Homelessness and companion animals: more than just a pet?

Purpose: Research identifies the value of animal companionship for people of various ages and with physical and mental health diagnoses. However, there is limited research into the value of animal companionship for the homeless population. Method: This exploratory study aimed to investigate the value that homeless people find in animal companionship; the extent to which homelessness impacts on the ability to have animal companions; and interventions that health professionals can implement to reduce barriers to animal companionship. Twenty-six people were interviewed during Homeless Health Outreach Team outreach. Descriptive analysis of the responses to the semi-structured interviews was carried out. Findings: Results indicated that the majority of participants had given up a pet, and wanted a pet but could not due to their homelessness. The impact of giving up a companion animal was significant. Difficulties associated with pet ownership focused mostly on the living environment and the cost. There were several benefits to having companion animals. Participants viewed that having a pet made a difference to their lives in that it provided friendship and responsibility and contributed to emotional wellbeing. Conclusion: It is suggested that occupational therapists need to be aware of the impact that pet ownership has on the lives of homeless people and to explore ways in which they can assist with this.

Publication Date: 
Journal Name: 
The British Journal of Occupational Therapy