Too Many Homeless Pet Owners Left Out in the Cold This Winter, Warns Dogs Trust
The UK’s largest dog welfare charity, Dogs Trust, is calling on homelessness services to consider their clients’ canine friends too when offering support.
In a survey of professionals supporting those experiencing homelessness, 70% told Dogs Trust that their clients had experienced barriers to accessing homelessness services because they have a dog.
Further to this, 84% were aware of one or more cases where someone had refused an offer of temporary or emergency accommodation as it would have meant giving up their dog.
Just 51% of the homelessness services that responded to the Dogs Trust survey said that their services were dog friendly.
The barriers faced by dog owners experiencing homelessness extend beyond temporary accommodation; 75% of service providers who responded to the Dogs Trust survey said they had experienced difficulties in finding dog-friendly move-on accommodation for owners they had supported, and this is across independent or supported living, or accommodation in the private rented sector.
Many dog owners experiencing homelessness must choose between a safe place to sleep and their dog. Through the Hope Project, Dogs Trust works to support dog owners so they can stay with their faithful friends. The Hope Project works directly with homelessness services to support them in becoming dog friendly by providing bespoke support and ongoing advice on everything from dog-friendly policies to behaviour resources. The project also provides support packs of dog items to help new dogs feel welcome at homelessness services.
The Hope Project also provides free veterinary treatment to dogs whose owners are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, the provision of an online directory of dog-friendly homelessness services in the UK, and a Christmas parcel service, where the charity sends out dog goodies to homelessness services across the country that support dog owners.
Harriet Page, Pets and Housing Manager at Dogs Trust says:
“For most dog owners, being separated from their dog is no different from being separated from a family member. Many dog owners experiencing homelessness are forced to make the heart-breaking decision to give up their beloved pets just so they can have somewhere safe and secure to sleep. It’s clear that many people are turning down offers of accommodation as they do not want to say goodbye to their beloved pet.
“We don’t think anyone should have to choose between a bed or their faithful friend. Through our Hope Project, we work with many temporary housing providers who successfully offer dog-friendly accommodation. In fact, 89% of the homelessness services we surveyed that do permit dogs told us that having dogs in their accommodation has resulted in positive impacts on the people they are supporting.
“It’s incredibly important that pet-friendly housing is available at every step of someone’s housing pathway, and we’re keen to work with as many homelessness services as possible so that we can help keep people and their pets together.”
Leading homelessness charity St Mungo’s provides pet-friendly accommodation for people who have experienced homelessness. Nicky lives in one of its hostels in South London with her pet Chihuahua Foxy.
“When I had days to vacate the property I was living in with Foxy, I was really worried. Even privately rented places won’t take dogs, I feared we would end up sleeping on the streets. St Mungo’s came along and offered us a space in a hostel, it was a great weight off my mind.
“Foxy was my only companion during lockdown, he was my only friend. The only time I went out was to walk him. Having a dog gives you a responsibility, an aim or a goal. When I was depressed I couldn’t be bothered getting up, but having a dog jumping up and down and needing something gave me a reason to get up in the morning.
“It was nerve-wracking going into the hostel but everyone was really nice, and Foxy got showered with attention. There’s no way I could have left him behind, he is like a child to me.”
St Mungo’s Head of Westminster Services Sylvia Tijmstra said:
“We know that pets can sometimes feel like the only companion for people who are sleeping rough. They provide warmth and comfort when people need it most. At St Mungo’s we recognise the powerful emotional support pets can provide, and that’s why we are one of the only charities to accept pets in our hostels.
“Without pet friendly charities like St Mungo’s and Dogs Trust, many more people would be faced with having to choose between a safe place to sleep and keeping their pet. So we at St Mungo’s feel that it’s vital we provide support for people and their pets to help end homelessness.”