homeless people need pets?

Navigating the trials of homelessness is undoubtedly one of the most formidable challenges anyone might face. Amid the instability and hardships, many people experiencing homelessness find an unparalleled source of comfort and companionship in their pets. This bond not only offers a glimmer of hope but also serves as a beacon of resilience in the face of adversity.

A Sense of Purpose: For many people experiencing homelessness, their animal companion is more than just a pet; they are a lifeline that imbues their lives with meaning and purpose. In a world that can often feel devoid of compassion, the affection and loyalty of a pet provide a comforting presence that many rely on.

Reducing High-Risk Behaviors: Research consistently highlights the positive impact pets have on their owners. For those experiencing homelessness, pets can play a pivotal role in reducing dependency on substances like drugs and alcohol. Studies suggest that the responsibilities of pet ownership, coupled with the emotional support animals provide, can lead to a significant decrease in engaging in high-risk behaviors.

Teaching Responsibility and Accountability: The care required in looking after a pet instills a sense of responsibility and accountability. For someone who has lost so much, having a dependent animal can reinforce the importance of routine and care—skills that are valuable in all walks of life.

Young woman is cuddling her beautiful dog

Enhancing Well-being Through Companionship: The Dual Benefits of Pets

Experiencing homelessness poses significant threats to one’s mental and physical health. In such challenging circumstances, the companionship of a pet becomes more than just a source of comfort; it transforms into a critical element of well-being. For individuals navigating mental health challenges, the presence of a pet offers a unique form of support that not only uplifts the spirit but also contributes to physical health improvement.

A Catalyst for Self-Care: The responsibility of caring for a pet instills a heightened sense of purpose, motivating individuals to prioritize their own health and well-being. This mutual care dynamic ensures that in the endeavor to provide for their pets, individuals are more likely to take better care of themselves. During the harsh cold months, a pet serves as a vital source of warmth and companionship, addressing both physical needs and the human desire for connection.

A Natural Health Booster: The benefits of pet ownership extend well into the realm of physical health. Engaging with a pet has been shown to significantly reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure. The emotional bond formed through this interaction can enhance immunity, thereby reducing the risk of stroke and heart attacks. Moreover, pets play a crucial role in alleviating physical and mental discomfort, offering relief that is both profound and healing.

The Power of Unconditional Support: Pets offer unconditional love and support, providing a constant presence that can alleviate feelings of isolation or despair. This unwavering companionship is a source of strength and resilience, helping individuals to navigate the complexities of their situation with greater hope and determination.

Understanding the dual benefits of pet ownership for people experiencing homelessness underscores the need for inclusive support services that recognize the importance of these animal companions. By fostering environments that accommodate the unique bond between individuals and their pets, we can contribute to the overall well-being and recovery of those facing the adversities of homelessness. Pets are not only companions but also key contributors to the mental and physical health of their owners, embodying a source of healing and resilience in times of need.

A homeless man is hugging tight his  puppy

The Impact of Pets on Social Perception

For many people experiencing homelessness, the sense of being overlooked or invisible in society is a profound challenge. Yet, the presence of a pet can dramatically alter this dynamic, serving as a bridge to greater social interaction and recognition. Pets have the unique ability to draw attention and foster interactions, making their owners more visible and acknowledged within the community.

This increased visibility not only enhances the social wellbeing of those experiencing homelessness but also underscores the importance of human-pet relationships in fostering connections. It’s a poignant reminder of the power of kindness and the need for a compassionate approach towards all members of society, regardless of their housing status.

Shifting the Focus to Human Needs: While the companionship of a pet brings undeniable benefits, including increased social interaction and visibility, it’s crucial to recognize the root issue: the lack of a stable and secure home. 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. 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.

Conclusion: A Call to Support Pet Owners Experiencing Homelessness

Understanding the profound impact pets have on the lives of people experiencing homelessness highlights the importance of supporting pet-friendly shelters and services. By recognizing the critical role these animal companions play, we can better support those in need, ensuring they do not have to choose between shelter and their beloved pet.

Pets are more than just animals; they are family, friends, and lifelines for many people experiencing homelessness. By acknowledging and supporting the bond between these individuals and their pets, we can contribute to a more compassionate and understanding society.

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