homelessness nsw

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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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.

How to help homeless people with pets

Helping the Homeless

 

Have you ever come across homeless people with their pets and wanted to help, but didn’t know exactly what to do? Here are some options to lend a helping hand for those in the community and support the pets by their side.

  • Start off by saying hello. A homeless person is just like anybody else you would meet, so treat them the same. Ask to pat their animal and get to know them. It is likely that they will enjoy the conversation, especially if it is about their beloved companions.
  • Pet food, bottled water and bowls are ideal to offer to people who are homeless with pets. If you want to help on an ongoing basis, it may be useful to keep a good supply of these in resources in your car, along with some towels or blankets so the pet can lay somewhere comfortably.
  • Build trust with the person and let them know that you have some food and water that you’d like to give their pet. This will allow them to see that you are open, friendly, and want the best for their animal companion.
  • Ask them if there is anything they need in particular. Perhaps there are long-term resources that they want for their pet like a jacket. Or maybe the need is much larger, like the requirement for medical service. Either way, this will make you aware of the biggest needs and perhaps give you something to think about to help on a wider scale.
  • Let them know of nearby veterinary care services in the community, especially those that are free, such as the RSPCA’s Living Ruff Program and Pets in the Park.

Of course, these tips are focused on helping the animal. Your kindness is not limited to this, and providing for the homeless person is also encouraged. However, animals depend on people, in any relationship and situation. These are some ways that you can play your part and help the vulnerable people in the community take care of their loyal companions.

Top 3 Portraits of Homeless People and their Pets

It can be heartbreaking to see homeless people struggling on the streets, and even more so when they have four-legged friends by their side. However, there is also something to be seen in the power of the bond between homeless people and the pets they keep. Projects in Australia and all throughout the world have captured the beauty of this relationship in a series of touching portraits. Here are some great ones:

1. LifeLines by Norah Levine

Norah Levine, photographer and animal-lover from Austin, TX, honours the relationship between people who are homeless with pets through amazing photographs and interviews.

“I wanted to capture the universal bond that exists between people and their pets and to illustrate that this shared bond is universal; it isn’t based on finances or home-ownership. The vast majority of pets I encountered during this project were treated with love and respect, both physically and emotionally and the relationship was mutually beneficial and positive.”

Photo credit: Norah Levine

Photo credit: Norah Levine

Photo credit: Norah Levine

Photo credit: Norah Levine

2. Love is the Colour: Portraits from Pets in the Park

This series of black and white portraits taken by Linda Warland portray the amazing bond between homeless owner and pet. They are specifically the clients of a great organisation in Sydney called Pets in the Park. Pets in the Park work to provide veterinary services to struggling Australians with pets. The exhibition is being shown alongside more works donated by artists during the 5 -30 November at the Gallery Mercure.

Photo credit: Pets in the Park

Photo credit: Pets in the Park

Photo credit: Pets in the Park

Photo credit: Pets in the Park

3. My Dog is My Home

My Dog is My Home: The Experience of Human-Animal Homelessness is a truly beautiful exhibition for the National Museum of Animals & Society’s LA facility. The exhibition pays homage to the bond between humans and animals who are living on the streets. It is inspiring, empowering and the artwork comes in many forms.

Elephant Forget Me Not Exhibitition

Elephant Forget Me Not Exhibition

Dog, Cat, Mouse Exhibition

Dog, Cat, Mouse Exhibition

There is beauty in such a strong and unique bond, and it’s great to be able to celebrate homeless people with pets through art.