Homeless people’s pets are well taken care of, a new study that examined the health of pets in Winnipeg and four Ontario cities has determined.
The study, led by researchers at Guelph University, found the pets of homeless or vulnerably housed Canadians are just as healthy as other populations of owned pets — in some cases even healthier.
The university collaborated with the Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO) organization and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) for the study, which is believed to be the first of its kind in Canada.
Study lead Dr. David Pearl said the results go a long way toward answering questions of whether homeless people are able to act as proper caregivers.
“The big issue was that, especially among communities of people who are experiencing homelessness or vulnerable housing, there are all kinds of preconceived ideas that they don’t take good care of their pets and that their pets have unusual health problems,” said Pearl.
“When you review the data, their pets are generally in very good health.”
The study’s co-author, Dr. Susan Kilborn, a former Winnipegger, told 680 CJOB the study involved clients’ pets health being measured by volunteer vets — specifically via patient history and body condition scores — and that data was then analyzed by the researchers.
“There’s certainly some stigma about our clients owning pets. Some of them are street-involved or experiencing homelessness, but there are lots of vulnerably housed clients that we see,” said Kilborn.
“That stigma flows down into all of those groups — that they’re not able to feed their pets, that they don’t have access to care, so their pets are not well-cared-for. This data helps us look at that, and make some well-informed assessments whether that’s true.
“They’re good pet owners to the best of their ability and the benefit to having a pet for our clients is huge — it’s an important relationship, sometimes the single most important relationship in their lives. It’s unconditional love without judgement.
“This important relationship can be a game-changer because pets can change health behaviours. People will make a change if their behaviour has an impact on their pet’s health.”
According to the study, between eight and 19 per cent of the around 35,000 Canadians experiencing homelessness each night are pet owners.