Latest figures from Crisis (April 2021) estimate that there are 200,000 experiencing core homelessness in England in 2020. In the UK 1 in 10 people experiencing homelessness has a pet.
Hostels are an essential part of the response to homelessness providing a temporary place to stay and supporting with permanent solutions for housing and reintegration into society. Research has shown that fewer than 10% of hostels are pet friendly leaving a homeless pet owner at a disadvantage. Fewer than 7% of homeless pet owners would give up their dog in exchange for housing.
Main reasons given by hostels for not accepting pet residents are:
The bond between a homeless person and their pet is well documented and provides many positive mental and physical benefits to the owner. Despite this most people who are homeless are asked to give up their pet to access accommodation. Street Paws charity believe that owning a dog should not be a barrier to accessing support and a safe place to sleep.
Street Paws Dog Champions Scheme support hostels to become pet friendly and provides:
'DAVE AND LOLA'
Dave* has been at our scheme for almost three months with his dog, Lola*; prior to this he spent a period of time rough sleeping due to feeling unsafe in his previous property.
Initially Dave had been hesitant to join the service. As with a lot of our service users, Dave has complex needs, perhaps the most predominant of which is his psychosis. This, alongside his previous experiences of being systematically emotionally abused and threatened by members of the community, can lead him to see everything as a potential threat.
Whilst Lola attempted to settle into the kennel Dave became convinced other people had access to it, too. Padlocks were changed on a number of occasions, new security lights were fitted and staff kept an extra eye on the security cameras to alleviate his concerns, but these concerns still remained. Battling alongside these concerns, too, was the separation anxiety they both felt. Lola had never spent time in a kennel and the two of them had a very close bond they had fostered over the years. And so these concerns, along with the cold weather, fireworks and an abundance of sneaky cats, lead to a few difficulties – and a lot of howling – as they tried to settle into room and kennel respectively. As a result Dave spent many nights in the kennel and some back on the streets rather than leave Lola alone. This lead to a decline in his own personal hygiene, sleeping pattern and consequentially his mental health, as well as a lot of confusion for Lola; Dave’s anxieties to leave Lola alone in the kennel were picked up on and amplified by her and she would often shake and resist when Dave attempted to return to the scheme, again adding fuel to his theory that people were harming her. A self-fulfilling prophecy. Cue Street Paws.
Street Paws came by the scheme to meet them both and assess the needs of Lola. After speaking to Dave and liaising with an animal behaviourist, dog and owner were provided with a three-stage plan to help alleviate some of their anxieties, which included a Kong stuffed with tuna, covering Lola’s bed with a blanket to block out noises, and gradually increasing the time they spent apart. Alongside this Street Paws were also on hand to provide general guidance, respond to other concerns around Lola’s health and wellbeing and wormed her and gave her flea treatment.
Crucial for this to work Dave also needed to feel safe and supported at the scheme. His keyworker was able to slowly build up rapport and trust through listening to his concerns and taking them seriously, as well as encouraging him to get back in regular contact with his MH worker and offering opportunities for him to take his mind of his anxieties, through walking, baking and numerous cups of tea. Street Paw’s support, alongside the support of staff at the scheme, have enabled them to progress through the three-stage plan with Lola now in good health and fully settled in the scheme. Dave too is comfortable enough to leave Lola unattended while he gets on with life admin and perfects his baking skills. Whilst there are still obstacles to overcome, the welfare of Lola is not currently one of them.
Street Paws have been extremely supportive throughout this process and beyond and are always on hand to offer support for Dave and staff. They are offering training to all TLA staff, and Dave’s keyworker is one of those who have taken them up on it. Street Paws have had great communication, are understanding and show empathy to both client and dog and overall have proven to be a strong contributing factor to Dave’s feeling of safety.
'JANET AND OLIVER'
‘Janet’ moved into our service after suffering from bereavement after the passing of her wife. ‘Janet’ had moved to the service with her small dog, for whom she had cared for with her spouse for a long time. ‘Janet’s’ dog was her main source comfort after losing her wife and becoming homeless.
As ‘Janet’ was on a low income and had been homeless for over a year she had found it difficult moving to new home, and having to care for her dog on such a low income. Street paws supported ‘Janet’ from the start of her tenancy by providing her with dog food and treats, and veterinary care for her dog. Street paws continued to offer them support during ‘Janet’s’ tenancy at the scheme.
When it became apparent that ‘Oliver’ was not himself and needed further visits from the vets, Street Paws were able to arrange for the vet to visit them at their home. Street Paws were so quick to support them to be seen at the PDSA as soon as possible. Unfortunately after being seen the vets at the PDSA, it was discovered that ‘Oliver’ had tumour and had to be put to sleep. ‘Janet’ was distraught but agreed this was the best outcome to ensure her little companion did not suffer any further.
Street Paws were vital to ‘Oliver’s’ care and offered ‘Janet’ the support she needed to care look after ‘Oliver’s’ health. Through this most difficult time, Street paws paid for ‘Oliver’s’ vet bills and also arranged for him to be cremated and have his ashes returned to ‘Janet’. ‘Janet’ had been through a very turbulent few years with bereavement and this had been another loss to her at a personal level. She claimed knowing that ‘Oliver had had a long life, and was so well cared for through his illness made it easier for her to try and move on with her bereavement and focus on the opportunity to have ‘Oliver’ living with her after being separated for over a year while she was street homeless.
We hope that many more local authorities and accommodation providers will view the Dog Champions Scheme as a positive step to removing the barriers against homelessness and dog ownership, reaching the up to 25% currently unsupported homeless individuals.
We are expanding rapidly and we plan to work right across the UK to provide this vital life saving service. If you are a local authority or provider who would like our support please contact us firstname.lastname@example.org