Set up four years ago by two vets with a backpack, StreetVet has since grown into a charity with hundreds of veterinary volunteers with boots on the ground outreaching in 17 different locations across the UK.
But despite this rapid growth, the ethos remains the same – to do everything we can to keep our clients and their pets together and preserve the human animal bond. In many cases this bond is the only thing that sustains a homeless person, and sometimes it is this same bond that can turn their lives around.
As the co-founder of the charity, I am reminded on a daily basis of why I wanted to set up StreetVet in the first place. As is often the case, it was a chance encounter, but an encounter that would change the course of my life.
At the time I was dealing with the prospect of losing one of the true loves of my life – my geriatric Labrador and soul mate through some tough times, Oakley. Oakley had just been diagnosed with inoperable cancer and it was while I was dealing with this news that I encountered Dave and his dog Brick.
Brick was suffering from itchy sore skin. This was something I knew I could help with and as Dave and I talked dogs, the anxiety he felt about accessing veterinary care was notable. As I walked away I had one clear thought, what would I have done if I was in that position with Oakley?
I knew that if I’d what I needed in my bag, I could have helped Brick and for me that was where StreetVet was born – from my own bond with Oakley and Dave’s connection to Brick. Having now worked with countless homeless clients, I wouldn't hesitate to say that in my 18 years as a vet, the most symbiotic and profound relationships I have been privileged to witness, have been through StreetVet.
These are the special relationships which truly embody the human animal bond, a bond best expressed by a selection of clients StreetVet has been supporting throughout the coronavirus crisis.
"If I was separated from my dog it would kill me. I've had no mental support since 2014 but my dog is my main mental health support. I'd rather risk my life in a pandemic than be separated from my dog." – Mick talking about his dog Benson.
"When you are stood there hungry and people are walking by like you don't exist, my dog gives me a role. It's like having another heartbeat that is on your side. It's company, he's all the family I have got. He's my moral support. He is everything." – Andy about his dog Bailey.
The words are different but the sentiment is the same; companion animals make a difficult life worth living. In a lonely and often brutal world, the pets of homeless people provide companionship, security, warmth and unconditional love.
StreetVet clients often refer to their pet as their family and I am in no doubt pet ownership enhances our clients social, physical and emotional health. They provide a sense of routine, responsibility, an identity – even a reason to live. But owning a pet on the streets comes at a cost.
As well as the restrictions put on our clients when it comes to mobility, owning a dog can often prevent access to soup kitchens, healthcare and hostel rooms. Imagine being told to choose between a roof over your head or your pet. It’s a choice none of us would want to make, but with only 10 percent of homeless hostels in the UK accepting pets, it's one facing StreetVet's clients every day.
The fact our clients almost always choose to stay on the street and refuse to relinquish their pet is one of the most powerful examples of the human animal connection at work. This is why we are launching the StreetVet Accredited Hostel Scheme, a project that aims to increase the number of UK hostels that are willing to accept pets. This is the next step in the StreetVet story...
Bruno is Nicki’s everything. She calls him ‘her world’ and they’ve been through a lot, sharing experiences of bereavement and homelessness amongst others and being the reason that Nicki has pushed on through to the next day. Bruno is a StreetVet patient and is a firm favourite with the team.
Having slept at the bottom of Nicki’s sleeping bag when they were on the street, he now takes delight in sharing her bed in their hostel room, buried firmly under the duvet, snoring away! He loves sunshine and soaks it up whenever the opportunity arises, as well as going for his walks along the waterfront watching the boats and ships go by. This much-loved happy chap is Nicki’s protector, companion, counsellor and best friend. He gives her so much and it is a real treat to witness the bond between these two souls.
"Sasha has been my world for the last seven years. I have never known a dog to show so much love and affection like she has. She spent time living in a tent with me and her brother Max, who passed away a few weeks ago. She was gutted, you could just tell by her demeanour. Sasha is a very happy dog always got a wag on her tail and lives to meet new people. She is one of the best dogs I have ever had and if it wasn't for Max and Sasha I don’t know where I would be today."
The companionship and interaction that my dog offers me is very different from my human interaction. Although humans communicate with speech, it has its limitations. Humans struggle to say the right words and the right thing when what we really need is the support to simply be there for each other. Dogs cannot talk, yet are superior in detecting the feelings of humans and are simply there when it is required. My dog offers me a level of speech that words do not; a level of communication, companionship that is deeper and more satisfying that at times human interaction just simply cannot.
I rescued Diamond from central London about three or four years ago. Then we came back to Windsor. Diamond is a bit of a character like myself. Diamond was really shy and scared. She used to sleep at the bottom of my sleeping bag. Eventually as, time went by on the streets, Diamond got to know everyone – and everyone knows Diamond. Now all the kids love to say ‘ello!’
We moved into our first home together about six months ago. She’s ok with it, but prefers to be on the streets, meeting people. Whenever Diamond needs to see the vets, StreetVet have always been there. The girls are brilliant with her. Sometimes Diamond gets worried when she sees them, but when the treats come out, Diamond’s attitude changes and she goes all soppy with them. We don’t know what we would do without them.
This is the first picture of Rocksta* I took and thought ‘looking good boy!’ This was the first spring after the summer that we became Rocksta* and the fatman. He had so many friends at this time, from road sweeper Roysiff, one-eyed Will, and Father David. Rocksta* has many good friends, from the gutters of the street, to the penthouses of Persia. Every second is a good time with Rocksta*. I do believe not only did he save my mind and my freedom; he also saved me from myself.
Listen close for I need to say
My girls mean the world to me in every single way,
They hold a place within my heart
That only the special can fill,
They show much love and definitely don’t judge,
The wrong things I may do,
But choose instead to stand by my side
And helped to see me through,
Their praise for a small success
They never fail to show
And even when I don’t achieve their encouragement helps me so,
They say two is company and three a crowd
But three formed our family
With love so pure I’d never found,
There’s no words or numbers out there that can compare
Just what they mean to me and more when no one’s there,
We can now stop looking for love from far and beyond
For now we are a family with an unbreakable bond.
My Cavapoo Barney is such a huge part of my life. During all the lockdown periods, he has always been the one who cheers me up, makes me laugh and most importantly, doesn't judge me for my questionable fashion choices!
He is a very sensitive dog and reacts to my moods, especially if I’m feeling down. When he can sense that I’m upset, he’ll comfort me by cuddling up for a snuggle.
He can sense that I’m upset
Barney is very cute, but he knows it, and so he’s always trying to wrangle an extra treat or two. This would be fine if it was just from me, but he has been known to creep up behind strangers in the park because he can smell treats in their pockets. We try to be strict with him, but we’re yet to succeed with that.
Dudley is a Hungarian Vizsla who was born with a deformed front leg. By the time he arrived at the rescue centre it couldn’t be corrected, and so he underwent amputation surgery at just ten weeks old. I decided to foster him on the night of his surgery and subsequently adopted him permanently
Always shows his loving, caring and empathetic side
We knew this lad was special, but he has really shone during lockdown. Last year, we had to shield to protect our son Jack who has Downs Syndrome and is waiting for a new heart valve. Our crazy, rambunctious pup always shows his loving, caring and empathic side whenever he's withhis best friend Jack, but he stayed especially close to him during this tough time.
Dudley’s antics make us laugh and his cuddles warm our hearts. He’s helped us to stay positive and has fast become the centre of our family.
We rescued Wolfie six months ago, and since then he has made our life so much better and happier. Wolfie is perfectly trained, super intelligent and has managed to learn six new tricks even though he is an old dog! He is sensational at the park and we often get stopped because people want to say hello and take pictures of him. He even comes with me to work and is our office pet.
Everyone that meets him loves him
He also has the cheekiest but funniest personality. You would never guess that he’s 10 years old, and everyone that meets him loves him. He adores playing with all dogs in the park and sometimes forgets how big he is – it’s so funny seeing him play with a tiny puppy!
He is affectionate and loves children, and has made our little family so much happier.
We wanted a dog to share our adventures with and to explore new places. We had our heart set on a blue Great Dane, and when we met him as a puppy, we knew he was the one for us. With an arrowhead shaped white patch on his chest, we called him Archer and he’s been a fantastic addition to our furry family.
We knew he was the one for us
He shares his sofa with his feline brother and sister and shows his gentle side with them. He helped me through a mental breakdown and gave me something to focus on during my recovery. He really is a gentle giant, and always gets showered with attention wherever he goes, putting on the charm and snuffling out snuggles with everyone he meets.
My husband was on Facebook when he came across a post that had been shared about rescue dogs. We saw a picture of Bibi who was found under a bush with seven puppies.
Some kind lady brought her to a shelter in Bulgaria where Bibi nearly died as she was so weak from looking after her puppies. I messaged them to find out if she had found her forever home, which she hadn’t, and then that was it – she was coming to the UK to be loved and cared for with us and our other dog Gunner.
Bibi was like she had been sent from an angel above
Unfortunately we lost Gunner to leukaemia over two years ago but having Bibi was like she had been sent from an angel above! She is absolutely beautiful. She has the most loving personality and has helped me so much with losing my other dog. She loves cuddles and wants to stroked all the time. She is so happy and is amazing considering what she went through.
Only a couple of weeks ago we rescued another gorgeous dog from Bulgaria where we got Bibi from to give her a play friend, which she loves. He was found chained by a wire around his neck and his fur was so long he was unrecognisable. He is now safe with us and Bibi has a play mate!