In a clasped paw and hand: A case study of homeless people and their pets in Portland, Oregon

Presented by Emma K. Newton, Long Island University Global – ISAZ 2013

Research into the effect of companion animals on homeless people’s well being is limited.  Previous studies have focused on anecdotal information from homeless companion animal caretakers.  This presentation looks at the effect of animal companionship on homeless and low-income individuals in a period when the companion animals received free veterinary services.

Portland Animal Welfare Team is a non-profit organization located in Portland, Oregon that dispenses free veterinary medical services to the homeless and low-income of the surrounding area.  Participant-observation and statistical surveying occurred over the course of a three-month period between September 2012 and December 2012 during Paw Team’s monthly clinics.  All clients received at Paw Team during this period were asked if they had been previously seen at Paw Team and if so whether they felt their pets were healthier.  Clients were also asked about whether or not they felt that their pets physical health was affecting their own stress level and stress management as well as housing situation and and employment.

Analysis of the survey data shows a correlation between good physical companion animal health and decreased stress level in their caretakers.  Clients that were received consecutively by Paw Team during the survey period and who felt that their companion animal was in good health showed a decreased stress level and increased satisfaction with their housing and employment.

The findings from this study indicate a potential correlation between physical companion animal health and the emotional health of their human caretakers.  This would suggest an increased need for low-cost and free veterinary services for the homeless to address not only the physical health of the companion animal but also the emotional health of the caretaker.

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