Pets and Homeless Youth

Study finds both benefits and challenges for homeless youth and their dogs.
By JoAnna Lou, May 2016, Updated June 2021
There's no question that having a dog in your life has many benefits. And it's been confirmed again in a new study that looked at homeless youth and their pets. Researchers from Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) found that young people with animals are less likely to engage in potentially harmful behavior, like alcohol abuse and hard drug use, because they don't want to be separated from their pets. They were also less likely to be depressed than their counterparts without animals.

But what was really interesting was that the researchers found many youth are extremely open to discussing their struggles and issues with veterinarians. This is an important connection considering many of them have lost trust in people. I think the unconditional love they've gotten through their pets helps make this relationship possible.

However, amid the benefits, there are also struggles associated with having a pet while homeless. Many shelters don't allow pets, so these people may be limited in where they can sleep. Avoiding homeless shelters also means less access healthcare and addiction treatment services.

Michelle Lem the lead researcher and founder of Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO), a volunteer group providing mobile veterinary services to homeless people in Canada, hopes that this study will highlight the need for pet friendly homeless shelters and show the value pets bring to these marginalized groups.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.