Life On The Street…A Streetvet’s Tail

This year Dundee’s streets will welcome their first StreetVet following on from Glasgow’s set up last year. StreetVet is a charity dedicated to offering free veterinary check-ups, help and advice to homeless pet owners. Glaswegian StreetVet Jade Statt, who co-founded the charity, shares some home truths with Susie Daniels about people and their pets who live rough on the streets…

Why did you start StreetVet?
I was born in Glasgow and studied at Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine. I graduated in 2002. I always wanted to volunteer in this country but I found you could always volunteer abroad through the Worldwide Veterinary Service so you could sign up and go to somewhere like Fiji but there was nothing here.
In 2016 I saw a guy with his dog in London. I was incredibly concerned as his dog had bad skin. My own dog had been very ill during that time. He’d had malignant cancer and later passed away. Being a vet, with all my knowledge and expertise, I felt incredibly powerless. I thought, how would I feel if I was that homeless person not able to do anything to help their pet. I heard about Joshua Coombes, the person who travels round the world cutting homeless people’s hair for free. He has this movement, ‘Do Something For Nothing’.
I met him in London and said, ‘I want to do what you do but as a vet’. Up until last year I was a vet and doing StreetVet in my spare time.

Why is StreetVet important to homeless people?
It works the way it does because you have a relationship with people. You meet at the same place and the same time every week. The owners are usually going to somewhere like the soup kitchen. It ends up becoming quite social. The dogs don’t need to be checked every week so they actually become the best checked pets ever.

Why don’t homeless people take their pets to the vet?
People who live rough can maybe feel intimidated, maybe they can’t afford to get there or they have mental health problems or being confined in smaller spaces isn’t possible for them. Maybe they think they’ll be judged. Also, you have to prove your homeless as anyone could walk into a vet’s and say that. They won’t have proof or benefits or anything like that.

In the UK, how many pets are there sleeping rough with owners?
It’s difficult to quantify. There’s been figures published saying that 25% of people who are homeless have dogs. That’s an American-based study. I’ve checked over 3,500 dogs since we started.

Do you still work full-time as a vet?
We won £100,000 through a competition, voted by the public, run by the Animal Friends Insurance for pets. It’s not until you work in a charity that you realise it’s an unrestricted funding. I quit my vet job and am now paid by StreetVet as a charity. In April last year Glasgow opened its first StreetVet. We put an Amazon wish list up for every city and people have donated toys, collars and things like a buggy so an elderly homeless person can push her dog around.

Do you need volunteers?
Yes. Everybody that volunteers for StreetVet is qualified. They need to offer a minimum two hours of their time per month. In terms of non-veterinary volunteers, for insurance purposes we can’t offer actual vet work but the biggest thing volunteers can help with is funding. We have fundraising kits, posters, collections boxes for vet practices. There is a Golden Giving on our web page and a Climb A Mountain for StreetVet. The power of people has kept us where we are. It’s the small things that make the biggest difference.

What’s the saddest thing you’ve seen?
It can take a few weeks for owners to trust you. I’ve taken blood from a dog before in Oxford Street and helped an owner get into hospital. These things are life-saving.
We had an owner whose dog, a Staffy named Stella, was hit by a train. Stella was in a tent with the owner and ran out. She had to have her eye removed and leg amputated. The owner was beside himself upset because he had never been without her. I’m pleased to say they’re now back to together and Stella’s okay.

Is there anything similar to StreetVet?
Trusty Paws in Glasgow is a student-led clinic run through Glasgow Vet School. They offer indoors clinics one a month. The beauty of doing something weekly is we can follow-up. We collaborate with Trusty Paws.

Any other pets homeless people have?
A lot of cats, a rabbit and in Norwich a ferret!

Should you give a homeless person money?
It’s really a personal thing. We say to our volunteers that’s not what they’re there to do. People get really hung up about how they should approach someone on the street, what should they say? A lot of people who sleep rough haven’t spoken to someone for a day or two. We have an owner who’s lactose intolerant and people stop to give him a coffee. He’s not ungrateful, he just can’t drink it. We ask members of the public to do Xmas cards for people, to give a Greggs or Costa Coffee voucher. It empowers them because they can purchase drink and food for themselves.

Are dogs allowed in homeless shelters and what other problems do homeless people face in order to keep their pets?
Having a dog on the street cost you because you can’t get into a hostel. Some people don’t want to leave their pet to go to the toilet, a store, hospital or rehab.

What assumptions do people make about homeless people?
The automatic assumption is they are on drugs or are alcoholics. Yes, a lot of people are. They are surrounded by that world and they can’t get out and can’t get the support. I don’t like to judge what people should or shouldn’t do. Who am I to judge?