Issue 106

Homeless People & Their Dogs: Can We Do More to Help?

“One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.”

Over the last six years, the number of rough sleepers has grown year on year with London and its boroughs home to the largest number of homeless people in the country. Much of the responsibility is laid at the door of insecure tenancies, rising rents and a shortage of affordable housing.

For many sleeping rough, the companionship and loyalty of a dog is crucial, it’s not something they want to give up and their pet’s needs come before their own.

Five years ago, near to Christmas, dog owner Michelle Clark noticed a homeless man and his dog sitting huddled together for warmth.


Photo Credit: DOTS

She kept seeing them day after day and so one day she went to a local veg stall and asked for a mushroom box with a handle. She then decorated it and filled with everything she could think of, including a blanket and baby socks for the dog’s paws and went to give it to the dog’s dad. His overwhelmed response at the kind gesture was one she’ll never forget and she began making more mushroom boxes up to help more homeless people and their dogs in need.

After her first small act of kindness, she carried on for five years giving what support she could, until this March when she launched an organisation called Dogs On The Streets (DOTS) where alongside a small team, she continues to hand out food, leads, collars, coats and flea and worming treatments across the capital, even helping the homeless dog owners she meets to find jobs and accommodation.


Photo Credit: DOTS

Forging friendships over dogs

She tells us it’s helped her to form great friendships and a trusted bond with the dog’s owners.

“Last year I was asked by a homeless man if there was any way I could help look after his dog whilst he went into temporary council accommodation based on his ill health and hopefully eventually securing permanent accommodation.

"But he wasn't allowed to take his dog into the temporary accommodation and he wouldn't give her up so I agreed. I am still currently looking after his dog in my home but it was then I realised that the dog’s homeless owners needed more help and support than just with weekly handouts.

“So, I then started transporting dogs and their homeless owners to vets when they were unwell. This was when we decided to bring the concept of having all of the services – grooming, vet care and training - out to the streets and through DOTS we founded the UK’s first street pavement homeless community service for dogs at the end of March this year, which means people can come along to a friendly trusted place and receive everything in one place, all free.”

Another story that Michelle shares with us is about a dog called Misty, who was a friend of DOTS. She had mammary masses and was successfully operated on by one of the organisation’s vets. Sadly, after a few weeks, Misty started showing acute signs and was rushed to a local vet service.

“We had Misty transferred to Davies Specialist Veterinary hospital where she went under a neurologist. Very sadly treatment wasn't working and Misty was put to sleep. This caused huge upset and emotion to her poor daddy and the DOTS team. We recently held a fun day in her memory for Misty’s canine friends on the streets with specially made up treat boxes, games, puppachinos and bubble machines.”

The importance of keeping homeless dogs safe

Dogs On The Streets currently have two weekly static stations in London. Through the stations, dog owners can register and receive a dog tag with the organisation’s details. Each tag also has a unique number for that dog so if anything happens, if the dog gets lost or stolen, for example, when it’s found they can contact DOTS and they will reunite the dog and their owner.


Photo Credit: DOTS

“We are a small team but growing all the time with a team of vet nurses joining us recently, so through the stations, we can offer more services. People can see one of our vets, receive dog essentials and get training advice if needed. Once a month we also have a ‘pamper camper van’ come to offer grooming services, like nail clipping.”

On the importance of grooming, Michelle tells us the warm bubble bath which helps to get rid of the fumes, dirt and dust which will have got into the dog’s coat from living outside, is a big hit with the dogs.


Photo Credit: DOTS

And while homelessness continues to rise, Michelle tells us they want to help as many people and their pets as they can.

“As well as the static stations, we also have a weekly mobile outreach program in London so we’ll walk around the streets introducing ourselves to new owners and dogs on the streets while handing out packs with essentials. We also support a number of homeless hostels that do accommodate pets with their owners, so where it’s possible to help people find somewhere to live, we do.”

The UK needs more pet friendly landlords willing to give dog owners a chance

Michelle tells us one of her standout memories from the last five years is finding a home for a homeless man and his three dogs where they still live today. But the reality is that it’s very hard to find a home for someone with just one dog.


Photo Credit: DOTS

So, what can be done?

“In my experience, the people we work with have a quicker and better chance of housing through the private sector, however before this can be easily accessed landlords need to not just allow pets, but not have such a tight protocol and deem all dogs as the same."


Photo Credit: DOTS

She continues, “Street dogs are some of the best and most well-mannered dogs. They are with their owners 24/7 which would still be the case in accommodation and they’re not chewers. As an organisation, we are happy to pay a higher security deposit if needed, but until such a time, the hope of accommodation is slim.”

Dogs On The Streets are a registered non-profit organisation and rely on donations. To get involved in their fundraising campaigns, volunteer and to spread the word about their work, visit www.dotslondon.co.uk

Comments

comments

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top