A recent study revealed that more than 4,000 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on any one night. That’s quite a statistic, isn’t it? And yet, even so, this figure probably underestimates the problem because it doesn’t count those known as the ‘hidden homeless’. They are the people who have nowhere to live but haven’t approached councils for help or housing.
Homelessness is something that whether we want to believe it or not, has a stigma attached. It shouldn't, but it does.
But 2018 will go down as one of those years that something special happened though, perhaps marking the start of a brighter future.
Photo Credit: StreetVet
Jade Statt is a vet and one of the co-founders of StreetVet, an outreach program with dedicated vet professionals who meet and help homeless people to get the right veterinary care for their dogs.
Alongside co-founder Sam Joseph, she is on a mission to help as many homeless dogs as possible.
Earlier this year, she spoke with K9 Magazine to explain where the idea for StreetVet came from.
Hi Jade! Thanks for speaking with us. Tell us all about StreetVet.
Hi there. We have quite an unusual backstory, Sam and I.
In October 2016, I originally started calling myself StreetVet and was doing what I envisaged StreetVet to be, going out on the street with a backpack and treating homeless dogs and Sam was also out and about with a backpack on calling himself StreetVet too.
And you didn’t know each other?
No. We each took a lot of time to come up with the name, clearly (laughs).
Anyway, I heard about him and thought we’re both vets and there are risks for us to both be out there, potentially medicating the same dogs, so I messaged him and we met up.
We got on really well, thankfully, and discovered we both had the same idea for what we wanted StreetVet to be, so in April 2017 together we formally formed StreetVet to make it as easy as possible for other vets and vet nurses to volunteer for us, but equally easy for drug companies to donate to us.
It also allows us to create a framework, so we can roll StreetVet out in other cities where there’s a need.
Photo Credit: StreetVet
How many people volunteer with StreetVet?
At the moment, we have around 130-150 vets and vet nurses who volunteer their time.
We’ve had quite a few articles in the veterinary press and the profession responded, so we now have a UK wide database of volunteers who want to help and have committed to giving up two hours a month.
Dexter and his dad, pictured above / Photo Credit: StreetVet
How do you choose which areas StreetVet operates in?
Well, I’m originally from Glasgow so if I’m honest I sometimes wish the first city I’d tried to work in had been my home city, which logistically might have been easier. Instead, I chose London which is massive and is where I now live, so I’m still trying to cover London and we are expanding quickly into more areas which need us.
A very good friend of mine lives in Brighton and she had wanted to get StreetVet Brighton up and running for a while but we needed to affiliate with a regular soup kitchen to mirror the StreetVet London model.
In London, we work with Jon Glackin of Streets Kitchen. His organisation feeds a thousand people each week in London so he is well connected and he put us in contact with someone in Brighton who runs a soup kitchen, so putting the two things together StreetVet Brighton launched.
Aside from volunteers and a base, we also need out of hours veterinary support for the dogs wherever we cover. It’s a guideline of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons that if you’re prescribing medications, you need to have ongoing care support in place.
So once all three parts are in place and we know we have the requirements in place to launch in a new area, we’ll visit and do an induction, training and set up the computer side of things. Working with the veterinary sector, there are certainly different aspects I wasn’t aware of before I started StreetVet so we’re there to support.
As far as Sam and I are concerned, when a team set up a StreetVet in their city, it’s their StreetVet, but we’re there to guide and support.
Photo Credit: StreetVet
So, it’s almost like a franchise but without the cost?
Yes, exactly. That’s the best way to look at it. I’ve been a vet for 15 years and before StreetVet I always wanted to volunteer in this country but because of red tape, it was honestly easier to jump on a place and volunteer neutering cats in Greece, for example.
But I always wanted to give back at home, so we wanted to give StreetVet the framework to cut through the red tape and make it easier for other vets and vet nurses to give back.
I had a really strong feeling, as did Sam, that our profession felt the same and would come if we asked and we’ve not been disappointed. Our inbox is full of people wanting to give up time to help.
How do you get the veterinary practices on board to offer the out of hours support, does it come from the practices the vets or vet nurses work for?
Now that StreetVet is becoming established amongst the profession it is becoming easier.
We have documentation that outlines exactly what our needs are and a standard contract to sign.
We also have a universal out of hours number and I think that helps practices because their location is private unless needed.
If someone needs us, we have a freephone number and that goes through to a person, not an answerphone, who has got a list of questions they know to go through and if they think that the person needs to speak to a vet they will then call our emergency vets in our StreetVet covered areas - Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge and London.
We’re trying to avoid the homeless person having to spend anything, such as credit, which could be tricky for them.
If it’s not classed as an emergency, they’ll share the next StreetVet visit and location so the person knows that too. We will also be notified that a call has been placed and this allows us to follow up the next day.
Photo Credit: StreetVet
How often do you see the same people?
In London, we outreach four times a week. We soon realised that through being associated with a soup kitchen, we could see good numbers of people and could build up trust and relationships with people and their dogs.
It’s really a very fluid organisation, as you can tell from how we started (laughs).
As we’re getting more and more known, we’re also getting calls and messages from the public telling us about dogs they’ve seen and think are in need, so with those cases in the areas we’re active we’ll look at our database to see who is nearby to visit and help.
In the areas we’re not yet active, we do what we can. For example, we were recently contacted about a dog that someone had seen in Essex and were worried about, so we arranged for that dog to go to a vet and we either were able for the care to be given free of charge as a pro bono case or we funded.
What made you want to become a vet?
You always hear stories of people who become a vet because their parents or grandparents were vets, but that’s not what happened for me (laughs). I didn’t even really have any animals growing up either.
My dad was very firm that I could get my first dog when I could look after it properly, so I got my first dog when I was 11 years old.
So, becoming a vet wasn’t the most obvious career path for me but when I was about 10 I read a series of books called ‘Animal Inn’, which funnily enough my husband just bought again as a reminder, and they’re all about this girl and her dad, who’s a vet, and the journeys they went on together meeting all sorts of animals.
And it was those books, genuinely. They were what made me want to become a vet and I feel lucky they gave me a vocation.
That’s amazing (laughs). Have the realities of the job been all you hoped?
That’s a hard question. If I could do it all over again, I would still be a vet but life as a vet has definitely had its highs and lows. I love what I do, but is it what I expected it to be? No, definitely not.
I think the profession has changed a lot over the years. When I graduated I don’t think the onus was on the support that’s now being given.
When I started it was perfectly possible to be thrown in at the deep end. In other industries, there are stages you’d go through after you graduate, but when you’re a vet and you’re qualified, that’s it.
A lot of vets are perfectionists and of course, they care about what they do. I think if at any point you feel like you’re giving anything less than your absolute best, then it can have its toll on you.
Wearing a completely different hat, I was a director of a charity called VetLife, which is a mental health charity for vets providing 24-hour telephone help for vets.
A lot of work has gone on over the years to give the right support because aside from hours, emotionally and mentally it’s a hard job and that’s because you care about what you do and the animals you treat.
As a vet, you go through a rollercoaster of emotions each day. You can be cuddling someone’s new puppy one minute and the next talking to someone about putting their dog, who has been their companion for years, to sleep. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to do that. To think that wouldn’t have a toll on someone isn’t real life.
What is the biggest problem (or challenge) homeless dog owners face do you think?
There are lots of layers to StreetVet.
What we’re trying to do with some of our media pieces is address the stigma about whether homeless people should have dogs.
As vets who have been doing this for a year, we can categorically say these dogs are well cared for.
Most people have had their dog well before they became homeless, in some cases 15+ years. I think it’s important to challenge that pre-judgement that people have.
The other challenge they face is looking after themselves because of their dog.
For example, some people don’t allow dogs in certain places, such as doctors surgeries, so they have to choose between themselves and leaving their dog to access that service.
We’ve seen people who have discharged themselves from the hospital because they don’t want to leave their dog.
We were out last night and met six dogs and their owners and all of them were saying they wouldn’t take a bed in a hostel if their dog couldn’t go with them, so we do need more hostels that will accept dogs because we know people are choosing to stay on the street rather than take a bed in a hostel if it means leaving their dog.
Pictured above, Gypsy and Soph / Photo Credit: StreetVet
Can you see the hostel situation changing?
Well, we speak with them and tell them about who we are, what we do and will leave things like food and leads to show support is there.
We had one hostel call us once about a guy who had come in and believed his dog was going to be taken off him. He was living in his car and when I met him I felt a lot of empathy because his story was not a typical one.
At a fairly severe point, he made an attempt on his life and yet a year before he was taking his dog to an expensive vet practice and holidayed in Thailand. He had a privileged life. But he’d had some back luck and suffered from mental health problems, which led to him giving his job up and taking a few wrong turns.
I found quite a close connection with him because he’s a similar age to me and we now speak virtually every day. If I don’t hear from him, it’s unusual and that’s how I found out that he’d made an attempt on his life because he was meant to meet me that day and he didn’t show up. I ended up finding him in A&E.
While he is getting the help he needs, I have been involved in getting his dog the care needed until he’s back on his feet. He is now back in touch with his family, sorting out his CV and getting back into work.
He’s become a friend. I went to see him on Christmas Eve and he, or his family led by his idea, bought me a present which was a star in the sky named after my dog.
I hope with everything in my heart that he will be reunited with his dog and we will have a happy ending.
I hope so too. What are the long-term goals for StreetVet?
Well, from something that I told my husband I would do one day a week, StreetVet has evolved into something I do all day, every day. Sam works full time in a vet practice and I work part-time, so I think that at some point we need to look at how this will all work in the long term, so it can be all we hope it can.
Opening StreetVet in other cities is absolutely at the top of our agenda, as is creating more awareness about who we are and what we do with the public, as well as the profession too.
We also want to give back to the vets and nurses who volunteer for us as well.
Photo Credit: StreetVet
How can people show support to StreetVet?
Our website, streetvet.co.uk has options for donating and we have an Amazon wishlist so people can donate something specifically, which I think people like to do because they know exactly what they’re giving.
We also have different fundraising initiatives and ideas online. We have one guy at the minute who is planning to climb his third mountain with his dog and raising money for StreetVet.
And we want people to know that if you see someone with their dog and think they need help from us, stop, talk to them and tell them about StreetVet. If they would like a visit from us, contact us through our website and tell us. We’ll then do what we can to help.
Update: Since we spoke TV presenter and dog lover Paul O'Grady has become StreetVet's ambassador and StreetVet has grown, now operating in nine cities across the UK with 300 veterinary professionals on board.[Originally published January 2018]