I first volunteered for StreetVet in 2017. I had no idea what to expect back then, and honestly, I’m not sure I do now! You see, StreetVet is a charity that provides free veterinary care to the pets of those experiencing homelessness, a community that is ever-changing and surprising us! StreetVet was founded by vets Jade Statt and Sam Joseph, who were bound by a common motivation to help those people and their pets who had fallen on hard times (often very hard times). They pounded the streets of London to find dogs and their people who would struggle to access a conventional vet clinic. And so StreetVet was born.
Six years on, I still get a buzz when it is time for outreach. The morning is spent packing the bags, ensuring paperwork is in order, and gathering food supplies and doggy sundries such as collars, leads, harnesses and toys. In the cold weather, we take out dog coats, Christmas gifts, and treats – all sorts! And in the summer, collapsible water bowls and cooling mats.
I arrive at the Street Kitchen with lots of familiar and welcoming faces. It’s been fantastic getting to know the volunteers from StreetVet and other homeless charities, and the camaraderie is palpable. This is what I really love about volunteering: finding like-minded people who want to make something that is overwhelmingly bad better. And, of course, helping the pets and their owners. We try to provide a non-judgemental service that is open and honest. We want our clients to feel respected and heard – a big thing in a world that often looks down on those who do not embody social norms.
The dogs often arrive before we do, their owners eager to discuss their pet-related concerns. The bags are opened, and the team sets to work. Listening to hearts, checking teeth, applying flea treatments, cleaning wounds, taking blood samples, and chatting about feeding regimes. Pretty much anything that is done in a consultation room at the vet clinic, we can do on the street. Our clients dote on their dogs, but life is tough, and they often face all sorts of issues that we can’t imagine. One lady I spoke to a few days ago is feeding her dog her own food; she goes without. And this is where we can really help. With the cost of living rising and people’s mental health plummeting, many people find themselves and their pets in dire straits when previously they could provide for all their dog’s needs.
The homeless community likes to see familiar faces, and trust is everything. When we have that special connection with our clients, we can advocate for their pet’s welfare and look out for the owners, too. Sometimes, we will see that someone is struggling, and we can get them help. As volunteers for StreetVet, we also have special mental health and drug awareness training so we know what to do when someone is in crisis, which sadly happens far more than one would hope. At times, this is tough to witness.
But by far the toughest part of StreetVet is when a beloved pet reaches the end of their life. Many of our patients have passed away over the years, and the impact on their owners is indescribable – something I cannot put into words. I have spent many of these last precious minutes with our clients and their pets – it is hard not to be affected.
Once the pets at outreach are all checked and treated, it’s time to tidy up and head our separate ways. As I head home, it is always a time for reflection and gratitude. How fortunate I am to be returning to a safe home environment and what a wonderful bunch of people I work with. My work with StreetVet allows me the privilege to witness the human-animal bond in its rawest yet purest form. I will always be amazed at how much these people are willing to sacrifice for their dogs. If I have learned anything from StreetVet, it’s not to pass judgment without knowing the whole story and that sometimes the greatest generosity comes from the poorest hand.
Click here to find out more about StreetVet and the work that they do across the UK.