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Homeless Youth and Pets: Supporting the Human- Animal Bond Through Inclusive Programs MELISSA HOLCOMBE, DSW, LCSW SCHOOL SOCIAL WORKER/HOMELESS LIAISON-

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Presentation on theme: "Homeless Youth and Pets: Supporting the Human- Animal Bond Through Inclusive Programs MELISSA HOLCOMBE, DSW, LCSW SCHOOL SOCIAL WORKER/HOMELESS LIAISON-"— Presentation transcript:


2 WELCOME! Objectives for this session:  Explore the Human-Animal Bond  Understand pet-keeping as it relates to homeless youth  Identify programs and interventions to support HCY with pets

3 It’s just a dog! American Pet Products Association  2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey- 68% of households have a pet  It is estimated that Americans will spend $58.51 Billion on their pets in 2014. An increase of over 2.5 Billion from 2013. United States Census  2010 Census data show 43 million households have dogs  Compared to 38 million households that have children

4 What is the Human- Animal Bond?  First introduced by the founder of the Delta Society, Leo K. Bustad, in 1983  American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMA) defines HAB as: “The mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both. This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment.”

5 Benefits of Animal Companions  Research indicates that pet ownership can Reduce stress Decrease loneliness Promote social engagement Boost physical activity

6 Studies  Friedman and Thomas (1985)- Pet ownership can decrease loneliness, reduce stress, and offer an incentive to exercise  Allen et al. (2011)- Cardiovascular stress levels of men in high stress occupations had a lower cardiovascular response when assigned a dog compared to a control group  Friedman and Son (2009)- Companion animals have the effect of making situation and people seem less threatening and thereby reducing psychosocial distress in individuals

7 Loss of a Companion Animal Forced to “give up” or abandon a companion animal can have the same deleterious effects as the death of a companion animal.  Disenfranchised grief  Guilt  Anger  Anxiety/Depression  Disruption of daily routine  Suicidal ideation  Difficulties in social and job related activities (Chur-Hansen, 2010; Doka, 1989; Morley & Fook, 2010)

8 Companion Animal/Human Violence Purposes: control, intimidation, coercion, retaliation Ascione et al. (1997) Estimated that 44% of DV shelter clients with pets experienced a co-occurrence of domestic violence and pet abuse. Also postulated that concern for the welfare of a pet may delay victim from seeking assistance Faver and Strand (2003) Concern for pet’s wellbeing affected the decision to leave or stay for 26.8% of the women at the shelter Twenty-nine states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico include animals in orders of protection

9 Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI)  Odendaal (2000) Found that people interacting with their own dog had a statistically significant increase in oxytocin and a significant decrease in cortisol levels  Hart (2010) documented use of dogs for PTSD, specifically returning soldiers. Dogs provide tactile comfort, affection, and companionship  USA Today- YouTube video September 16, 2014 Veteran with service dog.

10 Homeless Statistics  It is estimated that 3.5 million people experience homelessness in the U.S. on an annual basis  5-10% of homeless persons share their lives with a companion animal  In some areas of the country, that rate is as high as 24% (National Coalition for the Homeless)

11 Companion Animals and Homeless  Kidd and Kidd (1994) found that many homeless people caring for animals ensured the health and well-being of their animals over and above their own health and well-being  Singer et al. (1995)found that 93-96% of homeless individuals with pets said they would never live without their animals  Individuals caring for a companion animal may avoid substance abuse and high risk behaviors because of a sense of responsibility for their companion animals. Rew (2000) and Taylor et al. (2004)

12 Animals as Redeemers * Dependence of the Animal Provides a sense of responsibility & purpose *Perceived Unconditional Love The relationship is reciprocal in nature *Animals as Silent Witnesses Non-judgmental Incorruptible “Advisors” Irvine, 2013

13 Donna & Athena Donna was homeless and a heroin addict at fifteen. She prostituted herself for drugs. She contracted HIV. A German Shepherd/Lab mix, Athena, changed that. Freed from an abusive relationship- it was the dog or the man. “I chose the dog.” She moved to her mother’s home. Had to be “clean” to have the dog- “Would I rather use drugs or feed my dog? I fell in love with Athena, so I gave up the needle. Gave up the pipe. I gave up liquor. Everything.” Had to take care of herself to be there for the dog- “She helped me get my HIV level down.” Lost Athena over a year ago, but continues to care for herself and remain off drugs for Buddy- her new dog. Irvine, 2013

14 Tommy & Monty Tommy has debilitating depression and substance abuse issues. He is living in a van that doesn’t run, parked in a friend’s yard. Monty, a terrier/Rottweiler mix, was abandoned in a church parking lot, and adopted by Tommy. “He makes me come out and walk with other people. He gets me socializing with other people. And he’s like my best friend because being homeless, you don’t really have friends unless you’re drinking and doing drugs and all.” “Monty also got me off alcohol and got me off drugs. Now I’m sober and I’m healthy.” *Best friend *Social facilitator *Physical health motivator *Emotional supporter LIFE SAVER

15 Denise & Ivy Was a graphic artist, but severe depression caused her to lose her income and apartment. Lived in a car with her cat, Ivy for eight months. Ivy’s belongings take up the entire back seat. Denise sleeps in the front. People tell her she has no right to keep Ivy in a car. “I have a history with depression up to suicide ideation, and Ivy, I refer to her as my suicide barrier…she is the reason I keep going… she needs me and I need her….she is the only source of daily, steady affection and companionship I have.” Recently, her doctor provided documentation certifying Ivy as her necessary companion, thus opening up housing options because Ivy is considered a “reasonable accommodation”. She hopes to find housing soon.

16 Pets and Homeless Youth  Companion, protector, source of comfort  “Closest thing to kin out there”  Unconditional love  Confidante “ [A dog] gives you somebody to talk to –I mean my dog is my home –he keeps me warm when it is cold and gives me somebody to talk to when I’m walking down the highway.”

17 Pets and Homeless Youth  Stability and structure  Sense of pride and accomplishment  Sense of self-reliance ---capable and worthy  Relieves the helplessness of their situation “ ….It gives you a sense of being –you’ve got a meaning in life –you’ve got a reason to do things –my dog was the reason I didn’t get locked up in Frisco or anything else I’ve done because I’ve had to keep straight so I can keep my dog.”

18 Integrating Services Services to homeless youth and young adults must be comprehensive and address the unique needs associated with their lifestyle and environment  Strengths based  Respectful of the Human-Animal Bond  Inclusive

19 Services to Consider  Shelter services to both youth and pet In most cases, the youth will not stay inside a shelter if their companion animal has to stay outside in a kennel  Provision of pet food at drop-in sites and shelters  Dog daycare services to allow youth to attend school or search for employment  Veterinary care for companion animals, including spay/ neuter program  Advocating for pet-friendly housing

20 Examples of Services  Charlie’s Food Bank- part of BC SPCA outreach program  UC Davis Vet School- Mercer Vet Clinic for the Homeless  Berkeley- Paw (Pets and Wellness) Fund- provides vet care to the homeless  People and Animals Living Safely- PALS  Yeah!- Seasonal shelter for homeless youth- allows pets  Homeless Youth Alliance- provides pet food at their drop-in centers and through their outreach program  Virginia Woof Doggy Daycare

21 Resources  information on how to develop a program  Safe Havens for Pets: Guidelines for Programs Sheltering Pets for Women who are Battered  My Dog is My Home: The Experience of Human-Animal Homelessness – National Museum of Animals & Society  Pets of the Homeless- provides pet food and vet care to the homeless across the nation  Family Promise-PetSmart Promise, the pet sanctuary for pets of the homeless families - Sponsored by PetSmart  Red Rover: provides shelter and care for animals of natural disaster, victims of hoarding, etc. Additionally, provides financial support to people and agencies helping victims of DV

22 Quotes to Ponder “Never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well- being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” -Martin Luther King, Jr. “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” -Mahatma Gandhi “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.” ---Anatole France “The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.” ― Martin Luther

23 Questions?

24 Contact Information Melissa Holcombe School Social Work 423-605-3071 Veterinary Social Work 423-718-7562

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