dog facilities

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.

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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.

The Kennel Project & Jewish House

Long-term kennel structure at Jewish House

Long-term kennel structure at Jewish House

Old kennel facilities to be replaced

Old kennel facilities to be replaced

Jewish House is currently building long-term kennels to provide for the beloved pets of people undergoing crisis. Jewish House is an amazing organisation that provides 24/7 crisis support and services to those who need it. They help a range of people, and luckily, this extends to animals as well. This great news means that struggling Australians have a place to stay and get back on their feet, without having to leave their best friends behind! Jewish House also work alongside Project HoPe (Homeless Pets) with a vet to care for the pets that come in.

 How can you help?

Sponsor the construction of the kennels by donating here and attaching a message for ‘The Kennel Project’ as well as any personal notes – we’d love to hear your thoughts! Every little contribution makes a difference. We will also be adding in a plaque to thank those who choose to donate $300 or more, which will be placed above the kennels. Any bits and pieces like matting, toys and blankets to add to the kennels to make life more comfortable for the dogs will also be greatly appreciated.  Any excess funds that we may be lucky enough to have will go towards ongoing costs of providing for the animals that come in, including food and veterinary services with Project HoPe. Email us at petsofthehomelesssyd@gmail.com to get in touch or feel free to stop by our Facebook page to talk. We can’t wait to hear from you.

This is a truly exciting initiative, as we know there aren’t many shelters that welcome pets, let alone provide for them! Your support will allow vulnerable Australians, including those who are homeless, keep the strong bond between them and their pets, ensuring that they are provided a constant sense of comfort and familiarity as they get back on their feet.

Kennel Construction

Kennels under construction

Jewish House backyard under construction

Jewish House backyard under construction

About The Kennel Project

The Kennel Project is our way to help more shelters and crisis accommodation support vulnerable Australians and the pets they keep. Few shelters open their doors to animals, and the ones that do still need a little help to make every pet’s stay comfortable.

Get in contact with us at petsofthehomelesssyd@gmail.com or chat to us on our Facebook page to keep updated with the progress!

If you are a shelter or know of a shelter that is looking to open their doors to animals, we would love to hear from you. We want The Kennel Project to spread and help more places support the bond between owner and pet.