Almost 20% of homeless people in England have a dog companion

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Homeless person and dog

NEWS AND COMMENT: I’m told that more than 280,000 homeless people live on the streets in England and that 50,000 of them have a dog companions. You can imagine how bonded these couples are. Living this close together under harsh conditions must lead to an incredibly strong bond. This is apparent when a charity has found accommodation for them. The homeless person refuses to be separated from their dog even if they are in the next room.

Homeless person and dog

Homeless person and dog. Photo: Getty Images.

Even if they’re offered emergency kennel space and a bed to sleep in the next room, they will want to stay with the dog in the kennel because it’s what they’re used to. – Michelle Southern, founder of Street Paws

Street Paws provides free veterinary care to homeless people’s dogs across England. They say that the dogs are often more healthy than their human carers. I’m not sure who cares for who because it is very much a mutual caring process.

Michelle says that having a dog gives them a purpose because they have to care for them. It’s a responsibility which they don’t want to lose and which they will lose if it goes wrong for them. Michelle says that a dog keeps homeless people on the straight and narrow.

Her charity is working with Burns Pet Nutrition to ensure that the dogs are fed as well as medically cared for. The company has pledged to donate free food and special festive treats to these dogs.

It can be difficult to find a hostel for homeless people with dogs because less than 10% of homeless hostels accept pets. Street Paws understands this deficiency in the system and has launched the Pet Paws Dog Champions Scheme. It provides homeless shelters with the training and support needed to be pet friendly.

The coronavirus pandemic has made matters worse because of the need to self isolate, as I understand it. The Welsh rugby referee, Nigel Owens MBE, who has just retired, as I recall, has partnered Michelle’s charity. He said, “I really wanted to support Street Paws in getting through to the dogs that are living with their homeless owners on the streets.”

He lives with two German shepherds and understands the companionship that dogs offer and particularly to homeless people. The dogs are very important to them.