John Chadwick took his own life when he was separated from his pets. His friend is campaigning for change
John Chadwick’s pets were his life, but when he became homeless he was forced to give them up. His best friend Dee Bonett channelled her grief into fighting for a change in the law
by: Brontë Schiltz
22 Aug 2023
John Chadwick with Theo. Image: Supplied
In 2017, Dee Bonett woke up to a text that changed the course of her life. It was from her best friend, John Chadwick, who had messaged her to say goodbye before he took his own life.
In the mid-2000s, Chadwick, originally from Salford, had become homeless in London. He was referred to addiction and homelessness charity Kenward Trust in Maidstone, Kent.
After going through a rehabilitation programme to tackle an addiction to alcohol, Chadwick moved into private rented accommodation around 2007. It was there he met Bonett, who was so inspired by his story that she began working at Kenward Trust in 2010.
Once Chadwick was settled, Bonett gave him a kitten, Gizmo. “He loved animals,” she says. “He doted on Gizmo. Then one of his friends in Maidstone had a litter of Jack Russell puppies, so he then acquired Theo, and a year later, he adopted another puppy, Tinkerbell. His pets were his family – his babies, he used to call them – and he doted on them as much as they did on him.”
But at the end of 2016, Chadwick’s landlord decided to sell the property. “I knew that with John being a single male, trying to acquire housing would be difficult, but I didn’t realise how much more difficult it was with pets,” Bonett recalls.
Chadwick was evicted on 6 March 2017 and placed in a bed and breakfast by Maidstone Borough Council – without his pets. A few days later he learned that he was going to be moved into a high-rise with a no pet policy. Ten days later, he died by suicide.
After a period of grieving, Bonett contacted her MP, who put her in touch with John Littlemore, Head of Housing and Regulatory Services at Borough Council. Thus began her campaign to stop pet ownership being a barrier to housing.
In July 2018, Maidstone Borough Council began providing pet-friendly emergency accommodation – but a clause stated applicants would be deemed intentionally homeless if they declined an offer of permanent housing, regardless of whether or not pets were allowed.
Bonett’s campaign resulted in a year-long pilot scheme that permitted pet owners to take their pets to permanent accommodation without facing sanctions. The scheme was made permanent – and named the John Chadwick Pet Policy.
The same month, independently of Bonett’s advocacy, charities Street Paws and Dogs On The Streets worked with national housing association Riverside to launch a scheme called Dog Champions in Greater Manchester. Riverside properties now not only accept pets but also provide behavioural and first-aid training, and pet care advice.
In June, Bonett’s work won international recognition when Michelson Found Animals Foundation, Los Angeles, named Maidstone Borough Council its 2023 AIM Pet Awards Winner for “outstanding policy advocacy”.
She also bought a property in Maidstone with a view of leasing it to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness with pets, and plans to buy one for the same purpose in Greater Manchester, a project she calls “John’s House”.
It’s International Homeless Animals Day on 19 August, and this year it may represent more animals than ever before. This year, rough sleeping rose for the first time since 2017, increasing by 26% compared to 2021. Meanwhile, Dogs Trust have reported an almost 50% increase in owners surrendering their pets.
Big Issue vendors are among those most affected. Justin, who sells in Manchester, recently told us he struggled to secure housing for his dog, Bumper. “It was difficult to find a place that let him live with me,” he said. “I stopped telling people I had him. Luckily the landlord of the place I’m in now is fine with dogs, so we landed on our feet. If there’d been a problem, I’d have moved out.”
Lytham St Annes vendor Lewis agrees that separation from his dog is unacceptable. “She’s always with me, even when I go out selling the magazine,” he says. “I won’t take a job if I can’t take my dog to work. They don’t live long enough to leave them for long periods of time.”
Dean, whose pitch is in Garstang, almost found himself in John Chadwick’s position in 2020. “Fortunately, someone let me stay at their flat,” he says. “It had a garden, which was good for me and my dog. If I hadn’t been able to stay there, I would have been in a very difficult position.”
The Dogs and Domestic Animals Bill, tied to the Renters Reform Bill, proposes prohibiting blanket bans on pets in rentals. It has been awaiting a second reading in Parliament since 2021.
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