Homeless People with Animal Companions

Help for Homeless Services

This page is one of resources for Homeless Services and Agencies as they think about homeless people and companion animals and what it means to accommodate them in the services or housing they offer.

There are currently 10  Notes covering a variety of issues.  The Notes raise questions about the bigger picture, make suggestions about things which it is useful to check with your insurance carrier, if that is appropriate, and then dig into some of the details of a particular issue or area.  The Notes include a variety of questions to inform decision-making, to help think about resource needs, policy writing and changes that might be required. 

These are resources to help agencies think about the needs of people with animal companions and to take into account the needs of the agency, staff, volunteers and clients without animals. 

The Notes are intended as starting points.

As human homeless services providers there are a number of decisions to make and often with scarce resources.  Adding in animal companions to the number of decisions to make and ways to stretch resources may feel like too much.  But most people know that homeless people with animal companions will often choose to forgo services, forgo housing rather than give up Fiddeaux or Fluffy. 

Opposite are PDFS to download which might help in making decisions or confronting issues.  These are suggestions about things we've come across or pieces that we have been asked to write or find out about.  Do double check what we have written in case there is more up to the moment information.   The Notes are:

  • 1.The Importance of Dog Body Language and Safe Greetings and additional PDFs
  • 2. What does Service Dog Mean ?
  • 3. Getting a Facility or Services Dog
  • 4. Having clients' dogs in our service
  • 5. Having clients' dogs visit our services : Making use of vehicles, tie ups or kennels with clients' dogs
  • 6. Distributing food to clients' pets
  • 7. Distributing equipment to clients' pets
  • 8. Getting Dogs for Your Clients
  • 9. Having a dog run or play area at your service
  • 10. Staff Members Bringing their Pet to Work

We hope these notes will help you thinking through animal related decisions and develop your own guidance.  If you can think or more areas that you would like some suggestions about then contact us.

Below we outline some of the main points so you can see if that information Note will help your service.

1. Dog Body Language and Safe Greetings.  So you're going to have dogs on the premises ?  If you are then there will be some development of guidelines and education so everyone knows how to be respectful of what the dog needs and is communicating.  Note 1 and the additional pdfs of body language helps everyone get bi-lingual in dog.  It's important not to have accidents.

 2. What is a Service Dog ? This is a problematic area.  What are the definitions of a Service Dog (or Miniature Horse) ?  What should your agency offer ?  What can your staff ask ?  When can a Service Dog be asked to leave the premises ?  How would you define what "out of control" meant ?  Download Note 2 and supplementary pdfs to find out more.

3.Getting a Facility or Service Dog 
This might seems like a great idea, after all who doesn't want to have a dog around ?  But there is more to managing a facility animal than might first appear.  Planning for people, premises and resources needs to happen way before seeking out the perfect canine facility dogDownload Note 3 to get you thinking. 

 4. Having clients' dogs in your service  There are many issues involved in having dogs living on site, this note works through implications from the perspective of other clients without animals, the animals themselves, staff and volunteers.  What are some of the elements which would need to go in a pet policy, what resources might be needed to help smooth the inflow of dogs into the service, what help might people with animal companions need to help them be at their best. Download Note 4.

5. Having clients' dogs visit our services : Using vehicles, Tie outs or kennels for clients' dogs.  There are a number of issues to consider if clients are bringing pets to the service and either leaving them outside or bringing them in.  What might shower ministries, brown bag lunch sessions, day service centers needs to consider ?  Download Note 5

6. Distributing food to clients' pets  What might you look for in food that you give out ?  What are safety issues in handling food and treats ?  Is there liability involved ? Download Note 6.

7. Distributing equipment to clients' pets what are some of the implications of giving out equipment to clients.  What are the arguments for using a harness or flat collar over a prong collar ?  What happens if equipment malfunctions ? Download Note 7

8. Getting dogs for your clients. If having a dog is good for a client then why not partner with a humane or rescue organization and get dogs for your clients ?  This seems like a win-win, dogs that are abandoned get a home and clients get a friend and unconditional love.  But this needs thinking about not only from the perspective of the client, but also from that of the animal, from the perspective of your service.  it also needs thinking about over the longer-term. 
The client may be stable at the point they are given the dog, the dog may support that stability, helping them e.g. exercise more, giving another interest and topic for conversation.  However, the dog needs to be carefully paired, what is not going to help is if the dog has behavioral issues which keeps the client away from other people, for example, a fearful or shy dog, or one which gets reactive to other dogs or to people.  A dog will come with costs attached, medical bills and emergencies, routine medical costs and preventative treatments, food and some equipment.  Can the client afford these bills or will this add an additional burden to budgeting ? What happens if the client becomes ill or is no longer housed by your organization ?  Read on to consider more about your client, the dog and your organization, download Information Sheet 8.

9. Setting up a Dog Run at your Agency.  This Note explores some of the issues in setting up a dog run or exercise area so all dogs can play safely and clients can be responsible about their dogs. Download Note 9.

10. Staff Bringing their Pets to Work.  This might seems like a great idea instead of getting a facility dog and still having therapeutic benefits of an animal being around.  But there are still issues to consider in managing the dog and in the dog's well-being being considered.  There are potentially insurance issues if the dog has not been through some Therapy Dog Training or at Least got the Canine good Citizen Award and training. Download Note 10 and cover the bases.

If you make use of these resources please make a donation

If you make use of these resources to help your agency develop its work please make a donation to our's so we can continue to distribute food and other animal resources to homeless people.