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Should the Homeless Own Pets?

By 18/06/2018September 12th, 2018pet

Illness in the family and other stressors have slowed this blog down. I miss chatting with everyone on the blog and on social media, but need to cut down on time spent online. homeless with petsYesterday, on a break and during a quick browse on the net, I came across this article in the Guardian about a few homeless people who saved pets and were saved by them in turn.

In Singapore, it is rare to spot a homeless person (though there are individuals who panhandle by ostensibly selling small items like tissue packs). When I travel I tend to either pass food or money to the homeless and move on. Glimpses into individual lives are rare. The article gave an insight into the lives of the homeless, and I found a link to this fundraiser for Ryan Mikesell.

If you’re interested, here’s an excerpt from what Ryan says in the article:

“When I’m feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, my mini Labradoodle, Josie, climbs on my chest to calm me down. She won’t take no for an answer. She’ll be like, “Go ahead, tell me to get off. I don’t care.” I have PTSD and her doing that is a grounding mechanism for me. I feel things and she just senses it. She’s like my soulmate in dog form. My therapist loves her.
My animals are my family. The oldest is Jamie, a Jack Russell-chihuahua I got eleven years ago when I was living in a house with my ex-partner. Jamie has had two litters and I’ve kept three of her puppies. In total, I have five dogs and my cat, Buddy, who I found abandoned in an alley nine years ago.
I’ve been homeless for eight years. I grew up in Olympia, Washington, but my parents were very abusive and I didn’t want to be anywhere near them, so I left for Oregon. I have agoraphobia and severe anxiety. I also have diabetes and need to have a refrigerator so I can keep eating healthily. I live in a motorhome that I have nowhere to permanently park.

I sent him a few dollars because he supports these animals and seems to be a man who isn’t letting his history of suffering and his present circumstances keep him from leading a meaningful life.

homeless own petsI’ve heard it said that people able to keep pets shouldn’t be homeless, that they’re sponging off gullible folk. But there are also those who, when made to choose between their pet and a home, choose the pet.

I believe that animals can be our very best friends, and that the homeless are just people who have fallen upon hard times–it could happen to anyone, and they have as much right to the love of a pet as anyone else. I appreciate the fact that Ryan supports animals when he himself has access to so little. He does have a motorhome, yes, but he’s also doing his best for these animals with what little he’s got.

How is the situation of the homeless in your community? Do they receive assistance, and support towards rehabilitation? Do any of them own pets? Do you believe the homeless have the right to own pets? Would you consider sending some help to Ryan?

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Raisin Cat says:

    It’s an old post but so relevant. I think pets can uplift the mood and confidence of people and give them a meaning for life…

  • JoAnna says:

    Whether the homeless should own is something I’ve wondered about often. I worry about the welfare of animals who depend on people who are homeless. Yet, there are many animals who are homeless and not enough homes for them all. I think generally speaking, the benefits outweigh the risks.

  • There are many homeless people in my neighborhood, in New York City, with pets. I had a man from the ASPCA tell me once, homeless folk take better care of their animals than many people with homes. As heartbreaking as it is, being the animal lover I am, I always remember this, as I give them humble alms. Though for the grace of God go I.

  • Lillian says:

    In Portland, OR there is a major housing crisis with gentrification, income stagnation, and emigration. Portland is also a “pets are family” place and there is an organization specifically started to aid people experiencing homelessness in taking care of their animals. It’s called The Pongo Fund. As someone who’s had to seek emergency food boxes, I know that a small amount of dog & cat food is often available at some of the area food pantries.

  • aj vosse says:

    I hope your stressors are easing off into the distance and that life’s joys flood in in abundance! 😉

  • BellyBytes says:

    Frankly if everyone has the right to own something or some pet, why can’t the homeles? Very often it is a case of two homeless creatures getting together the animal and the man.

  • Interesting. There are so many homeless around here because the climate is nicer than many places. I don’t have a problem with then owning pets at all. Then again, I don’t have a problem with anyone owning pets–except for those living under my roof. =)

  • Kalpana says:

    Hope things look up for you soon Damyanti and you can get back to your blog and blogging friends. I loved your story about Ryan. India is an awful place for the homeless who are looked down upon by almost everyone and who lead a life of danger and deprivation. It’s the same for dogs, by and large.

  • A thought provoking post. Well the homeless are people too and many suffer from mental illness due to abuse in their past. The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse has certainly revealed that link. I see homeless people in Sydney Melbourne and Canberra with pets who are clearly loved and cared for, sometimes better rthan people with homes

  • Sorry to hear about illness and extra stresses in your life, Damyanti. I completely understand taking a step back from being online during times like this. Take care of yourself and your family first.

    Ryan seems to be taking better care of his pets than some people in homes take of theirs. Absolutely, he should be able to keep them. Thanks for highlighting a few things –
    – Pets can help those with mental illness.
    – Pets lower the stress level of their owners.
    – Homeless can take care of pets.

    When I lived in the San Francisco Bay area, I often saw homeless with their dogs. Some said they would feed the dog before themselves if they could only afford food for one. I am in a small town in Ecuador now and I don’t see homeless with or without dogs.

    Love this post!

  • Pradeep says:

    Everyone has a right to own a pet. No doubt.
    But if a particular homeless person can’t look after the pet, then he shouldn’t own it. Instead should contact a pet service or animal shelter.
    Why just homeless, the rationale holds good for even people who have homes. If they can’t take care of pets, they shouldn’t own them.
    (#WATWB Visitor)
    — Pradeep |

  • LucciaGray says:

    I agree that homeless people should be allowed to have pets, in fact they need them and look after them as much or more than home owners.

  • Indu says:

    I am in a terrible minority here.Yes pets are very calming for us but what about them?Wouldn’t they be happier in their own fraternity?

  • cleemckenzie says:

    Compassion can be shown in so many ways. Some focus on people. Some on the environment. This fellow chose animals. All good in my book, and his story makes me think how fortunate I am, but how quickly that can change. Thanks for tell us about this man.

  • Inderpreet says:

    I think everyone who is kind and cares for the animals and birds must be free to keep pets. They are such wonderful companions and so comforting as well. I miss not having a pet now. Did have a dog as a kid. 🙂

  • Indu says:

    Though psychologists support keeping pets as a kind of therapy,Ifirmly believe that keeping pets is cruel and selfish on part of humans..Feed street dogs, keep water and grains for birds but don’t cage them.

  • I learned, a few years ago, that homelessness can be something like “unable to scrounge together first and last month’s rent” – that there are many homeless people who are employed, full time, and have medical bills and other expenses that prevent them from saving up enough money for a home. There are homeless people living in cars (an RV is practically a home on wheels – this man has much more than so many!) And yes, they deserve companionship; sometimes, pets are the only creatures capable of giving back to them the unconditional love they give their pets. In my experience, poor people are also, often, the most generous. They have empathy with others who have little or nothing, so are willing to share when those who have more are not – not that those who have more are necessarily being cruel or selfish, but they wouldn’t know how to make do and they know it. I think that they (we) are sometimes a little fearful and hang on too tightly. I will add that when it comes to judging a person’s character, it’s easier when you see how they interact with animals – and how the animals interact with them. I think that pets and children have a sense of the inner person, and it pays to take their “word” for it, most times.

  • macjam47 says:

    Oh, Damyanti, I hope your family is doing better and that all of your stressors have eased up on you. It’s always lovely to see you here in the blogosphere.
    We have a lot of homeless in the city here, a lot of real cases of homelessness and a lot of fake ones, too, where people who have good jobs come out, especially on weekends, and fake being homeless and make quite a good income by doing so. I don’t give cash, but I keep a stash of gift cards to hand out for food or clothing, etc. If a homeless person is able to care for a pet, I see no reason that he/she shouldn’t have one. Most homeless seem to put their pets first, even before their own needs.
    Have a wonderful week, dear Damyanti. Sending love and hugs your way.

  • Tizzy Brown says:

    There are quite a few homeless people in my town. Like you, I give food or other items when I can. Our local Centrepoint Outreach charity distributes food and essentials, the churches get involved too. Last Christmas when it got really cold it broke my heart to think of people out on the streets. Some people in my community were going round handing out blankets and soup and the church had a rail of coats you could donate to and they were also making tea and toast most days. One particular man had two small dogs. He was offered an apartment I believe, but turned it down because the dogs couldn’t go with him and he didn’t want to see them sent to the pound. Some local businesses did a collection and raised money to put him up in a hotel for a few nights during the bitter weather, he was very grateful. I believe pets can be a great support for people who are homeless, sometimes they are their only friends. They usually seem well cared for and I’ve seen people who are homeless putting their pets before themselves.

  • I wish you improved health, Damyanti. And I hope you have a pet to cuddle with.

  • The homeless shouldn’t own pets – how dare they. They shouldn’t own shoes either, or a toothbrush. They shouldn’t have a friend to talk to or an ex-spouse who still cares or a part time job that doesn’t earn enough to pay rent on an apartment. They should be grateful to scrape dropped french fries off the sidewalk. Rich folks rule and always should rule, no matter that so many stole their riches or inherited them. Just ask Mother Teresa about what those poor folks deserve – she knows. Oh – wait…..

  • Healing energy to you and your family!
    Becoming homeless can happen to anyone. Pets are beneficial to everyone.

  • pjlazos says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, a homeless person has trouble feeding and housing themselves and on the other hand, the level of love and comfort that an animal provides probably does more to help the homeless person than mostly anything else.

  • Homelessness may be a personal choice resulting from bad decisions in life, but increasingly there are a large number of people who do not choose homelessness but it is thrust upon them by adverse circumstances in life. For those who choose the lifestyle there’s not much you can do apart from trying to convince them to make a contribution to society rather than rely on handouts. For those who can’t help their circumstances we as society members need to support organizations set up to try and help them re-enter a better alternative. Both groups need our help. Why shouldn’t they have pets to cheer them in their miserable circumstances.

  • rolandclarke says:

    Homeless people benefit from having pets, just as I benefit as a disabled person – sharing is strength. Blessings to you, Damyanti.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yes, I believe that the benefit is mutual. Pets give back many times in love for the care and nourishment they receive. I know I can’t ever love with the surrender, the absolute adoration and willingness to give that an average family dog is capable of.

  • JT Twissel says:

    Sorry about the stressors in your life. I don’t see any problem with the homeless having pets as long as they clean up after them.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yes, absolutely. In many countries I see pet owners with perfectly regular homes and families not cleaning up after their pets. Pet owners need to be responsible.

  • Bernadette says:

    I can understand how the unconditional love of a pet can help take at least a little bit of the lonliness and fear that homelessness must bring about. My only question is this, what happens to the animal when the homeless person need to go and stay in a shelter? I live on the East Coast and many times in the summer and the winter homeless people are almost forced to go to shelters because of the weather.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      That’s a valid question. I’ve heard that a lot of animal shelters help out those who are not able to keep their pets temporarily. It makes me much more mad to see some Europeans letting their pets loose on the streets when they go on their summer vacations in August.

  • Elisabeth says:

    We are experiencing a housing crisis in the US PNW so the number of homeless people has risen exponentially. The number of homeless pets has not noticeably risen. Our local animal shelters are much more effective than the human ones – the Oregon Humane Society places pets from California and Texas as well as local ones and has an adoption rate over 95%.

    We also have local organizations that supply pet food and vet care for families struggling to provide for their pets, particularly those living on the streets.

    I do believe that homeless people and pets help each other. Pets provide comfort and solace to people in crisis, and all they want in return is love. They’re better together than either is on their own.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      “Pets provide comfort and solace to people in crisis, and all they want in return is love. They’re better together than either is on their own.” So very well said.

      Humans are strange beings. The greed of a few leads to the misery of so many.

  • Peter Nena says:

    Animals are angels. It is heartbreaking to see them homeless. The saddest part is that they only need scraps of food, leftovers, things that people often throw away. So to see them homeless, unwanted, beaten, starving . . . It can drive you mad just thinking about it.
    If homeless people can share with them whatever little they have, it is one of the best things happening under the sun. Thanks for sharing this story.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      The homeless animals and humanfolk are kindred souls, helping each other cope with the bad times. Sleeping rough is a nightmare, and unless one has tried it, one has no right to judge those who are forced to the homeless life. If a pet brings comfort and security,they have every right to that pet.

  • DutchIl says:

    There are plenty of homeless pets in this world, suffering the same fate as their human counterpart… for most, their fate not of their own doing, but because of actions deeds and words by an element of Earth’s great society, the human race… if pets can find comfort with homeless people, and the homeless people find comfort with pets, more power to them… they are certainly not going to get it anywhere else… 🙂

    “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
    ― Mahatma Gandhi

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      So very well said:if pets can find comfort with homeless people, and the homeless people find comfort with pets, more power to them. I’ve heard of many instances where homeless folk have rescued dogs from shelters where they were about to be put down.

  • A free resource for the answers to your questions about what it’s like to be homeless. This particular location is California. Brilliantly reviewed by Rebelle and Namaste. Rough editing from having been composed curbside under incredible stress.
    “The New Holocaust: Homelessness in America and What we Can Do About It”

  • gruundehn says:

    When I was working at my church’s food pantry, we had (and still have) dog food for the homeless and working poor. I remember that the dogs were great companions for the homeless and helped them cope. Dogs, and I presume cats as well, are closely tied to humans going back thousands of years. If a human has a dog it is a great help in dealing with life’s travails.
    Should the homeless have pets? Should anyone have pets? The answer to both questions is obviously a resounding yes.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Absolutely a resounding yes. And love that the church’s food pantry includes food for dogs.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – I’m sorry you’re not feeling at your best and just sincerely hope you can ease up and get better … you offer us all so much. There are homeless here in Vancouver Island – and were in England. I do think we could all help a great deal … but I know pets are comforting … thanks for posting about this – all the best and take care of you … Hilary

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks, Hilary. I hope this passes soon, as well.

      We all try to help in any way we can: volunteering at soup kitchens and giving as much as we’re able.

  • alexjcavanaugh says:

    I’m sure many of those animals were homeless as well and together they help each other. I’m sure the people make sure their furry friends eat first.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yes, they absolutely do. Having someone to fend for and being protected by someone in turn gives them a feeling of being in a family.

  • literarylad says:

    In the UK there are growing numbers of people living on the street, and they are in constant danger of being attacked (a damning indictment of the society we live in). Many homeless people keep dogs for protection – to put off would be attackers – as well as the reasons you’ve already set out. And it could be argued that we care more about animals than people, which means that people are more likely to give money or food to someone on the street if they have a dog. I must admit I used to wonder whether a homeless person really needed support if they could afford to keep a pet. I now realise homelessness, and its causes, are far more complex than that.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I cannot imagine sleeping rough, and when I was in London, I could never pass by someone shivering in a sleeping bag without adding a little to their collection. I only wish I could stop by and buy them a warm meal as well. It is crazy that people on the street are attacked, but I’ve seen this in India, especially women. I’ve noticed that all pets belonging to the homeless are very well taken care of, and I can’t say that of all the pets who live in regular homes.

  • cath says:

    If we have the right to make judgements about how someone else spends their money, I have a few thoughts about people who have oodles of it.