The Homeless and Their Dogs: Myths and Misconceptions

It is easy to ignore a homeless person. Let’s start by getting the elephant in the room under full scrutiny. It’s raining, you’re busy, late, chatting, texting. You don’t have any cash, or you need it, or you simply don’t want to give it away. You donate in other ways, you ‘know they have somewhere to go’, or perhaps you worry your money will be spent on drink or drugs. For whatever reason, all of us have at some point in our lives walked past someone living rough.

Seeing a homeless person with a dog, or more rarely another pet, does invite more glances. More eye-contact. A little more chance that someone will break through their wall to acknowledge the person on the pavement next to them. Unfortunately, this is often in condemnation – a concern for the ‘suffering’ pet, a worry that if a human being cannot take care of themselves, what hope do they have caring for a dependant life?

This short article aims to invoke some thoughts and ask you to look a little deeper into the who’s, what’s, whys and where’s of pet ownership on the streets.

Define Homeless

Many dogs live outside, both stray dogs and of course, in many homes, owned dogs. Shelter and the ability to keep warm (much easier with a fur coat) constitute all that is required for a dog to feel quite at home. Although it might not be our definition of a house, for a dog a blanket and a sheltered corner in the company of their human perfectly fits within their desires from a residence – lets not forget huskies in Alaska are quite happy to kip in the snow! Dogs are not fragile and if you look at the stocky breeds favoured by those sleeping out, they are built to easily tolerate the temperature and weather of the UK. Interestingly and importantly, one of the struggles faced by people on the street is a lack of overnight housing that will accept pets, and rather than leave their best friends alone overnight, they choose to spend the night on the streets with them, getting cold themselves.

How ‘poor’ is ‘poor’

Looking at the dogs on the street what we find is that the major problem is not lack of nutrition but obesity. Homeless people will in the vast majority of cases put the needs of their dog before their own needs. Whilst this isn’t premium quality dog food, these dogs are not going hungry. There are multiple health issues associated with the obesity that is rife in these dogs, but this well matched by the obesity levels in dogs within millions of UK households and is certainly not a problem confined to the streets.

Who are we to judge?

Being homeless does not take away someone’s ability or desire to love, and to want to receive unconditional love in return. For many in such desperate circumstances, a pet is the only sure-fire way to receive that. These animals can be the sole light of someone’s existence, and do we have a right to deny or condemn them for that, based on a passing glance and a host of assumptions?

Dogs on the street, whether you agree with it or not, are here to stay. Supporting StreetVet in its aim to provide free veterinary care for these much loved dogs is an active and fantastic way to improve the lives of both the dog and the owner, and bring a little more compassion to the streets of Great Britain.