Why the homeless need their pets.

Image by Alan Light via Flick

It’s not uncommon for people passing a homeless person with a dog on the street to voice sympathy for the animal and derision for the human.

Often based on the assumption that a homeless individual is just using a pet for warmth or to guilt people into giving them money, it’s easy to argue that people who can’t take care of themselves could be subjecting animals to deprivation and risk.

This skepticism is so baked into society that some people apparently consider it acceptable to cut the leashes of homeless people’s animals as they sleep, taking them to a better life. Authorities regularly sweep homeless camps, picking up animals, or grill homeless people for proof of animal ownership they may not have and few pet owners would ever keep on their person.


Yet according to a new study, authored by Michelle Lem of the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and published last month in the academic journal Anthrozoos, these attitudes and practices may be woefully misguided.

Homeless people with pets, the study argues, are drastically less likely to get depressed or engage in risky behaviors than those without animal friends.

“These pets are their only friends,” the CBC recently quoted Lem as saying, “the only way that they’ve experienced unconditional love… These pets have saved their lives in many cases.”

Lem’s study was small, based on the experiences of 198 street youths in the Canadian cities of Hamilton, Kingston, Ottawa, and Toronto, only 98 of whom had pets.

But it matches with previous studies and the opinions of experts who add that there’s no reason to think cats, dogs, or any other animals on the street suffer more or receive less love and care than those in homes.

All of this suggests that both we and our social institutions need to seriously reevaluate how we assess and accommodate these extremely common but often-vilified human-animal relationships.

“Animals become vehicles for redemption,” writes University of Colorado sociologist Leslie Irvine in a 2013 academic article.

They “encourage a sense of responsibility… reward the fulfillment of that responsibility… [and acting] as silent witnesses, they keep [their owners] from lapsing into risky behavior… [they] allow for the construction of a positive moral identity.”

Image by Laurie Avocado via Flickr

Irvine speaks with great authority on the subject, in no small part because she used to believe differently. Years ago, in the Colorado Desert, she recalls calling animal control on a homeless man who wouldn’t let her “save” his dog from his rough lifestyle.

But after sitting down to properly study the situation, she changed her tune. Her must-read 2013 book My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People and Their Animals is perhaps the greatest repository of hard (rather than knee-jerk) information and solid (rather than emotional) arguments on the subject.

Beyond supporting Lem’s conclusions that animals can help homeless people achieve a sense of connection and avoid a downward spiral, Irving’s works point out that, while they may worry about paying for pet food and veterinary services, the homeless tend to be good pet owners.

They almost never use their pets to score sympathy donations, and almost always prioritize feeding their companions before themselves. Sure, they may not have a roof, but many animals—dogs especially—don’t actually need that human construct. What they need is attention and affection, which homeless owners can often offer more of than owners with houses; there’s no guarantee that an owner with an address is any more caring or capable than a homeless owner.

“Homeless people report levels of attachment to their animals that may surpass those found among the domiciled public,” writes Irvine.

Recognition of the benefits of homeless animal ownership is spreading beyond academia these days as well. A number of shelters have opened up around the world that explicitly welcome and provide for homeless companion critters. And even more programs exist to help homeless people find free food, supplies, and veterinary aid for their companions with no risk.

Yet for all the mounting evidence in favor of homeless pet ownership, the vast majority of social services—not just people on the street—still officially reject the idea. In the United Kingdom, only perhaps 9 percent of shelters allow dogs. It’s arguably worse in the United States. More often than not, in order to claim social services, the homeless are compelled to give up their pets.

“They can’t access shelters, they can’t access some addiction treatments, they can’t go into hospitalization,” Lem writes of the situation in Canada, which is not dissimilar to the US.

Image by Steve Willey via Flickr.

Meanwhile the services that cater to homeless pet owners are small; Pets of the Homeless, one of the major advocates for homeless companions and a hard-working charity, only has four part-time employees in their Nevada offices with a budget of just over half a million dollars a year.

As a result, many homeless people eager to seek help wind up sleeping on the streets rather than giving up their pets. This means existing attitudes and policies perpetuate homelessness by threatening to take away one of that population’s greatest aids.

This situation isn’t always a result of knee-jerk assumptions like those made by people on the street who want to “save” homeless pets. Often in the US it’s just the result of regulatory restrictions or a lack of capacity that precludes animals from the homeless services equation.

Those policies, Lem’s study and the works of people like Irvine clearly show, need to change. In order to address homelessness, we need to factor in and respect the value of offering people in that situation a form of companionship, support, and responsibility they often need and desire. We need to make pets a part of our homeless services, not just retroactively but proactively as well, perhaps working the homeless into adoption schemes for neglected animals.

As we do, the inevitable outrage over these programs and policy shifts from the “homeless dogs need saving” camp will hopefully spark dialogue in which the hard facts will win out. For now, the next time any of us feel a reactionary twinge of judgment at the sight of a homeless individual with a pet on the streets, we can start by recognizing our feelings for what they are—a stupid, baseless bias.

This story originally appeared on GOOD.

Most Shared
Youtube

Should a man lose his home because the grass in his yard grew higher than 10 inches? The city of Dunedin, Florida seems to think so.

According to the Institute of Justice, which is representing Jim Ficken, he had a very good reason for not mowing his lawn – and tried to rectify the situation as best he could.

In 2014, Jim's mom became ill and he visited her often in South Carolina to help her out. When he was away, his grass grew too long and he was cited by a code office; he cut the grass and wasn't fined.

France has started forcing supermarkets to donate food instead of throwing it away.

But several years later, this one infraction would come back to haunt him after he left to take care of him's mom's affairs after she died. The arrangements he made to have his grass cut fell through (his friend who he asked to help him out passed away unexpectedly) and that set off a chain reaction that may result in him losing his home.

The 69-year-old retiree now faces a $29,833.50 fine plus interest. Watch the video to find out just what Jim is having to deal with.

Mow Your Lawn or Lose Your House! www.youtube.com

Cities

The world officially loves Michelle Obama.

The former first lady has overtaken the number one spot in a poll of the world's most admired women. Conducted by online research firm YouGov, the study uses international polling tools to survey people in countries around the world about who they most admire.

In the men's category, Bill Gates took the top spot, followed by Barack Obama and Jackie Chan.

In the women's category, Michelle Obama came first, followed by Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie. Obama pushed Jolie out of the number one spot she claimed last year.

Unsurprising, really, because what's not to love about Michelle Obama? She is smart, kind, funny, accomplished, a great dancer, a devoted wife and mother, and an all-around, genuinely good person.

She has remained dignified and strong in the face of rabid masses of so-called Americans who spent eight years and beyond insisting that she's a man disguised as a woman. She's endured non-stop racist memes and terrifying threats to her family. She has received far more than her fair share of cruelty, and always takes the high road. She's the one who coined, "When they go low, we go high," after all.

She came from humble beginnings and remains down to earth despite becoming a familiar face around the world. She's not much older than me, but I still want to be like Michelle Obama when I grow up.

Her memoir, Becoming, may end up being the best-selling memoir of all time, having already sold 10 million copies—a clear sign that people can't get enough Michelle, because there's no such thing as too much Michelle.

Don't like Michelle Obama? Don't care. Those of us who love her will fly our MO flags high and without apology, paying no mind to folks with cold, dead hearts who don't know a gem of a human being when they see one. There is nothing any hater can say or do to make us admire this undeniably admirable woman any less.

When it seems like the world has lost its mind—which is how it feels most days these days—I'm just going to keep coming back to this study as evidence that hope for humanity is not lost.

Here. Enjoy some real-life Michelle on Jimmy Kimmel. (GAH. WHY IS SHE SO CUTE AND AWESOME. I can't even handle it.)

Michelle & Barack Obama are Boring Now www.youtube.com

Most Shared
via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

The world is dark and full of terrors, but every once in a while it graces us with something to warm our icy-cold hearts. And that is what we have today, with a single dad who went viral on Twitter after his daughter posted the photos he sent her when trying to pick out and outfit for his date. You love to see it.




After seeing these heartwarming pics, people on Twitter started suggesting this adorable man date their moms. It was essentially a mom and date matchmaking frenzy.

Keep Reading Show less
Family