Wandering through Edinburgh today, I noticed a man and his dog huddled in a doorway, doing their best to stay out of the howling wind and snow. I'm usually a bit nervous about offering homeless people money, because I've experienced them being insulted. But this man had a dog. He was already my friend. I approached precariously so as not to alarm the cheery looking collie. "what a beautiful dog.." I began. He smiled a beaming smile and said that 'Tess' was the apple of his eye. I made a contribution towards her dog food and told him about my rescue dog, also the apple of my eye. He wasn't terribly interested. I can't blame him. Other people's dog stories are never as fascinating as the owner of the dog in the story, believes them to be. Or perhaps he was cold or thirsty. I asked how long he had owned her. He said he didn't own her. She was simply his friend. He couldn't remember when she had turned up. I really liked that. It's almost American Indian in attitude. I like to feel I don't own my dog either. At last someone who understands. As I walked away, I was struck by the happiness id seen from a man in what most would consider a desperate situation. He talked as willingly and cheerily about his companion as a man who had it all. I couldnt help but think a non dog owner in such circumstances would be less cheerful.
The Dogs Trust have, i found on googling the subject, done some research into homeless people and their dogs. They have found that Homeless people who own dogs have been shown to be happier and more likely to make positive plans than non dog owning homeless. They are far less likely to be using drugs or alcohol as they report that the welfare of their pet is paramount. On the whole, the dogs of the homeless are in better condition than their owners. Homeless pet 'owners' usually admit to sharing all their rations with their dogs. Studies have shown that having a companion to care for, protect and be protected by outweighs any other form of support currently on offer to those living on our streets. I asked this man if there was anywhere he and his dog could go together to get out of the cold. There wasnIt. Homeless shelters do not take dogs. This needs to be put right. This man endured freezing cold conditions and less food, 365 days a year, out of love for his dog. That's something so special it makes my spine tingle. Dog ownership for the homeless should be supported. I don't think this would explode the numbers as much as people might imagine.
Follow Annabel Burn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wimbledoggies