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.
Prince is my best friend and is just the greatest company. He was one of a litter of six, and we picked him because of his underbite, which we fell in love with!
He’s my best friend
Prince seems to instinctively know when you need a cuddle or cheering up, if you’d like a walk or just want to sit down. I got him after the death of my father six years ago, and he also was a huge comfort when my mother died this year.
Prince is a Pug who loves mountain walking and the beach. His personality is very human; he’s a mummy’s boy and loves a cuddle. He enjoys chasing birds and thinks he can catch them in the sky. He loves to eat (but luckily has never been into eating furniture or shoes!)
His best friend is our family dog Theo, a Bernese Mountain Dog. He also has the trick of sneezing on you when he’s very excited!
Flo was an isolation puppy from the Dogs Trust. She came into our lives at just the right time. Both my mum and I are frontline workers caring for the local community. And my dad recently had his right leg amputated after a long battle with cancer. We live in a small secluded village and we were worried about how my dad would cope with being housebound while we were both at work.
In came Flo, with her unusual beagle colours and regal attitude. She fits right in with our older dog Flash and has already become the boss of the house. She’s more interested in snuggling up to my dad on the sofa than playing in the garden. And every Thursday at 9pm she sits on the spot for the clapping for our carers. We all think she believes this round of applause is for her – she even pops a paw up when it’s over!
She came into our lives at just the right time
She loves her home comforts and drags her blanket with her everywhere she goes. She’s always ready for nap o’clock. But most of all she loves tummy rubs. She is now 14 weeks’ old and celebrating her fourth week with the family who love and spoil her far too much already.
When I asked the family what their favourite thing about Flo was everyone was in agreement: it was her love of carrying a stick on every walk, especially when they’re three times the size of her and too heavy to carry.
It’s Flo’s world really, we just live in it.
Orrin is my rock. I suffer from panic attacks and whenever I feel one coming on, he’s always there to ground me until I have it under control. He’s also a blood donor and has saved many lives over the years. My dog is so compassionate, he’ll care for anyone who needs him.
One night, we were called to the vets as they needed blood urgently. When we arrived they were very busy, so we sat quietly in a corner and waited. We saw a distressed lady come in with her ill dog. The nurses all rushed to the dog and left the lady alone, so Orrin went up to her and quietly put his head in her lap until she calmed down a little. He came back over to me eventually, but I could tell he was keeping his eye on her the whole time.
He’ll care for anyone who needs him
A little while later, the same thing happened with someone else and again, Orrin made it his mission to make sure they were ok. Everyone in the vets soon started to realise what he was doing and some of the staff even had tears in their eyes.
After he gave blood, he refused to leave until we’d checked on the two people he’d helped. Orrin truly is my very special boy.
In February 2020, my fiancé and I were looking to adopt a shelter/rescue dog. We live in an upstairs apartment so wanted a small dog. None of the shelters around us had any though, so we took to searching through Facebook.
Adopting Seero was the best decision we’ve ever made
My partner came across an appeal for a little black dog in Cyprus. He had four separate posts from the charity hoping someone would take an interest in this little boy, but nobody seemed to. That broke our hearts – he looked absolutely perfect to us and we fell in love with the photos of him. We thought it would never happen. How would we get him to North East Scotland from Cyprus? I messaged the shelter's page to enquire. A week later we were picking Seero up from a drop-off point in Glasgow. We couldn't believe our luck.
I've had a horrible year due to poor health and being unable to work for the time being, and Seero has definitely saved me – and my partner – more than we saved him. Waking up to his little face, a wagging tail and big kisses has been amazing. He really seems happy now. His eyes were once sad, but now they’re full of love. Adopting Seero was the best decision we've ever made. I would advise everyone to consider adopting.
Rescued from Romania, where she was attacked as a tiny pup, Lena just lights up my life every minute. Left with facial deformities, she is my little snorting hyena.
She is my little snorting hyena
Seeing how far she has come in the (almost) two years since I adopted her gives me such a sense of happiness. She has given me a purpose and something to care for when, at times, I can feel like I am not worth much. Filled with so much sassiness and energy, she is (in my eyes) the best, purest gremlin ever.