Homeless people and their dogs have a beneficial relationship, with dogs providing critical support for their owners’ emotional and mental health as owners try to protect the dogs and meet their welfare needs, new research has found.
A new study by academics at the University of Bristol Veterinary School and published in Zoophilologica Polish Journal of Animal Studies emphasizes the importance of ensuring that there are adequate services available for homeless people with animals and points out that allowing dogs to stay with their owners can improve engagement with charity services.
The UK homeless population is increasing. Co-ownership of animals among the homeless is not uncommon, but the positive and negative consequences of this partnership for people and animals have not been fully researched.
The researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with 21 homeless dog owners in the South West, recruited through a dog welfare charity that works with homeless people and their dogs. The interviews cover how their dog affects them, how they meet the dog’s welfare needs and the costs and benefits of a homeless stay for both the owner and the dog.
Dr. Chelsie Bailey, one of the authors of the study and an Honorary Teaching Associate at the Bristol Veterinary School, said, “One of the most positive findings found in our study is that none of the dogs we saw lack basic veterinary care, and this is due to the accessibility provided by the centers linked to the Dogs Trust.”
Researchers found that dogs provided the same benefits as dogs owned by households, but owners also believed that dogs helped with their routine, helped them with mental health issues and provided ongoing emotional support. Owners notice difficulties in accessing long-term and short-term accommodation, and services, such as shops, because of their dog, and generally only entrust other individuals to take care of their dog in urgent cases.
All dogs receive veterinary care when needed, treated against parasites, and fed adequately. The main concern expressed by owners is to provide a warm and large place for their dog to sleep, but the research team suggests that access to a safe place to avoid frightening awakenings may also be important. During the interviews many owners used the dog to help facilitate a discussion about themselves, which allowed them to open up about the difficulties of their past, and the future.
Dr. Nicola Rooney, Senior Lecturer in Wildlife and Conservation at Bristol Veterinary School and one of the authors of the paper, added, “Dogs can play an incredibly important role in improving mental health, and this study shows that this is equally true for the homeless community. ionship and access to veterinary care and flea and worm control.
“However, several potential issues have been identified surrounding comfort in heat, contact with other dogs, and the ability to avoid things that may frighten them, although the latter two issues are probably equally common in the dog population.
Dr. Bailey added, “One issue highlighted in this study is the difference in what some shelters and day centers classify as ‘dog friendly.’ For example, we found some shelters and day centers that provide food but do not allow dogs to enter the premises which means that owners are less able to access the right support.
The study highlights the importance of the charity’s continued work to inform homeless people with dogs about the help and support available to them. Most charity schemes require and help dogs to be neutered. This research suggests that this requirement prevents some participants from using this service which leads to more distrust, and possibly affects the veterinary care desired for the animal in the future. Uptake is likely to increase if individuals are not required to neuter their dogs to be eligible, or if attitudes toward neutering dogs in the homeless population change.
Chelsie Bailey et al, “A Part of Me”: The Value of Dogs to Homeless Owners and the Implications for Dog Welfare, Zoophilologica Polish Journal of Animal Studies (2023). DOI: 10.31261/ZOOPHILOLOGICA.2023.S.05. journals.us.edu.pl/index.php/Z … A/article/view/13555
Provided by the University of Bristol
Citation: Dogs provide critical support for homeless, study finds (2023, July 25) retrieved on July 25, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07-dogs-critical-homeless-people.html
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