The Healing Touch of Animals


I live in a large city fraught with homelessness. Many years ago, when I first moved to Portland, Oregon, those living in destitute conditions stationed themselves along one main street called Burnside. But over time, the increasing numbers of impoverished have been pushed to every boundary of the city. They panhandle at freeway exits, outside of stores; they mingle in the hub of our big-city sidewalks and sleep in cardboard boxes under the freeway overpasses. Although I’ve grown conditioned to the presence of the down-and-out, I have not become desensitized or unaffected.

There are many ways I could go with a topic about the homeless, but my focus now is on what often catches my attention: the large numbers of them who have animals accompanying them. I’ve seen snakes, ferrets, and rats wrapped around necks, slung over shoulders, and even a bird sitting atop a head that had no desire to fly away. These kinds of pets do seem practical because they can easily be tucked away inside a jacket if necessary. But what about all the dogs I see sidled up to so many of these folks? And not just  Pit Bulls or German Shepherds which, understandably, would be good for protection. But now I’ve seen Chihuahuas, Shitzus, and Dachshunds. What that tells me is that animals are needed for plain old companionship. And who needs the unconditional love that animals provide more than the disadvantaged? Animals keep these sometimes emotionally fragile people connected, even when they have every reason to disconnect from any hope for their future. So often the homeless are snubbed, sneered at, and mistreated. I wonder if, once they have an animal at their side, or in their lap, if they occasionally get asked, “What’s his name?” by someone delivering a pat to the dog’s head, and maybe, eventually, “What’s your name?”

Service animals have been invaluable in assisting the handicapped for decades (i.e., Guide Dogs for the Blind), but now there is proof that animals are extremely beneficial for mental health, too. They are used in therapist offices and mental health centers to calm people suffering from anxiety and PTSD.  In every abuse support group that I’ve been in, members discuss their pets–and we all seemed to have one or yearn for one.


Portland, OR January 2017

Children who have been abused benefit greatly when given a pet. The animal can facilitate self-esteem and a sense of responsibility. Parents often don’t want to get their child a pet because they end up being the ones who end up taking care of it. They need to remember: pets don’t teach responsibility–they do. Pets are an excellent vehicle for learning. They bring comfort and are non-judgmental. A hurting child may learn to trust first through a pet.

We are in the dead of winter here in Portland with record snowfall–a foot of the white stuff fell overnight, and it’s still falling. I’m constantly thinking about the homeless–we’ve had four die in the last couple of weeks from exposure. I wonder if they had a dog to huddle with at the end . . .



16 thoughts on “The Healing Touch of Animals

  1. This was beautiful Mandy! I longed for a pet and we rescued two kittens several years ago. One is sitting on my lap now. The other one loves to be held like a baby doll. I have experienced more love from them than I have from my family. And now my husband and I are terribly afraid of how I will deal with losing them. I have never learned how to grieve loss and I have a huge fear of being abandoned. So yes, having a pet is a mixed blessing. I already love them, so there is no turning back. I just keep appreciating the love we share.

    The pictures were so touching. I am sure it must be wonderful for the homeless to have a pet. It is sad though when we are left in life to have pets replace human connection. It would be ideal to have both. It is amazing that where humans fail, animals love without hesitation!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you have your kitties! Somehow, we have to put our fear of loss aside so we can embrace the love these wonderful little beings offer us. I’m trying to reverse what I typically have thought, and try to think of it as I am offering THEM the gift of love and nurturing and safety until our time is up. I’ll let you know how I do with all that when I get a pet! 😅

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great entry! I just wrote a somewhat similar entry yesterday, but with the focus solely on the significance of emotional support animals for the mentally ill. Definitely, definitely, this is so important that you mentioned how the homeless benefit from them too. Actually, many homeless are also mentally ill, though not all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Yes, I think the homeless community certainly carries the additional weight of mental illness, and who knows which came first? One thing is certain, animals bring something to them, to all of us that comes without judgement and unconditional love. So glad for your comment!


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