animal shelter

Three Ways Animals Can Help Humans

Delta Dogs

Pets of the Homeless Sydney is one way to recognise how animals make a difference in the lives of people. However, there are many inspirational programs that have connected animals with disadvantaged individuals to let them take control of their lives. Here are only three amazing programs among many that benefit both parties, all understanding the importance that animals have in the wellbeing of vulnerable people. If you find out about any others, I encourage you to share them!

1. Delta Society Australia

This nonprofit organisation works to promote and facilitate positive interactions between people and animals. The Delta Therapy Dogs program brightens the lives of around 20,000 Australians a week in hospitals and care facilities. The dogs regularly visit health care facilities to provide the invaluable benefits of pet therapy. Across the country, over 850 facilities are involved in the program, including aged care, acute care hospitals for children and adults, mental health facilities, prisons and dementia care facilities.

2. Hand2Paw

Hand2Paw is a nonprofit organisation in Philadelphia that brings together youth and animals to create mutually powerful outcomes. They help young adults between 18 and 21 to volunteer in animal shelters in the city, develop the skills of young adults to pursue employment through working with animals and educate youth on how to treat animals with respect. On top of this, the youth volunteers at Hand2Paw spend hours of time training, grooming and caring for thousands of shelter animals in the city.

3. Puppies Behind Bars

Puppies Behind Bars trains inmates to raise service dogs for war veterans who are wounded and also as law enforcement canines. At 8 weeks, puppies are introduced to their inmate puppy-raises, where they live together for around 2 years. Over this time, the puppies mature into loved, well-behaved dogs while those that raise them learn valuable life skills, contribute to society and enjoy the companionship of a loyal animal. The dogs give a sense of pride and responsibility to their raisers while going on to give independence and security to the wider community.

Understanding The Importance Of Pets

Guest author, Patrick Caruana, gives us insight into the importance of pets for those seeking refuge and shelter. He shows us that homelessness takes many forms, including those who have lost jobs, the youth and those escaping domestic violence. In any situation, an animal remains a constant source of hope and companionship. 

Family pet

“Pets are only for the wealthy, for those who work.”

“If a person is disabled, homeless, unemployed they need to find their own income before I pay for a pet.”

How often have we heard that sentiment? We may even have held it ourselves. For many of us who work in the area of homelessness and social housing, we have encountered that attitude. We also know and understand the fragility of life and lifestyle and how it can change in the blink of an eye.

I have noticed subtle shifts in attitude over the past thirty-five years that I have been involved in the social justice environment. People have started to become more and more aware of the importance of pets. They cannot be thrown away when a persons circumstances change. More recently, people have become more and more accepting and understanding of the bond between pets and their owners.

Over my lifetime the definition of homelessness has changed considerably. People are starting to see that homelessness can affect anybody. So now we have homeless families living in cars and sharing rooms often with young children. These people may well have a pet, usually a dog that has been a part of their family. Many simply cannot get rid of that pet as it is loved and loves back in return.

The number of families escaping family violence has increased dramatically. Women now feel more empowered around the trauma of family violence. One of the things that I have learnt through my work is that the thought of leaving a loved pet behind stands in the way of them leaving or causes incredible distress and worry for them. They worry for the pet’s welfare and safety as they feel that it could become a victim of the violence. The children escaping family violence also become distressed at leaving their pet behind. It is extremely important for the fleeing parent to try and create a “normal” and stable environment for their children, and having the family pet with them is part of that normality of “continuing family life, just a at a couple of different locations for a while”. The family dog becomes the one major constant in all the moves. For families where a child is living with Autism or Asperger’s this is a particularly pertinent issue. Increasingly, organisations that support families fleeing violence are understanding this dilemma, but at this stage there are very few refuges with facilities for pets to be accommodated.

There are also more young people are leaving home situations that are untenable. Young people with pets are increasingly living on the street or in “squats” because there is nowhere that can accommodate them together. This particular cohort is attached to their pets because at age 16-17 years, that pet has been with them almost all their life. The pet gives them safety and again some stability but is also possibly the only provider of some form of love and affection and allows them to share those most basic of human needs.

Today, I remain hopeful that the general community understands that pets bring companionship and safety to those who are homeless and also gives them responsibility and a reason to face each day.

I really would like to encourage people to take a positive view on the impacts that pets have for those that are homeless. This includes supporting accommodation like Jewish House in assisting them to provide pet accommodation and also to encourage landlords and those who either manage rental properties or other crisis centres and refuges to consider the issue and if possible, create a way to provide that accommodation. Look outside the box, maybe your local council allows a person to have several dogs and you could discuss with the rangers the possibility of the council creating a database of pet foster people so that a person who is homeless or fleeing danger can contact the council and know that their pet can be cared for, for a period time.

Why I Think Pets Are Good For Shelters

What are the benefits of letting pets accompany their owners in refuges and shelters? Patrick Caruana shares his personal experiences in the sector, seeing the many and varied benefits of animal companionship.

Patrick Caruana

Guest author Patrick Caruana has a passion for social justice and housing and has been working in the sector for many years to help people change their lives for the better. He currently works at GCJ Sessional Management Services to help businesses reach their potential in a dynamic environment.

I have seen the benefits first-hand of providing accommodation for pets of the homeless in shelters and refuges.

As a landlord, I provided my tenant a property with two kennels, secure gates and fences for her two dogs. When she came to view the house and saw the facilities for her dogs I saw her visibly relax. She had separated from her husband, who had threatened to destroy the dogs if they were left behind. She had been unsuccessful in securing housing because she had four girls and the two dogs. She has lived in the house and made it a home for the past five years.

I managed a retirement living and aged care facility in rural Victoria in the early 2000s. All the Independent Living Residents were encouraged to have pets. Those that did were encouraged to take their pets when visiting the Residential Care Facility to see friends or family. The joy on the faces of both residents and staff was really special. The staff were also encouraged to bring their dogs in to the residential care facility. The Director of Nursing and the two Division 1 nurses used to bring in their golden retrievers daily. From the moment they walked through the doors they would be off lead and free to wander the facility. They could sense the impending passing of a resident and would go and sit in their room with them.

Having the dogs there was so successful that we actually turned a glassed-off internal courtyard into a mini zoo. The local vets advised us and we put together a menagerie of birds, different reptiles, possums and a small pond. The animals were not natural predators of each other and we made sure they were always well fed. Residents often watched the animals around the glass. It was a really calming feature.

I moved on from that organisation and began working for a youth support agency, which had a crisis refuge for young people up to the age of 21. Again, all staff were encouraged to bring their dogs in when they came to work. The really amazing thing is that the dogs seemed to sense which of the young people were really vulnerable and approach and nuzzled them until they got a response. The dogs stayed by the side of the young person until they sensed that they were calm. They wandered freely through the house. If a group of young people stayed for a week, the dogs would rotate and spend one night with each young person. They did this intuitively without any input from the staff. Those who called the service were asked if they had a pet and were invited to bring them

The amazing thing is that the dogs seem to understand that the refuge was a place of high stress and tension and they didn’t get aggressive with each other at all. They sensed that peace and calm was what was needed, and they provided that.

I, myself, have two kelpies and could not consider a life without them. When I’m down or worried and when I’m happy, they sense that and provide fun and extroverted companionship.

In 2014, the recognition that pet therapy is integral to also assisting those with mental health issues, along with the anecdotal evidence that I presented, should go some way to establish and confirm the benefits of allowing pets to accompany their owners into homeless refuges. Perhaps the refuges could form partnerships and collaborate with animal shelters. That way, the shelters can provide the homeless centres with either pet food packages or through larger economies of scale purchasing partnerships to provide the homeless centres with cheaper pet foods.

From my experience and perspective, there are no significant negative impacts in allowing the homeless to bring their pets into the centres and providing pet accommodation. The only impediment to instituting initial change is in our minds. Once we are prepared to step outside the accepted thought lines, anything is possible.

Peggy’s Promise: Providing Shelter For The Animals Of Those In Need

Pet careCat care

Peggy’s Promise is a project that assists the every day needs of animals on the NSW Central Coast. It is run by dedicated volunteers who rely on the compassion and goodwill of the community to keep helping those in need. They work to help vulnerable Australians by supporting them in caring for their beloved pets.

They are currently working on a trial program with a shelter to offer temporary pet accommodation to those in need. To do this, they need keep up the cost of veterinary bills and kennelling, which covers food, accommodation and daily care and exercise, for all the four-legged clients that come through. Donate here and help Peggy’s Promise continue to give every pet the love and care they deserve. There is also the option to donate directly to the vet or kennel, so you know exactly where your contributions are going.

 

10 Ways Pets Improve Mental Health For The Homeless

Dogs

The issue of homelessness often brings the topic of mental health into the picture. And fittingly, Friday October 10 is World Homelessness Day and also marks the end of Mental Health Week.

The homeless community stands at around 106,000 and the incidence of depression and anxiety among this group is despairingly high. Pets play a critical role in the emotional and physical health of not only the homeless, but the aged, lonely and socially excluded. They bring hope and comfort to some of the most vulnerable within the community.

All pets are beneficial for the mind, body and spirit. Here’s 10 reasons why:

  1. They love you unconditionally. It is a big mood-lifter when your pet is always happy to see you. In any situation, pets love without question and appreciate you for you.
  2. They reduce your isolation. Having a pet means more opportunities to socialise for both your pet and you. It is easier to make friends and connect with new people or start conversations with a pet to lead the way.
  3. They give you purpose. Having a pet to care for provides a sense of responsibility and purpose. This is especially helpful when you are feeling down or weighed by negative thoughts. By focusing on another life in need, and seeing your pet’s positive response, it’s easy to feel instant gratification.
  4. They get you moving. Walking your pet and getting into outdoor activities is great for letting off steam. It also keeps you fit and healthy, giving you a reason for a more active lifestyle. This strengthens the body and mind, which means less chance of mental and physical health issues.
  5. They get you outside. Fresh air and sunshine can elevate your mood and give you a good dose of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps with all kinds of physical and mental conditions, like depression and cancer. It also means you get time to engage with nature, which can be incredibly calming.
  6. They make you feel less lonely. It’s hard to feel lonely when you have a companion always on call. Intuitively, pets tend to seek you out when you are feeling down, which means you’re never really alone.
  7. They are always there to listen. A pet is the perfect ‘person’ to vent your thoughts to or simply just talk about your day. They don’t judge and provide and outlet for information that you wouldn’t want to share with anyone else.
  8. They make you happy. Small things like your pet pawing at your arm or rolling in the grass can make you smile, and this can raise serotonin and dopamine levels, which bring calmness and happiness.
  9. They give you a release. Focus on the present and your pet can give you an escape from the bigger issues plaguing you. It reduces your worries and lets you enjoy the moment with your pet, plain and simple.
  10. They reduce stress. Just the simple act of petting your pet can be comforting to not only your furry friend, but yourself. By connecting with your pet, you release a hormone that provides stress and anxiety relief, called oxytocin, which helps to reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels.

Every single person’s day, no matter what their situation, can be positively affected by the pets in our lives. If you have any more ways your pets help you, add them to the comments below.

A pet-friendly society

Off-leash Dog Park

With one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, Australians are known to be animal-lovers. Almost two-thirds of Australian households have a pet and four out of five have owned one at some stage before. Things brings into question the people who are without a place to call home. What happens to their loyal companions? And what is being done to help support the bond they have with their beloved pets?

The benefits of pet ownership are far and wide and the local government would do well to support it. Not only have significant physical and psychological benefits from pet ownership been proven, but pets help to bring communities and people together.

Quite simply, they provide happiness, companionship, love and bestow a sense of pride and responsibility. These may seem like small features but are priceless to those who are homeless. It has been estimated the over $4 billion is saved each year from the national health bill, due to the physical and mental benefits that pets provided.

Around Sydney, the signs are rising to make the city a better place for dogs. This includes more off-leash areas, drinking bowls and more education programs for owners. Yet, there is still a long way to go to becoming a truly pet-friendly society. Policies are restrictive when it comes to allowing pets on public transport, apartments, retirement villages and sadly, homeless shelters or refuges. Unfortunately, these are some of the places where a pet’s presence is needed and appreciated the most.

An ideal future will see policies governing admission of animals into shelters, apartments and retirement villages, to name a few. The issue of homeless people and pets is also one to address.

This requires the support of government members, and all members of society can give voice to the issue by bringing it to their local MPs.

The bond between pet and owner is truly unique, and should be honoured in any situation.

App to Help the Homeless

Many people don’t realise that most people who are homeless have mobile phones. In fact, 95% of them do and 77% own smartphones with Wi-Fi access. This means the revolutionary app by Infoxchange has the potential to be life-changing for those without a home. The “Homeless Assist” project is developing a new mobile app that helps homeless people and those at risk of experiencing homelessness find food, shelter and other support services.

Recent statistics from a study on homelessness and mobile phone usage conducted by the University of Sydney and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) found that mobile phone ownership by the homeless in Australia was even higher than the general population at 92 per cent. It also found that 67 per cent of homeless Australians use social media, and 69 per cent use phones to “access online information”.

It can be hard for the homeless to find their way around the service system with 1,200 specialist homelessness services available and over  300,000 health, welfare and support services around. Among these services, there are a small slice that welcome both homeless people and their pets. Making these services known to people who are experiencing homelessness with their pets will create more opportunities to break the cycle and receive support, for both owner and pet.

The app is a revolutionary idea, with the potential to improve the lives of 100,000 Australians and increase access to support services. This is especially so when you consider the specific requirements of people who are homeless and own animals. This would be an amazing step in the right direction to support the bond between homeless people and their pets. Hopefully, Infoxchange will recognise this opportunity and take the leap. It will also allow people working within the sector to help their clients while out and about.

The app has made Infoxchange one of the 10 finalists in the 2014 Australian Google Impact Challenge, which lets Australian non-profits harness technology to address social problems.

Infoxchange is placing valuable information into the hands of the homeless. It’s an innovative idea that can really impact homelessness and quality of life. And again, an amazing opportunity to share the information about shelters and services that welcome the homeless and their pets.

The Google Impact Challenge finalists can be viewed and voted for here.