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Homeless pet owners need better options to protect their animals

A scoping review has brought to light five key ways in which the health of homeless pet owners and their animals can be significantly improved. 

Despite the fact that around 10% of homeless individuals have pets, detailed information on how to effectively support their health has been scarce. These pets often serve as the sole source of unconditional love and companionship for their owners.

Critical interventions

The research, published in the journal Human-Animal Interactions, outlines critical interventions for supporting healthier lives for homeless individuals and their pets. 

These include providing access to free veterinary clinics, establishing joint human/animal clinics, efforts aimed at reducing stigma, fostering interdisciplinary relationships, and ensuring the availability of pet-friendly lodging options.

Promising avenues 

Dr. Michelle Kurkowski and Dr. Andrew Springer, the study’s lead authors, emphasized the diversity found in research on this subject. They highlight the urgent need for further program interventions that are necessary to recommend intervention best practices.

Exploring promising avenues for intervention and health improvement, the study suggests that joint human/animal clinics and interdisciplinary partnerships are some of the most promising avenues for evaluating interventions and improving health outcomes.

Healthcare for pets

One notable finding from a study by Ramirez et al (2022) involving 44 homeless pet owners in Seattle, USA, revealed a strong interest in healthcare for pets over personal healthcare, with a significant portion expressing willingness to attend a joint veterinary/human health clinic due to its convenience.

Dr. Kurkowski, previously a researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health, is now a Veterinary Medical Officer for the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service,

Lack of safe places 

Dr. Kurkowski said: “Research has shown that companion animals are a source of friendship and physical safety, and homeless persons with pets report significantly lower rates of depression and loneliness compared to non-pet owners.”

However, the review also uncovers the less-discussed challenges faced by homeless pet owners, such as the tough choice between accessing shelter and keeping their pets with them. 

“Similarly, our review reveals that this group is less likely to utilize needing assistance, such as healthcare or career services, potentially due to difficulty using public transportation or lack of safe places to leave pets,” she added.

Interventions are desperately needed

Dr. Kurkowski and Dr. Springer believe that while the literature on the benefits and needs of homeless pet owners is growing, interventions specifically designed to address their unique challenges are still lacking.

“Our purpose was to describe the study designs, measurements, and outcomes of relevant primary research studies to identify knowledge gaps in the body of literature on this topic,” Springer explained.

Ultimately, the researchers advocate for a comprehensive and effective care package for homeless individuals and their pets, emphasizing the need for a collaborative effort among healthcare providers, social workers, animal welfare workers, and both governmental and nonprofit organizations to create innovative solutions for this underserved population.

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