The Plight of Pets with People Experiencing Homelessness

Were you ever in a major city downtown and witnessed someone obviously homeless and on the streets? Maybe you’ve been  down an exit ramp and encountered someone at a stop light at the intersection with a sign asking for money or donations. Did they have a pet companion? If they did, would it have changed your mind on giving them a few dollars, or dropping by the dollar store and returning with food for the pet and person? Do you ask yourself, “How can a human put an animal through that life? states that around 582,000 people in the U.S. experienced homelessness for some length of time in 2022. To put that in smaller and more relatable terms, 18 in every 10,000 people are living on the streets of our nation. Of that 582,000 somewhere between 5 & 20% have a companion animal living with them. If we take a mid-range number of 10%, that would mean over 58,000 animals are homeless or living on the streets. They experience the days of wandering, the nights of no shelter and sleeping where they can find a spot where they will not be harassed or told to “move on”.  They feel the pangs of hunger and wondering where their next meal is going to come from. They are fully exposed to the heat of summers and cold of winters, just like their human companion.

The question becomes “why?” Why would someone put a dog or a cat through a life of living hand to hand, day by day, like a nomad, wandering and begging for scraps of help from strangers, sleeping in ally’s, doorways, parks, woods, out of sight of the masses, then becoming a visible sign of the times in America as they attempt to panhandle food or cash to survive? The answers might surprise you, and in a considerable amount of the cases, the answers make some sense.

The Facts on why People Experiencing Homelessness Decide to have an Animal Companion

  • Sobriety is #1 –  a great number of homeless people are on the streets due to a dependency of some sort. Regardless if it’s drugs or alcohol, they have an addiction that is driving their choices and decisions. Having a pet companion forces many in that category to act more responsibly with their decisions. Many choose to forgo or fight to stay off the addiction cause, because of what it would mean to their pet if they were high, strung out, or passed out. They fear being separated from the animal, losing possession of them, and never be reunited. The bond helps them avoid bad situations and people, stay away from criminal activity (like petty theft, drug use, or trespassing). Their pet becomes their priority when their personal demon pops up on their shoulder. The love one feels for their best fur friend helps to shape their options and choices.

  • Shelter & Help – Pet’s help to shape the life of a person in homelessness. People with pets on the streets tend to put the pet’s care and safety first. They will only choose shelters that accepts pets, so they can continue to care and be cared for by the animal. Other factors are impacted by having another life to consider, leisure activity must have room for their fur buddy, when choosing types of help or aid the welfare of the pet is considered, the pets health is always front of mind. Having this other living being to care for is a driving factor towards a more normal existence in a world where nothing is normal.  You won’t find people with pets sleeping in the rain (unless there is absolutely no other option), they will look for warm places to stay in the cold, and cooler spots in the extreme heat.

    On the down side, these same individuals will avoid social events or crowded places, they stay away from areas where pets are strictly forbidden for fear that the animal will be taken away. Pet’s removed and taken to an animal shelter can’t be retrieved by someone with no address or home, and a great many of them are put to sleep. The partnership with their fur companion simply drives different, mostly better choices. The pet is one thing they truly care about. In a great many cases it’s the only real and static relationship they have, the one thing they can count for stability every day, and someone that loves them for who they are… regardless of their currently lot.

  • Social Interactions – Many of the homeless with pets feel that they owe their very life to this fur creature. Animals can feel emotions in people and the animal leans into the negative energy, always attempting to help depression, pain, sadness, or worry. As we’ve mentioned before, the pets have helped keep some abusers off drugs and away from alcohol. Seeing a man and his dog on the streets drives more interaction, people are more likely to engage and help for the sake of the animal. Conversations are better, less antagonistic towards a person with a pet. We all feel a common bond when it comes to animals. Regardless if you are helping because of the dog or cat, choose to give due to the life of the animal, or feel some obligation to assure the pet has food, the person experiencing homelessness has an interaction with another human that they wouldn’t have made without the pet. Pet ownership can be an inroad to building better communications and social contacts with a lot of people that would have simply ignored a person who was alone and asking for help.

  • A “Front Man” for the Team – We would be remiss if we didn’t state what many people consider the obvious, in many cases having a pet with you drives more donations and gifts from the public. Whereas, this is true, what does it really say? Are we to blame the homeless individual for having a companion in his life? Or does it say more about ourselves as a society that we could not help a fellow human, regardless if its out of fear, out of a clear dislike of seeing the homeless event in progress, out of a worry of being scammed by someone panhandling, or that we cannot give of ourselves (food, money or some sort of social contact that we avoid with street people). However, put a furry face in the mix and our hearts, and wallets, open. Studies show that if the person asking for help has a pet at their side, people are more likely to stop and engage. In many cases that engagement means food for both members of the team, a chance to not feel like an outcast, plus that individual has the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with another living soul, someone that is likely treating them with some measure of politeness and respect. That does not happen on the streets in the great majority of cases. The fact is, pet’s help people in many ways. If a companion animals opens hearts and wallets, changes minds just a little, drives some desire to help and interact… consider what that says about society, as much as what it says about our treatment of the homeless population.

Why are So Many People Homeless Today?

To quickly touch on a sensitive, and often misunderstood, topic, there are reasons why people are homeless in our country. Contrary to the belief of some, it rarely has to do with people being too lazy to get a job or help themselves. gives these five reasons as the primary causes of homelessness in our population;

Lack of Trustworthy Relationships or Support – People are losing the support systems we’ve had for centuries. Should a tragic event happen, family and friends would open their homes and hearts to those they knew and loved. This simply does not happen as often as it did in past decades. If times get tough, those you thought you could count on are not assisting in the ways they did. People look out for #1, and treat others like #2.

Illness & Disability – If you have a prolonged illness, or are in an accident/have an inherited condition that leaves your disabled, you cannot work in a lot of cases. Lack of income will, eventually, cause you to lose your utilities, car, home, life, normality of day to day existence. In a wealth and income driven world, being sick/feeble/disabled is considered bad. The time it takes to become “disabled” in the eyes of our government can vary from 8 months to several years. With little to no income during this waiting period, many end up living couch to couch and eventually on the streets.

Abuse – Over 90% of those experiencing homelessness attest to some sort of abuse in their lifetimes. Regardless if it physical, sexual or mental, these survivors are traumatized and often treated as victims. Trust is lost in family, friends, and the system, so there is nowhere to go and they are forced onto the streets.

Living Below the Poverty Line – Wages are not keeping up with the increasing cost of living. This gap grows wider every month and people with low paying, non-skilled jobs find it more and more difficult to meet the bills. Rent is higher than ever, willingness to loan money to people with low income and/or credit issues is at an all time low. Evictions, low wages, foreclosures, bills not paid, all of these things lead to the eventual dumping of entire families onto the streets. 11.6% of the nation are living in poverty, that’s over 38 million. A recent study said that over 70% of our citizens are one life changing disaster away from losing everything. A small percentage of us have savings in the bank to weather and unexpected disaster. Without a support system in place with friends and relatives, a percentage of these people could end up homeless during a short span of horrible luck.

Lack of Affordable Housing – as we just stated, rent is up everywhere. If you don’t have the means or credit to buy a home, you are forced to rent. People with entry level or low wage jobs struggle to meet the bills. Evictions and foreclosures are at an all time high. Landlords don’t forgive people that don’t or can’t pay, and low income housing has long waiting lists for the properties. The people who spout “well they need to have higher paying jobs” or “There are all kinds of jobs out there to be filled” or “Its a shame they didn’t get a degree and a higher salary job” should consider that being less educated or working an entry level job in our nation should not prohibit you from living a quality life. The average rent is over $1000 for a one bedroom apartment in many areas of our country, how can someone making $10 or $12 per hour afford all the bills that come with an average life? Add kids to that burden and you’re looking at someone who can’t keep up.

Hopefully those reasons will open eyes on the true reasons behind the growing numbers of homeless not only here but around the world.

How can you help the pets of people experiencing homelessness?

We are so glad you asked. The truth is, there are many ways that we, as a society, can step up to assist animals on the street. Some are simple, some are more time inclusive but, regardless, they are all doable with varying levels of personal involvement. The #1 thing we need is people to care, choose to help, and make it a priority. If you can’t help the fellow human, take some measure of ownership to help the animal who cannot help themselves. Here are just a few ideas;

  • Provide needed supplies to their companion- water, water bowls, blankets, leashes, food donations, there are the things needed “in the moment”. If you don’t trust the person experiencing homelessness or if you don’t want to socially interact with them for whatever reason, you can donate the needed items to homeless shelter, your local animal shelter, or free stores/places that feed homeless. It’s the donation that counts, not the means to deliver it.

  • Find out if your local shelters, or places that feed the homeless are “pet friendly.” – If not, ask why. Make that suggestion and explain the need. Suggest local businesses, parks, or gathering places have some pet friendly designated areas.

  • Bring awareness to the plight of animals on the street with their human companions – Use word of mouth, social media posts, call your state/local/national government representatives with the facts. Ask them what THEY can do to sponsor bills for the ethical treatment of people and pets experiencing homelessness.

  • Offer to provide temporary boarding for the pet in extreme weather conditions – Offering to bring the pet to your basement or garage in extreme heat or cold. Find out if the human companion would consider allow you to pay for temporary boarding (if you can afford that expense in your budget). You don’t have to take in the human, most likely they would refuse the help. But you can make a compelling case to help their best fur buddy. Chances are your offer will still be refused, but you’ve shown a kindness and willingness to help.

  • Offer to pay for vet bills, vaccinations, or medical help for the pet – We all know what vet costs are in today’s world. Pets on the streets are often dirty, flea ridden, thin, without vaccines or medical exams. Can you afford to help? Could you gather money from friends and family to help one pet that you know of? You can’t save the village of homeless pets alone, but you can help one at a time.

We realize that some of these are huge asks, not everyone is willing to engage at that level. It’s an individual choice. However, these animals deserve to eat and be safe. They didn’t choose to be homeless, they don’t really choose to stay with their human… do your dogs have an option other than you, a choice THEY can make? The moral of this story is that we should “do unto others”, even if those  others have four feet and a furry face. Do what you can, when you can, but don’t allow these fur kids to become another sad statistic by a nation who looks the other way because they don’t want to see the people experiencing hardship.  More than half a million people are homeless in this country (one in every 10,000) and 10% or more have pets. How much longer can we, as a nation, consider them a plight or an eyesore before we stand up and take action to help?

That’s our report for this week. If you like what you’ve read, remember that you can find volumes of similar material in our blog archives. Freddie posts a though provoking, topical, pet focused, sometimes fun, sometimes sad, always education and fact filled, Dog Blogs each week on Thursday. Check out the Freddie’s Place web home for a library of all of our blog entries.

Until next week, when you will once again find out what #FreddieSez on a new topic of interest, we hope you have a safe, happy, wonderful, and pet friendly time! Be good to each other AND your fur kids.