Homeless youth who keep pets as companions are three times less likely to suffer from depression than homeless youth who don’t keep pets, according to a new study conducted by a veterinary college in Canada.
The study, which was conducted by the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, also found that young homeless people who take care of pets are less likely to engage in behavior that is detrimental to their health, such as drug use. They are also more likely to discuss their own personal challenges with a veterinarian than their pet-less counterparts, according to the The Canadian Press.
The study, published in the journal Anthrozoos, took a look at 198 young homeless people in the Canadian cities of Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston and Hamilton who were living in shelters or drop-in centers. Of the 198 youths in the study, 98 kept pets.
Many emergency shelters in the country do not allow pets, and this barrier could be attributed to homeless youth with pets not getting access to services that they may need to better their lives, such as addiction counseling or even a warm bed, said Michelle Lem, lead author of the study and the founder and director of Community Veterinary Outreach in Canada.
“A lot of social services think also that many of the youth probably shouldn’t have pets because they can’t access services with pets,” Lem told The Canadian Press. “They can’t access shelters, they can’t access some addictions treatment, they can’t go into hospitalization, so they (pets) are barriers to accessing services.
“What we’re trying to show is, yeah, they are barriers, but they also have some very positive impacts,” she added.
Lem’s study reportedly is the first of its kind in Canada. She hopes that more social services agencies will allow those who are homeless and keep pets to have more access to shelters.
“These pets are their only friends, the only way that they’ve experienced unconditional love without judgment,” Lem told the new agency. “These pets have saved their lives in many cases.”