The beneficial bond between homeless people and their dogs

The beneficial bond between homeless people and their dogs

Before completing her master’s thesis Caroline Leblanc was homeless for many years. Forever at Leblanc’s side was Draft, her beloved dog.

August 12, 2019

Homeless people who have dogs derive a multitude of benefits from a relationship that others don’t fully appreciate. Caroline Leblanc can relate closely to this subject. She was homeless for 15 years. Her dog, Draft, who accompanied her during that time, died at the age of 18 years.

About 10% of people living on the streets have a pet. It was this fact that piqued the interest of the University of Sherbrooke social work student. “I wanted to find out if I was the only homeless person who benefitted from the companionship of my dog—a bond that had been so powerful for me,” she says.

At the end of her research, which was conducted among people who lived on the streets and others who found a way out of homelessness, Leblanc concluded that she was far from being the only person to have blossomed thanks to this profound human-animal partnership.

Dogs: Our precious allies
Leblanc emphasizes that a dog can exert great influence on a homeless person’s psychological, physical, emotional and social well-being: “These individuals are fragile and isolated beings. The unconditional love of an animal—free of judgment—enables them to build a trust they wouldn’t otherwise experience. So often their dog is their only source of validation, stability and safety.”

Being responsible for another living being sometimes leads to certain changes in a homeless person’s behaviour. For example, it’s been shown that owners of an animal are likely to modify, reduce or even completely stop their use of drugs or alcohol in order to remain fit enough to fulfill the needs of their companion.

The presence of a dog will even contribute, in some cases, to an individual’s social rehabilitation. Says Leblanc: "It’s often when an animal begins to age or becomes sick and has difficulty living outdoors that its owner is motivated to get off the streets in order to provide a better quality of life.”

An urgent need for centres that accept dogs
Despite the innumerable benefits of pet ownership in the context of homelessness, there are still very few facilities prepared to welcome homeless people with a dog. “The doors of many health, medical and social service centres remain off-limits to such duos,” says Leblanc. “Wanting at all costs to stay with their dog, these homeless people find themselves at a dead end, unable to start the journey toward getting off the streets.”

These persistent obstacles have prompted Leblanc to continue her research. She is starting a PhD in which she will study the factors that can restrict access to services that can help people leave homelessness behind and get back to a normal life situation.

Also read on Pawsie: Are homeless companion dogs unhappy?

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