Homelessness and dog ownership misconceptions

People experiencing homelessness often face discrimination and prejudice due to a widespread lack of understanding of the causes and complexities of homelessness.

Dog owners experiencing homelessness face additional levels of bias and judgement in regard to the situation that they are in with their beloved pets. This criticism will often come from well-meaning animal lovers. However, the concerns they express for the dog’s welfare are often based on misinformation and a lack of insight into the strong bond between owners and their dogs in these situations.

We've addressed some of these common concerns and opinions below and would encourage people to consider the bigger picture before judging anyone experiencing homelessness.

Misconception 1: People experiencing homelessness should not have dogs

27% of adults in the UK own a dog (PDSA Paw Report 2022). Circumstances can change for someone at any time throughout dog ownership, including becoming homeless, and it is unreasonable to expect someone to give up their dog because of this.

For many, their dog is a member of their family so they should not be expected to be separated from them because of a change to their housing situation. Our aim is to keep people and their pets together wherever possible.

Misconception 2: People experiencing homelessness can’t care for their dogs

Despite the day-to-day impact of homelessness, the research available suggests that “dogs owned by homeless people were healthy animals, less likely to be obese, had fewer behaviour issues such as aggression to strangers and separation anxiety when compared to dogs owned by people living in a conventional home.” (Williams, D. and Hogg, S. 2016)

There are many organisations across the UK that offer support to the dogs of people experiencing homelessness, such as our Together Through Homelessness vet scheme.

Misconception 3: Dogs should live in conventional homes not on the streets

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to where a dog should live if welfare needs are met. Dog owners experiencing homelessness share an incredible bond with their dog. Supporting this positive relationship impacts and benefits two lives, not just one.

If more homelessness services become dog-friendly, then people would be able to access temporary accommodation with their dog and fewer people will be forced to sleep on the streets or in other vulnerable situations.

Misconception 4: The lives of people experiencing homelessness are too chaotic and lack routine

Routine and lifestyle vary from person to person. Whilst someone experiencing homelessness faces uncertainty around their housing situation, many people continue to have daily responsibilities and routine to manage, including caring for their dog.

Dog ownership can be linked with a range of human health and social benefits. These include having a sense of purpose, reduced isolation and a reduction in substance misuse and criminal activity. We believe that it is the person that provides routine, not bricks and mortar.


Misconception 5: People experiencing homelessness cannot afford to feed and care for their pets

Homelessness doesn’t prevent someone having an income. Many people experiencing homelessness remain in employment or can access benefits.

There are also many services in the UK that can provide financial support for dog owners with no income or a low-income including for vet care, food and essential items.

Misconception 6: People experiencing street homelessness use their dogs to pull on the heart strings of the public

Whilst we can’t comment on everyone’s motives for having a dog, we do know that most dog owners experiencing homelessness will have had their dog before they became homeless.

Sleeping on the street can be an extremely lonely and often frightening experience, so if possible, have a chat with that person to see if they need any help for either themselves or their dog.

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