New research from Nottingham University and the Dogs Trust has found that pet ownership among homeless people has been linked with a range of benefits, including alleviating loneliness, isolation, depression, substance abuse and criminal activity.
But the researchers said pet ownership could also mean people stay homeless for longer as it can restrict their access to support services.
Dr Jenny Stavisky, one of the study’s authors, said dog owners who are homeless should not be forced to choose between accommodation and their pets.
“It is clear from this sample of homeless dog owners that the relationship with their pets is really important to them,” she said.
“There are also clear benefits to their health wellbeing from owning a dog.
“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.”
The researchers, who interviewed twenty homeless or vulnerably housed dog owners, aged between 23 to 65, from seven locations in England found many described their pets as their kin, sharing “closeness and unconditional love”.
Some of the participants described their pets as their best friends, while others said they would make sure their dogs ate before them.
Big Issue vendor Robin and his dog Tinks, who he says has been a lifeline for him during the lockdown. Photo courtesy of Robin Price
The choice between a bed and a pet is something Big Issue vendor Robin Price, who usually sells the magazine in Weston-Super-Mare, has experienced in the past.
“I’ve had it myself where I’ve had a dog and unfortunately I gave it to somebody who looked after it,” he said.
“And every day I went round to see it and take it out for walks. It came out with me all day and about nine o’clock, before I went back to the hostel or wherever I was going, I took it back.”
Robin added that for those rough sleeping, a pet dog can often be a lifeline.
“A man’s best friend on the street is his companion, his dog,” he explained.
“They are so loyal. I’ve seen some street dogs in my time and they are just so loyal to the person who owns them.”
He said his dog, Tinks, had helped him get through the difficult times of lockdown while he has been unable to sell the magazine on his usual pitch.
“If it wasn’t my dog I would have fallen to pieces ages ago,” he added.
“Some days when I’m sitting here down and I’m feeling a bit upset she will come in and nudge me a little bit and say ‘look, I want to go out dad,’ and I take her for a walk and a bit of fresh air to clear my head.”
Stavisky added there could be hope on the horizon for those experiencing homelessness with their pets.
In January, the Government announced a new Model Tenancy Agreement which will allow tenants with well-behaved pets to secure leases more easily.
“New initiatives such as the updated Model Tenancy Agreement are to be welcomed,” Stavisky said.
“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.”