Dogs are an essential source of comfort for the homeless people

Homeless individuals and dogs form positive relationships, promoting emotional well-being.


The number of homeless persons in the UK is rising, but nothing is known about whether they possess pets. This association’s potential benefits and drawbacks have yet to be discovered. Semi-structured interviews with homeless dog owners were undertaken to understand their dogs’ impact and welfare requirements.

Researchers at the University of Bristol Veterinary School have discovered that homeless individuals and their dogs benefit from each other’s company, with the dogs serving as an essential source of support for the owners’ emotional and mental well-being.

The new study highlights the significance of providing adequate resources for homeless people with animals. It also suggests that keeping dogs with their owners may increase participation in charitable programs.

A dog welfare organization that works with homeless people and their dogs helped the researchers find 21 homeless dog owners in the South West, whom they interviewed in semi-structured interviews. The interviews included their dog’s impact on them, how they provided for the dog’s well-being, and the advantages and disadvantages of living on the streets for both the owner and the dog.

Dr. Chelsie Bailey, one of the study’s authors and an Honorary Teaching Associate at Bristol Veterinary School, said: “One of the most positive findings our study found was that not one of the dogs we saw lacked basic veterinary care, and this was due to the accessibility provided by the centers linked with Dogs Trust.”

Dogs provided similar advantages to dogs kept in homes. However, owners thought their dogs helped with routine, helped them with mental health difficulties, and provided ongoing emotional support. The dogs received the necessary veterinarian care, parasite treatment, and nutrition. The primary worry owners indicated was providing their dogs with a warm, spacious sleeping area. However, it may also be crucial to have access to a secure environment free from alarming stimuli. Many dog owners utilized the dog to help promote a conversation about themselves throughout the interviews, allowing them to be candid about their past and future challenges.

Dr. Nicola Rooney, Senior Lecturer in Wildlife and Conservation at Bristol Veterinary School, noted that research like this indicates that dogs can benefit the homeless community’s mental health. In many ways, the welfare requirements of homeless dogs were better met than those of dogs living in homes. Although these problems are probably equally prevalent in the community of homed dogs, potential issues with thermal comfort, interaction with other dogs, and the capacity to escape threatening stimuli have been noted. Customized education programs addressing these issues might be beneficial.

Dr. Bailey said, “One issue highlighted in this study was the variation in what some shelters and day centers classed as ‘dog friendly .’For example, we found some shelters and day centers that provided food. However, we didn’t allow dogs into the premises, which meant the owners were less likely to access proper support. Places allowing owners to keep their pets with them at all times could help owners seek further and access support properly.”

The study highlighted the value of ongoing charitable efforts to let homeless persons with dogs know about the resources accessible to them. Most charitable programs require and support the dog’s neutering. This may discourage some participants from using this service, fostering further mistrust and harming the animal’s future veterinary care needs. If individuals are not required to neuter their dogs to qualify, or views about neutering dogs in the homeless population alter, adoption is likely to rise.

The researchers recommend that their findings be utilized to help homeless charities determine how to support dog owners in the future best.

Dogs Trust Hope Project and The Big Issue (Bristol and Bath) were among the charities that funded the study.

Journal Reference:

  1. BaileyC., HockenhullJ,etal. “A Part of Me.” The Value of Dogs to Homeless Owners and the Implications for Dog Welfare. Zoophilologica. Polish Journal of Animal Studies. DOI: 10.31261/ZOOPHILOLOGICA.2023.S.05
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