It’s not uncommon for people passing a homeless person with a dog on the street to voice sympathy for the animal and the derision for the human. Often based on the assumption that a homeless individual is just using a pet for warmth or to guilt people into giving them money, it’s easy to argue that people who can’t take care of themselves could be subjecting animals to deprivation and risk. This skepticism is so baked into society that some people apparently consider it acceptable to cut the leashes of homeless people’s animals as they sleep, taking them to a better life. Authorities regularly sweep homeless camps, picking up animals, or grill homeless people for proof of animal ownership they may not have and few pet owners would ever keep on their person.
Yet according to a new study, authored by Michelle Lem of the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and published last month in the academic journal Anthrozoos, these attitudes and practices may be woefully misguided. Homeless people with pets, the study argues, are drastically less likely to get depressed or engage in risky behaviors than those without animal friends.