Masters Thesis

Animal companion impact on social isolation among individuals experiencing homelessness

This qualitative (phenomenology) study explores how animal companions impact social isolation among individuals experiencing homelessness. In-depth personal interviews were held with a sample of 6 homeless pet owners receiving laundry/shower services from several different locations in Stanislaus County. Participant narratives were used to gather lived experiences and perceptions about homeless individuals and how their animal companions help them with social isolation. Findings suggest that homeless individuals with animal companions are resilient and able to better withstand the effects of social isolation. Five main themes appeared in the data analysis: love/empathy, fulfilling a need or responsibility, the positive emotion of pride that comes with pet ownership, the attachment or bond between human and animal, and the challenges or struggles faced. Key findings that were unanticipated were the findings of love, pride, and all the positive emotions associated with these feelings which help to provide a buffer for these individuals. The findings suggest that companion animals are an important part of the social network of some homeless individuals.