Now I’m in lockdown at home, my dogs, Mr Fang and Loopy Lou, have kept me from going completely insane. I can’t imagine being locked away without having them as company.
I first met Mr Fang, the Siberian Husky, about nine years ago. I was dancing around the hallway with him. He was a super-excitable puppy and jumped up at me for cuddles. I instantly fell in love with him.
I knew from this day that I had found a true companion in life and I was completely unaware of the difference that Mr Fang would make to me coping with my mental health issues. He would go on to save me from myself when my severe depression hit so hard that I had planned to take my own life.
Our housing troubles first began about a year-and-a-half ago when I was privately renting a property and the landlady decided that she was going to sell the house. At the time I was fostering and working with huskies from rescue centres that had behavioural issues due to abuse from previous owners. Things were going well. I was in the process of adopting previously troubled dogs when I received the letter. It left me heartbroken having to return them to the rescue as I could not keep so many dogs without a roof over my head — I felt as though I had failed them.
Eventually, a few days into 2019 my landlady told me she had sold the house and I needed to be out in 14 days. This sent me into a panic and severely impacted my mental health, to the point where I was feeling suicidal again. It was only when I felt a warm head rest on my legs, it was Mr Fang staring up at me, that I snapped back to reality. I realised that he needed me as much as I needed him and it saddened me to think of what would become of him or where he would end up if I removed myself from his world.
I was completely unaware of the difference that Mr Fang would make to me coping with my mental health issues
After that I was back out on the streets. I didn’t want to risk Mr Fang’s health or risk losing him. There are places that provide food, services and accommodation for people out on the streets but the problem is they don’t allow dogs inside. I found that problem a lot. Because Mr Fang is a high-profile breed, I couldn’t risk leaving him tied up outside as he could quite easily be stolen, especially as he is so comfortable with people.
We couldn’t take many of those options as a result, so we spent a bit of time sleeping rough in Colwick Woods for a few weeks because we wanted to avoid the city for safety reasons. I didn’t feel comfortable, even with the dog, sleeping in the city centre. Sometimes I could get a friend to look after Mr Fang and that gave me time to approach the council for help with accommodation. Initially, I found them unhelpful and I was even told that I would have to get rid of my dog to get housing, which left me angry and upset.
There are currently around 2,000 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.
There are very few hostels that accept dogs and the few that do have very limited bed spaces. I had to wait about a month for that to happen because I refused to go anywhere without the dog. The staff at the London Road hostel were brilliant, they loved Mr Fang, but I was staying with people going through all sorts of emotions, arguing and so on. It really scared Mr Fang. And it wasn’t good for my mental and physical health either. I’m an ex-addict and, although have been clean for about 14 years now, it was not the ideal place for us.
The staff helped me into new move-on accommodation, which took three or four months because this hostel did not accept dogs. Eventually they gave way and agreed to me and Mr Fang moving in. He was a hit with the staff there as well, and he was so well-behaved that we actually opened the door for people in the future to stay there with their dogs. I spent five months there, more or less, until I got my bidding number from the council and I got a place to move into last September after my health problems meant I was given priority. It was such a relief because there are such limited places for people with dogs. It means I can move on with my life. To be in my own place is crucial for my physical health, and it has helped my mental health no end as well.
It’s been wonderful to be in a position to give the dogs the help they need
A couple of months after I moved in, a family were going to put their dog in the kennels because they could no longer look after her. I don’t believe in putting animals in shelters so that’s how I ended up with Bernese mountain dog Loopy Lou as I now had a place where I could look after her.
It’s been wonderful to be in a position to give the dogs the help they need. I’m able to leave them at home sometimes and rest up properly. I have more energy and I’m healing, so I can take them out on longer walks and by selling The Big Issue I have been able to buy them better food before the lockdown. Selling The Big Issue, support from Vets in the Community and having a permanent home have been such a huge help to me.
I’ve had plenty of food come through from Dogs Trust and Vets in the Community while I’ve been in lockdown — that has been crucial to be honest. But it’s still not been easy.
Mr Fang gets really grumpy if he’s not got his exercise, so we’ve been going out really early so he can get a nice long walk without coming into contact with anyone.
It’s been horrible having to re-evaluate how to spend money when I get the chance to spend it. I’ve been putting the dogs first. I always come second when it comes to my dogs, I always need to make sure they are looked after first.
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