Online Program

Benefits of pet ownership among homeless youth

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 : 5:30 p.m. - 5:50 p.m.

Harmony Rhoades, PhD, Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Eric Rice, PhD, School of Social Work, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Hailey Winetrobe, MPH, CHES, Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Pet ownership confers positive benefits for health and well-being in the general population. Homeless youth are highly vulnerable; service providers have anecdotally reported the benefits of pet ownership for homeless youth, but no quantitative research has investigated pet ownership in this population. Methods: Self-administered questionnaires were completed by 360 homeless youth as part of a longitudinal study of youth utilizing drop-in centers in Los Angeles. In addition to demographic and risk behavior questions, respondents answered a series of questions developed by the authors about the subjective experience of pet ownership on the street. Results: One-quarter of homeless youth had pets. Of those, 53% had dogs, 17% cats, 10% both cats and dogs, and 20% another pet (i.e. hamster, rat, snake). The majority of youth reported that their pet made them feel safe, loved, kept them company, and made it easier to ask for money from strangers. Two-thirds of dogs were licensed and 50% of dogs/cats were spayed/neutered. Only 13% of homeless youth reported difficulty getting pet food, and 35% said it was easy to see a vet. Half reported that pets made it more difficult to stay in a shelter, and 21% reported that pet ownership was a barrier to transitional/permanent housing. Discussion: Pets provide an important source of companionship and love for homeless youth, and youth report little difficulty in caring for their pets. However, pet ownership may be a barrier to short-term shelter and transitional/permanent housing for homeless youth, suggesting the need for pet-friendly housing options.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe the dimensions of pet ownership among homeless youth. Discuss the barriers that pet ownership may pose for homeless youths’ housing options.

Keyword(s): Homelessness, Animal Human Health Connection

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the project director for the study which collected this data. I wrote the questions being analyzed, conducted the analysis, and conceptualized and wrote the abstract.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.

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