It is not uncommon to see people who are homeless accompanied by their nonhuman companions. Their pets, especially dogs. Some even rescues.
It been estimated that ten percent of homeless people in Canada have dogs or cats as their companions. The numbers vary geographically and it's difficult to come up with highly accurate statistics. Nonetheless, there is a large number of animals who live with homeless humans.
In many cases, the animals are the lifeline and reason for living for these people without a home, for people living in a stigmatized and marginalized environment in which few if any would choose to live.
Many homeless people say their dog is their best friend without whom life wouldn't be worth living. Their animal friend might even be their only friend, their only family.
A book by University of Colorado sociology Professor, Leslie Irvine explores what it takes to live on the streets with an animal. Using interviews with more than seventy homeless people in four cities, My Dog Always Eats First reveals what animals mean for homeless people and how they care for their four-legged friends.
Dr. Irvine's book offers rich descriptions of how animals provide social and emotional support, protection from harm, and, in some cases, have even helped turn around the lives of people who had few other reasons to live.
Initially, Dr Irvine found her research to be very challenging. Because homeless shelters do not typically allow animals, homeless pet owners usually stay on the street and “under the radar.” Then, she made connections with veterinarians who hold street clinics for the pets of the homeless. Dr Irvine interviewed people at the clinics and even went on veterinary “house calls” into homeless camps.
Homeless people told Dr. Irvine how their dogs encouraged interaction with others and kept them from becoming isolated. Former addicts and alcoholics described how their animals inspired them to get clean and sober. People who had spent years on the streets explained how they responded to the insults they heard from strangers who thought they should not have a pet. And they praised those who provided pet food and a kind word.
Adapted from The Dogs Of Homeless People Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today