Study: Pets Provide Benefits for Homeless Youth

Being a teen on the streets is unimaginably hard, but having a pet by your side makes it more bearable, according to findings from a new Canadian study.


According to the Covenant House Institute, an organization dedicated to providing necessary services to homeless youth in America, more than two million American kids face homelessness each year. There are many situations which might result in a teen becoming homeless – an abusive parent, forced prostitution, rejection by a parent or guardian, even attempts to escape gang membership. In fact, approximately 40 percent of homeless individuals in the United States are under the age of 18.


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Homelessness is incredibly common even in the United States, one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Services to benefit homeless individuals do exist, but there are often numerous hoops to jump through for even the most basic benefits like food and a place to sleep. For homeless youth, these challenges are compounded by the added challenge of being young and ill-prepared to face the challenges of life, especially when they have to endure those challenges alone.


A recent study conducted by the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) found that homeless youth can benefit from having a pet in some important ways. According to the study, published in the journal Anthrozoös, “homeless youth with pets don’t want to risk incarceration or anything that would prevent them from being with their pets.” This means that they may be less likely to drink alcohol, to do hard drugs, and to engage in harmful behaviors. It was also found that homeless youth with pets were three times less likely to be depressed than their pet-free counterparts.


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It is difficult to say whether this particular statistic is directly related to pet ownership in homeless youth, though there are numerous other studies which support the theory that pet ownership can decrease the risk for mood problems including depression and anxiety in the general population. In fact, many homeless teens are very open to discussing their personal and emotional struggles with a veterinarian, says Michelle Lem, founder and director of the Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO) program which provides veterinary services to homeless individuals throughout Canada.


Though owning a pet can provide some important benefits for homeless youth, it also poses some challenges. Many shelters, for example, don’t accept pets, which means that the youth may have a hard time finding a place to sleep. Still, for many homeless youth who have lost their trust in people, having a pet can help them learn to love and trust again. This is just one of the many reasons individuals like Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Bill O’Grady continue to fight for pet-friendly shelters and other social services.


[Source: Science Daily]

Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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