Pets. Burden or Blessing?

The “homeless community” does not refer to just humans; it encompasses pets as well. Unhoused individuals with dogs are a growing topic of conversation. Are pets a burden to owners experiencing homelessness? 

The most basic needs of an unhoused individual include a safe place to sleep, food, and water. Having to worry about the needs of pet on top of enduring homelessness sounds extremely overwhelming. It would include accessing another meal, more water, and other necessities for pets. Because pets require extra resources, a common piece of advice given to unhoused pet owners is to surrender their pets to shelters. The idea behind this advice is that the person experiencing homelessness can focus on themselves, save some money, and get back on their feet faster. However, this is not always the case. 

Putting pets in shelters should be the last course of action considering the situations that many of the animals would face. The conditions in shelters can be more dangerous for animals than living on the streets. Being enclosed with other animals allows for more diseases to be transmitted, behavioral issues, separation anxiety, and the inability to distinguish a guardian, making the adoption process more difficult. 

Similarly, leaving a pet has drawbacks for the owner as well. While it is common knowledge that an individual experiencing homelessness faces many challenges, having an animal companion may actually improve their lives. The homeless experience is unique to each individual, but loneliness is a common theme. This can be especially true for those who have to leave behind a beloved pet. Owning an animal can provide the emotional support that an unhoused individual has not received prior. Playing and interacting with a pet can increase serotonin- the chemical that makes us feel happy- in an individual. Not only that, but unhoused individuals who own pets have explained that being relied on gives them a purpose. This in turn gives them the motivation to work harder to transition out of homelessness. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pet owners often try to better themselves by lowering drugs and alcohol use in order to be more responsible. Dogs have also become essential to the safety of their owner. They provide 24/7 security allowing their owner to have a better night’s rest and scaring off/alerting unwanted guests. 

Continuously encouraging individuals experiencing homelessness to give their pets away is not necessarily the best option. Pets provide safety, support, and encouragement that improves the lives of unhoused individuals. The dog and human relationship is one unbreakable bond that can be admired at all capacities. 


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