How many times do we walk past homeless people on our streets? Like many in the current times, it is often something that we take for granted. The national press works hard to promote their well-being and many charities do their utmost to support them in time of need. However, one thing that draws the average passer-by to glance in their direction a second time is the welcoming paw and waggy tail of that person’s beloved doggy companion.
I must admit as writer of this feature that I find it heart-warming whilst at the same time wondering about the well-being of the animal. I am glad to say I was not the only person to share such concerns. Another was Jade Statt (Figure 1) who qualified as a vet from Glasgow Vet School in 2002.
It was on a night out in London that she came across a homeless man and his dog in 2016. “I stopped to talk to Dave and his dog, Brick, and he told me about his dog’s sore skin. I could see in his eyes how helpless he felt: I thought to myself – ‘What would I have done if this was my dog, Oakley?’ I knew that if I’d had my vet kit with me, I could have treated this dog. There and then, I realised how I could make a difference.”
One has to admire Jade for her initial efforts – it was not easy – and she started to find support from others, including Josh Coombes who has become known among the homeless community and started by giving free haircuts on the street. The rest is history. “We met over a coffee one day and I soon realised that we shared the same concerns about the well-being of the homeless community and their animals and we continue to this day to keep in touch.”
Like Jade, fellow vet Sam Joseph (Figure 1) felt he could offer more; so, one evening in 2015 when he was a student at Bristol Veterinary College, he decided to have a walk about with his stethoscope and offer to check over any homeless people’s dogs. “What pleased me was to see their relief when I told them their dog was fit and well. I then moved back to London and started to visit the many homeless people in North London with worming tablets and a bag of veterinary supplies. It was then that I met Jade who was doing the same thing in Westminster and before we knew it StreetVet was born.”
Interest in StreetVet abounded from within the UK veterinary profession and Sam and Jade received lots of support from like-minded vets and nurses to sign up, volunteer and set up StreetVet locations in their own cities and towns.
StreetVet currently has over 650 volunteer vets and qualified veterinary nurses who provide veterinary care to the dogs of the homeless (Figures 2 and 3) in 16 locations within the UK. Jade went on to say, “StreetVet operates in fixed locations every week, normally in conjunction with a social care provider such as food provision by a third-party partner. Stations are held consistently every week so that owners know that they are able to visit at certain times and to have a presence in the community which builds trust and engagement.”
Sally is a very special Staffie and adored by her owner Rob who rescued her as a puppy. Sadly, Rob suffered several strokes and Sally was at his side all the time often being seen at their outreach station at Hackney where they collected food and medications. It was in November 2018 that Sally was spooked by some nearby fireworks and ran on to a railway line only to be hit by a passing train. She was found with life-threatening injuries by an RSPCA inspector and was taken to Harmsworth Veterinary Hospital. She survived the night and StreetVet was contacted, who arranged for transport to Wanstead Veterinary Hospital.
https://www.streetvet.co.uk/Sally’s injuries were extensive and life-threatening (too many to go into here) which resulted in an amputation of one leg and the loss of one eye linked to severe jaw injuries (Figure 4). Jade said, “as vets and nurses, we often have to counsel owners through the process of caring for pets that have undergone major surgery. Linked to this, we need to prepare the owner for the psychological impact when they first see their pet after life-changing injuries.
“As a result of this, two of our StreetVets, Rebecca and Emma, wanted to ensure Rob was fully prepared and supported, by driving him to the hospital themselves to visit Sally where they were humbled to witness an overwhelmingly emotional reunion. Sally and Rob continue to visit us at Hackney almost every week where we ensure that she is happy, pain-free and of course well fed!”
What’s next for StreetVet?
The expansion of StreetVet continues with more volunteers joining the organisation every week which as a result allows StreetVet to extend its services into new locations. StreetVet became a registered charity in January 2019.
A small behind-the-scenes team supports the vet and vet nurse volunteers: Jade as Clinical Director, an operations manager and a general manager. The success of StreetVet has been supported by the veterinary profession and the wider vet and pet industry. “We have also built a strong partnership with Battersea Dogs and Cats Home; they have been instrumental in providing emergency kennels for dogs in London when their homeless owners require hospitalisation.”
As StreetVet has grown, so has its celebrity support. StreetVet is delighted to have Paul O’Grady, Sue Perkins and Anna Richardson, CBBC vet James Greenwood and Blue Peter vet Rory Cowlam as its ambassadors.
StreetVet is looking to launch a StreetVet Accredited Hostel Scheme and was recently named as the winner of the Purina Better with Pets 2020 Changemaker prize. Jade said, “By helping create more pet-friendly hostels, we can protect the human–animal bond and keep our clients and pets together.”
More information about StreetVet UK can be found on its website.
StreetVet is an RCVS registered veterinary practice and its Charity Number is 1181527