Financial instability, housing insecurity, disability, and domestic violence can impact anyone with the full force of their brutality. Individuals going through crisis situations can find themselves feeling alone and isolated, without a friend in the world. This can seriously deteriorate one’s mental and physical wellbeing. For our community members fighting to survive crisis situations, their animal companion becomes a source of resilience and can often provide impetus to continue taking care of themselves, get help, and find their way back to safety.
While not a widely-known fact, 20% of homeless Canadians are pet owners!
If we allow ourselves a narrow-minded view, we might ask ourselves the seemingly obvious questions – why are homeless people even allowed to keep pets in the first place? If they can’t pay for their own basic survival needs, how can they afford to take care of a pet?
Well of course, one reason is that a person may have a pet and then become homeless. Homelessness can happen for a variety of reasons – flood, fire, acute mental health issue, family breakup, job loss and more. With the rising cost of housing and the backlog of those seeking affordable housing (more than 6000 in the London area as of March 2022), homelessness may be an unforeseen outcome.
Pets give people struggling with homelessness a sense of purpose in their lives and remind them that they are important and loved. Their pets provide the unconditional love, loyalty, and sense of protection they need to make it through another difficult day. What’s more, pets have the powerful ability to motivate homeless pet owners to continue fighting for a better life for their companion animal. They remind their humans that they have the power to take care of and provide for another living being. This in turn encourages their human to continue taking care of themselves and never give up on finding permanent housing because their lives matter to their pets.
The sad truth is that most Canadian homeless shelters do not accept pets, meaning that homeless pet owners seeking shelter services must give up their beloved pet. A survey performed among homeless Americans revealed dog owners would rather sleep outside than be separated from their dog.
The unconditional love from a pet is an enormous source of comfort for victims of domestic abuse.
While companion animals can give hope for a better life for their caregivers, the presence of a companion animal poses an enormous barrier for victims fleeing an abusive relationship because most shelters do not accept pets. This forces many victims of domestic violence to make the dangerous and potentially life-threatening decision to delay fleeing their abuser to ensure their pet’s safety.
According to a survey conducted by the University of Windsor, almost 90% of women living at homeless shelters reported that their partner also abused their companion animal. 56% of these women delayed leaving an abusive partner out of fear for their pet’s safety. The staggering truth is that the majority of pet owners in abusive relationships will choose to keep their lives in danger over leaving their beloved pet behind. This is a decision nobody should ever have to make, let alone someone who has already undergone traumatic experiences, violence, and loss of autonomy. Asking someone to leave a beloved pet behind in dangerous circumstances is like asking someone to leave their best friend in a burning building.
The good news is that women’s shelters across Canada are making strides to address this impossible dilemma that women with companion animals face by finding foster homes, temporary pet shelters or making their facilities completely pet friendly.
Most Canadian shelters do not accept pets.
While there are certainly legitimate health and safety reasons for shelters to refuse pets, it is also important to note that this presents an insurmountable barrier for individuals trying to access shelter services. This is because homeless pet owners rarely have access to a temporary secure location or service which cares for their pets while they access shelter services or regain permanent housing.
Pet owners seeking shelter services are thus forced to choose between their own safety and wellbeing and that of their pets. Many pet owners prioritize staying together with their pet over accessing shelter services. For any loving pet owner, the wellbeing of their animal companion is one of the most important things in the world.
While helping pet owners find a safe temporary foster-home significantly alleviates the stress and worry of their loved ones being in danger of euthanasia or maltreatment, the ideal solution is to keep caregivers and pets together. It has been proven that for children living in shelters, those who remain united with their companion animals in pet-friendly shelters show improved mental health as opposed to those who were separated.
We at PAWS are advocating for shelters to offer pet-friendly accommodations for pet owners in crisis. We believe the unique animal-human companionship bond is lifesaving, particularly for vulnerable populations struggling to access stable housing. We are committed to supporting the wonderful organizations that provide shelter to the homeless and educate them on how they can allow pets to shelter with their owners and continue the beneficial animal/human relationship.
Please contact us to start the discussion. We will gladly work with you on pet-friendly solutions for your facilities.