Dogs owned by homeless people are generally healthy with few behavior problems by Ed Boks

Heather with her dog Poppy in downtown Seattle, Washington. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

I recently came across a  study published by Pet Behavior Science in 2016 that found:

  • Dogs owned by homeless people are generally healthy with few behavior problems.
  • Even though lower body condition scores were found, only one dog was found to be underweight.
  • Behavior is not generally an issue in homeless peoples’ dogs

The study also found that a significant number of homeless people own dogs, and these animals contribute to the well-being of their owners by providing emotional support and in many cases, a reason for living.  The animals were also found to serve as a “social catalyst”, helping to improve bonds between the homeless dog owners and other people.

The study was conducted by David Leonard Williams and Sarah Hogg at the Department of Veterinary Medicine. University of Cambridge.  The researchers started with the widely accepted premise that homeless people should not be allowed, let alone be encouraged, to keep a dog.  The supposition was that living with homeless people must have a negative impact on the dog’s health and welfare compared to that of a dog owned by people with a home.

The researchers sought to determine the health and welfare of dogs owned by homeless people, comparing 50 dogs owned by homeless people with 50 owned by people living in a home.  In contradistinction to the negative view noted above, the researchers found that dogs owned by homeless people were healthy animals, less likely to be obese, had fewer behavior issues such as aggression to strangers and separation anxiety when compared to dogs owned by people living in a conventional home.

The study concluded with a recommendation and a hope:

The recommendation is that these findings will be taken into account when deciding whether a homeless person with a dog should be allowed into a homeless shelter.

The hope is that this study will help improve the general attitude of the public towards homeless people living with a dog by their side on the street.

In closing the researchers state, “Dogs can be a valuable asset to the homeless, providing a friend and companion in what may otherwise prove an isolating and trustless way of life. It is not acceptable that [society] prevent a homeless person from accessing health care or finding accommodation” because they own a dog.

The study, The health and welfare of dogs belonging to homeless people came to my attention via an article published today  in The Guardian titled, Homeless people on their pets: ‘She saved me as much as I saved her’