Man’s best friend is nothing short of a pillar in many of our lives, and this is even truer for people experiencing homelessness. The 2021 Annual Homeless Assessment Report estimates that there were more than 326,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in 2021.
Among these individuals, it’s estimated that 1 in 10 people who are unhoused have pets with them. Unfortunately, these pets are often overlooked despite their significant impact on the health, safety, and lives of their pet parents.
Why are pets so important to people living in vulnerable situations?
Pets can put a smile on almost anyone’s face. However, they serve a larger-than-life role in the lives of individuals who often have no one else to turn to for comfort. As Amanda Howland, co-founder of The ElleVet Project, a national mobile relief effort providing free veterinary care to pets in vulnerable communities, explains, “Having a pet is an anchor for them.”
Many individuals experiencing homelessness are alone, separated, or turned out from their families, so the impact of having a warm, loving pet with them cannot be understated. Pets provide individuals with a greater sense of purpose and motivation to keep going, even when they are going through one of the most difficult challenges imaginable.
When asked about the impact of pets in regard to emotional support, Howland shares a story about a young woman whose dog was receiving care from The ElleVet Project. At the age of 16, this young woman had been shot in a drive-by shooting while at a friend’s house. She began suffering from crippling levels of anxiety in the aftermath. Later, she was able to start her recovery with the help of her emotional support dog, and her dog continued to support her while she was experiencing homelessness.
In addition, it’s well documented that pets can significantly impact an individual’s mental health. Humans have a need to be touched and playing with a pet has been shown to increase dopamine and serotonin levels.