A four-legged friend for someone living on the street, or who has experienced homelessness, offers so much than just companionship. This is often a bond that offers a level of love and dependence that, for so many, might have been absent throughout a fractured life.
For many of our vendors – and countless homeless men and women across the country – their dog is a lifeline.
However, while veterinary care and advice could prove impossibly for someone with no steady income to afford, recent years have witnessed a significant rise in the number of charities and veterinary school projects that offer outreach and drop-in schemes free of charge.
Here, we shine a light on two paws-itively inspiring student-led projects in Nottingham and Edinburgh.
Vets in the Community was set up in 2012 by the University of Nottingham to provide free veterinary care to pets belonging to homeless and vulnerably housed people.
Based out of our Big Issue distribution office in the city centre under the supervision of qualified staff, veterinary students provide health checks, vaccinations, micro-chipping and treatment for fleas, worms and minor ailments. The students also offer advice on pet healthcare, for example nutrition and neutering.
To date, the clinic – which was initially funded by the Dogs Trust and the university’s Cascade Fund – has treated more than 1,000 dogs, cats and rabbits.
Holly O’Connor, The Big Issue’s Midlands regional manager, says: “For people who are rough sleeping, the sense of protection and companionship they get from their animals is irreplaceable. But Big Issue vendors often worry that they will be judged if their animal has something wrong with it, or hasn’t been treated properly for fleas or worms.
“When people come down to the clinic they will see friendly faces and know that they will not be judged, which is why I think in recent months we have seen a big take-up at the clinics.”
Every Monday night, a community centre in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle is transformed into a makeshift drop-in vet clinic for the city’s homeless and vulnerably housed.
All4Paws offers free vaccines, flea, tick and worm medications, advice to owners on how to manage their pet’s behaviour, diet and nutrition, and provides vital supplies such as winter coats, collars, leads and food.
The charity is run by students from the University of Edinburgh’s Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, under the close supervision of qualified vets.
“We’ve offered a limited veterinary service for companion animals within several Edinburgh hostels since 2008, but the students’ initiative is more ambitious and allows the opportunity to give more in-depth care and advice when it is needed,” explains Dr Andrew Gardiner, senior clinical lecturer at the Royal Dick.
Buy a Big Issue Winter Support Kit for £34.99, you’ll receive four copies of the magazine and vendors could receive immediate tools for survival plus access to vital training and employment pathways to escape poverty for good.