Dogs are often referred to as a ‘man’s best friend’. In this blog post we are going to explore the reasons why a large proportion of the homeless population have dogs as pets. We will show how it fills the gaps of companionship, accountability and protection. We will also touch on the mental health benefits and the issue at hand of shelters not accommodating dogs.
Homelessness can be one of the loneliest and most isolating experiences any human can face. Often the homeless have little to no available friends or family to socialise with or interact with (although in some cases they form their own community e.g. Skid Row in Los Angeles). Dogs provide that missing piece; they allow the owner to love them and they love their owner in return. Dogs are highly intelligent and intuitive animals that are scientifically proven to feel the emotions of love and loss. They can be an amazing companion and give their owner the love they deserve.
Anyone who has a dog knows that they are a lot of work. From keeping them fed, to constantly walking them, taking them to do their business in the early morning and even succumbing to their need for affection and playtime. When someone is homeless, they’re often without a job and so have very few responsibilities apart from keeping themselves alive and safe. This can have negative mental health effects when someone in a traumatic situation is left alone with their thoughts 24/7. Dogs give homeless people a sense of responsibility and accountability. When homeless, having these responsibilities can lessen focus on yourself and allow your mind to focus on the wants and needs of another being. This is greatly beneficial for homeless people as they often suffer from depression symptoms and being responsible for another life can often alleviate their mental suffering.
On the subject of mental health – dogs and other pets can be greatly beneficial all-round. Dogs are often used in therapy due to scientific studies that found being around and stroking dogs can lower blood pressure as well as help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Being homeless is an extremely dangerous living situation. Sleeping on the street can make a person extremely vulnerable and prone to theft and attacks. This threat is even worse for women who are at an added risk of sexual assault. Pets and dogs in particular are an extra layer of security. When walking down the street you’re more likely to see homeless people with larger dogs (Pitbull’s, German Shepherds etc) and this can be a primary reason for it. Due to dogs being extremely loyal creatures, they often protect their owner – even just by barking and alarming their owner of a potential threat.
Homelessness can be temporary
For many homelessness is a transitionary phase, and many only just lost their homes recently. In most cases this individual had this dog before they had no home. Therefore, this dog is their companion on the rough journey of homelessness and finding a way out.
A Very Difficult Decision
One huge issue within the homeless sector is that most shelter don’t allow pets. This can be from sanitary reasons, health and safety reasons or even just lack of space and supplies for care. Many people experiencing homelessness are faced with the dilemma between choosing between accommodation and losing their best friend.
We hope this blog post has explained why its very common to see the homelessness population with dogs by their side and the vast benefits it brings. If you would like to help our mission to help those without a home, please consider donating or contacting us.