WHY DO WE CARE ABOUT THE HOMELESS AND THEIR ANIMALS?
It is estimated that about one in 10 homeless or vulnerably housed people in Canada has a companion animal.
For many of these individuals, pets play an extremely important role within their daily lives, providing stability, comfort and companionship. In research conducted by Dr. Michelle Lem, director of Community Veterinary Outreach in Ontario, and published in the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, a predominant theme of "pet before self" was revealed among the ten homeless or vulnerably housed youth that were interviewed.
It was found that participants were willing to sleep outside in extreme weather if their animals were not accepted into available shelters, even if this led to illness. Dr. Lem also discovered that having a pet was linked to decreased use of drugs and alcohol, and a decrease in risky behaviour, since individuals feared being arrested or jailed and thus losing their pet.
The research, published five years ago, concludes: "Services and programs may need to accept companion animals and understand the strength of these human-animal relationships and the benefits companion animal ownership can offer."
And yet, the majority of cities across Canada still lack homeless shelters that accept pets.
Caroline Leblanc, researcher from the University of Sherbrooke and Velvet Hearts team member, who has written her masters on the relationship between the homeless and their animals, states that the animals are a starting point for change in their owner's lives - teaching them to take care of themselves.
By providing for their beloved animal’s needs, they learn to listen to their own and more often than not - keep themselves in a physical and emotional state that allows them to care for and love their animal.
It's an extremely strong relation that helps keep them on the right track. It's sometimes the only mutual bond and loving relationship that they have. It provides them with a sense of belonging, purpose and security, as well as allows them to feel considered and valued as a human being.
Often, this strong nurturing bond forces them to modify their way of living simply from fear of getting separated from their furry companion i.e. reducing criminal conduct, drug consumption, thoughts of suicide, etc. The stability that this relationship provides for them helps them develop a trust that can then be transferred to outside relationships as well - facilitating their integration into society.
However, her research also clearly demonstrates that having an animal while living on the streets is a double edged sword. On one hand, these animals provide their owners with a connection to the rest of society: people passing by will stop and notice the dog/cat and start a conversation with the individual about the animal, sometimes even sharing information on their own beloved pet. And just like that, that human sitting on the sidewalk, asking for help, is no longer invisible.
BUT on the other hand, these homeless people are denied access to public transport, shelters, low income housing and indoor warm spaces - all because of their furry companions. So how do you think this makes them feel? How much more difficult do you think this makes their daily lives? What if YOU had to choose between having a roof over your head, a warm meal every day, transport OR keeping your beloved furry family member?
No human being deserves to be condemned to the dead cold streets because they want to give and receive love.
WHY DO WE CHOOSE TO SUPPORT SHELTERS THAT ACCEPTS ANIMALS?
The fact that currently the City of Montreal’s resources to provide the necessary support to these homeless and their animals are extremely limited and/or non-existent - is a major issue and it’s a form of vulnerability that accentuates the marginalization of these people.
It has been proven elsewhere through research that shelters and/or organizations who accept animals facilitate the integration of their owners and support them in getting better living conditions, and ultimately even leave the streets.
To facilitate their integration back into society and fill the void, with your help we provide shelters that accept animals with much needed supplies (leashes, collars, dog coats, dog boots, poop bags, etc.) crucial veterinary care (in partnership with Clinique Vétérinaire de Pointe St-Charles), training, transport and food for the animals.
Through our years of field work, we have also developed personal relationships within the homeless community, as well as with social workers/councillors. These relationships allow us to follow and assist individuals on a case by case basis - many of which aren't allowed access to the city shelters because of their animals or simply choose not to frequent them. This makes us the go to organization in Montreal for the homeless or vulnerable community with animals.
THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO HELP OUT!
If you support Velvet Hearts' mission and would like to make a difference in the lives of Montreal's homeless community and its animals, here are some things you can do:
By donating to Velvet Hearts, you can help alleviate the plight of Montreal's most vulnerable and enable us to continue our mission.
Every donation allows us to care for more homeless individuals and their animals.
Together we believe that we can change the world, one act of kindness at a time. Thank you for your kindness and generosity - we could not do this without you.