Homeless canine homeowners shouldn’t have to decide on between their pets and housing, based on a brand new research

According to a new study by experts at the University of Nottingham, homeless pet owners have to choose between a roof over their head and their pet.

The results of the study published in the journal Anthrozoos showed that homeless pet owners had limited access to services such as accommodation, counseling and health care. Research also showed that the relationship between homeless dog owners and their pets is vital to them and can have positive effects on their physical and mental wellbeing.

The research was led by an interdisciplinary team from the Faculties of Veterinary Medicine and Science and Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham in collaboration with the School of Psychology at the University of Southampton.

Artwork copyright Karen Jiyun Sung

Homelessness is a widespread social problem around the world. In the UK, it is estimated that one in two hundred people is homeless and accounts for 0.5% of the population. This is increasing in the course of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Pet ownership is widespread among the homeless and has been linked to a number of health and social benefits, including alleviating loneliness, isolation, and depression, as well as reducing thoughts of suicide, substance abuse, and criminal activity. However, pet ownership is also believed to maintain homelessness by limiting access to support services.

In this new study, experts examined the nature of the Human Companion Animal Bond (H-CAB) between the UK homeless and their dogs, examining the effects of this bond on the health and wellbeing of both parties. This is the first study to examine this relationship in detail.

Artwork copyright Karen Jiyun Sung

Louise Scanlon, a lead researcher on the project, interviewed twenty homeless or vulnerable dog owners between the ages of 23 and 65 in seven locations in England – London, Nottingham, Lincoln, Spalding, Preston, Gillingham and Plymouth.

The general topics that should emerge from the interviews included:

  • Many participants described their pets as relatives – like friends or family who share closeness and unconditional love;

“He’s my best buddy. I love him as much as I love myself. We are both the same. “

  • The idea of ​​animals as “relatives” seemed to create a sense of responsibility and oblige them to others than themselves.

“Our dogs would eat before anyone else.”

  • Some owners admitted that if they lost their pet they would lose all incentive to take care of themselves.

“I don’t know what I would do. It would be a massive void in my life. I would probably stop eating. “

  • Many owners have spoken of rescuing their dog either from charities or from negligent owners

Artwork copyright Karen Jiyun Sung

The results of the study showed that:

  • Owning dogs and the relationship between the owner and dog have an impact on the owner’s physical and psychological situation and have been an important social mediator
  • Several owners reported increases in physical activity and motivation to go outside because of their dogs.
  • The participants talked about being protected from physical threats by their dogs.
  • The practical need to care for their pet led to a reduction in substance abuse.
  • Owners reported their pet’s positive effects on mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
  • Pets reduced feelings of isolation and loneliness.

The data collected also showed a close relationship between dog ownership and the desire for improved self-care and behavior change.

Artwork copyright Karen Jiyun Sung

Dr. Jenny Stavisky, one of the study’s authors, said, “This sample of homeless dog owners shows that the relationship with their pets is really important to them. There are also clear health benefits to having a dog.

“Homeless pet owners have not been studied in detail and we can see from our analysis that there is a real service gap for this group in the UK. This will only have been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. The stigma of homelessness and dog ownership could be addressed by recognizing the importance of these relationships for human and animal health.

“We need to see policy changes that remove barriers to essential services to ensure homeless pet owners are not forced to choose between a roof over their head and their pet. New initiatives such as the updated model lease should be welcomed. If the proposed Jasmine’s Lawis inspired in part by a homeless man who died as a result of being separated from his pets. This will allow more homeless families of two or four feet to stay together. ”

The study was funded by the Dogs Trust.

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