Homeless pet owners are having to choose between a roof over their heads and their animal, according to a new study led by experts from the University of Nottingham.
The results of the study, published in the journal Anthrozoos, showed that homeless pet owners found they had reduced access to services including accommodation, advice and healthcare. The research also showed that the relationship between homeless dog owners and their pets is crucially important to them and can have a positive impact on their physical and mental wellbeing.
Homelessness is a prevalent social issue worldwide. In the UK, it is estimated that one in two hundred people are homeless, accounting for 0.5% of the population, and this is rising in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pet ownership among homeless people is common and has been linked with a range of health and social benefits, including alleviating loneliness, isolation and depression and a reduction in suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and criminal activity. However, pet ownership is also thought to perpetuate homelessness, by restricting access to support services.
In this new study, experts explored the nature of the Human Companion Animal Bond (H-CAB) between UK homeless owners and their dogs, and looked at the implications of this bond on the health and welfare of both parties. This is the first study to look at this relationship in detail.
Dr Jenny Stavisky, one of the study’s authors, said: “It is clear from this sample of homeless dog owners, that the relationship with their pets is really important to them. There are also clear benefits to their health wellbeing from owning a dog.
“Homeless pet owners have not been studied in much detail to date, and we can see through our analysis that there is a real gap in services for this group in the UK. This will have only been heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic. The stigma surrounding homelessness and dog ownership could be addressed by recognising the importance of these relationships to both animal and human health.
“We need to see policy changes, which will remove barriers to essential services to help ensure that homeless pet owners are not forced to choose between a roof over their head and their pet. New initiatives such as the updated Model Tenancy Agreement are to be welcomed. If the proposed Jasmine’s Law, which was partly inspired by a homeless man who died as a result of being separated from his pets, is passed, this will enable more homeless families, with two feet or four, to stay together.”