Help for the Homeless - Humans and Companion Animals

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Help for the Homeless - Humans and Companion Animals

[Ed. Note: For more about the link between human and animal abuse, read Animal Abuse Law Will Protect Kids Too, Cruelty to Animals May Lead to Child Abuse, The Link: New Mexico Recognizes Connection Between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse, The Psychology of Interpersonal Violence and Animal Abuse,]

By Jill Howard-Church, Animals and Society Institute (ASI)
May 2011

A study published in the journal Anthrozoos (March 2011) examined the relationship between homeless women and companion animals, illustrating the need for the welfare of both to be considered in homeless shelter services.

Study Summary

In 2008, Jennifer Labrecque and Christine A. Walsh of the University of Calgary conducted qualitative interviews with 51 women from homeless shelters in six Canadian cities, and also interviewed shelter administrators. The questions centered on the role of companion animals in the women’s lives, and the policies of shelters to permit animals on the premises.

A high percentage of the women acknowledged the psychological benefits of being allowed to have animals at shelters (few of which allow them), but were also sensitive to the needs of other residents who may be allergic or fearful (of dogs in particular). The study concluded that because so many women form deep attachments to animals and experience a “strong sense of loss” leaving them behind, “it is imperative that shelters consider incorporating pets into shelter policy.”

Policy Implications

Companion animals can provide companionship, comfort and other benefits to women already vulnerable to poverty, homelessness and physical abuse. Being forced to relinquish an animal (who may end up being killed as a result) can exacerbate an already difficult situation for such women as well as their dependent children, who can also benefit from the human-animal bond. It is therefore desirable for homeless shelters to consider policies that will allow individuals and families to preserve that bond.

(To learn more about the study, please contact Jennifer Labrecque at jenn.labrecque.gmail.com)

The ASI was notified of this study by the Humane Research Council (HRC), which maintains a comprehensive database of public opinion research at HumaneSpot.org. The ASI and HRC already collaborate on multiple projects, and we will work together to identify important studies for future Research Nutshells.