Rachel Spencer 26th September 2018
When 38-year-old vet Jade Statt saw a homeless man with a sick dog, while on a night out with a couple of friends, she had an epiphany. There are, she realised, animals living on the streets, who are suffering, every day, because they don’t have access to the fundamental veterinary care required to keep them in good health. While she couldn’t help the poorly pup, there and then, she vowed to do something to make a difference.
Statt set up StreetVet in 2016. The practice, which is registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), was originally a one-woman operation. After ensuring that she was compliant with RCVS guidelines, Statt filled her backpack with medication, food, treats, toys and practical items, like bowls, and hit the mean streets of London, treating sick hounds and wounded mutts.
When she heard that another London vet was doing same thing — down to the name and everything — she sought him out eagerly. Now, Statt and Sam Joseph, 32, are co-founders of a non-profit animal welfare organisation that provides accessible vet care to the homeless community, in eight different cities.
What started as two people, united by their compassion and love for animals, and a desire to make the world a better place, has grown into a team of over 275 volunteers, consisting of both professional vets and veterinary nurses, working in outreach clinics in London, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Plymouth, Birmingham, Cheltey and Southampton — and, there’s room to grow, yet.
I will never forget the dog I saw that night
“Once other vets and nurses learned what we were doing, they wanted to help, too,” explains Statt. “I never could have dreamt that in just under two years, we could have achieved so much.
“I will never forget the dog I saw that night. I’ve searched and searched for his owner, but I’ve never found them.
“His dog had a skin complaint, and I know he would have been in pain. It wasn’t long after I’d lost my own dog, Oakley, a Labrador.
“I imagined what it would be like if my dog was suffering and I wasn’t able to help, and I decided I was going to do something.”
“For a homeless person, going to a private vet practice isn’t an option.”
Since establishing StreetVet, Statt, Joseph and their dedicated team have helped 405 dogs, 15 cats, a scorpion, and, even, a snake. Anything that can be done during an initial consultation appointment with a regular vet, can be done on the street. StreetVet gives every pet a free health check, and all the neccessary flee and worm treatments, and vaccinations.
Inevitably, there have been cases where the animals have needed surgery. Elderly terrier Mask needed 14 teeth removed. Minnie needed an operation to remove her cancer. Both have made a full recovery. Nothing is too much for StreetVet.
This week, StreetVet are taking care of dogs: Gypsy who has Dry Eye, a painful condition that can lead to blindness; Boss, who has an ear infection, and may need surgery; and Vomit, who suffers from hypothyroidism.
Animals checked into StreetVet’s drop-in clinics are given not only a check-up, but food, treats, toys and cuddles, before checking out with new collars and leads. Their owners are provided with emotional support, and leave with the reassurance that their beloved pet is healthy. The bond between homeless people and their pets is often profound, and StreetVet understands that the wellbeing of man’s best friend (be it dog, cat or snake) is a priority.
This support has helped many of their clients begin to rebuild their lives. One of them, Phil Bradshaw, 49, is so grateful that he’s currently on a 2,000 mile walk around the UK, with his Staffordshire Terrier Lucky, to raise funds.
She’s my world. When I found the lump, I was terrified
Bradshaw took 11-year-old Lucky to StreetVet after finding a lump in her mammary gland. It was benign, but the kindness shown, to both man and canine, by the StreetVet volunteers inspired Bradshaw to give something back. Goodwill inspires goodwill.
“Lucky has been by my side since she was a 12-week-old puppy,” Bradford says. “Her former owner kept he in a cupboard under the stairs.
“She’s my world. When I found the lump, I was terrified. Living in a homeless hostel, you don’t usually have access to a vet. Someone told me about StreetVet, and they came and helped me. They operated on Lucky. I’m so thankful she’s okay, and I wanted to do something to thank them.”
Bradshaw has dedicated a lot of his time to raising money for the charity.
Andy Hutchins spent five years on the streets, before being helped by StreetVet. Initially wary, it was the consistent emotional support of Joseph that helped him turn his life around. Now, he’s training to be an outreach worker.
“StreetVet build a relationship with you,” he says. “It’s not just about the dog.
I’m on the verge of getting my own house, and it’s thanks to the massive support I’ve had from StreetVet
“The human relationship is important, and that’s what got to flourish. It’s hard to trust people when you’ve been let down so many times.
“Sam showed me an interest. He spoke to me on a certain level. It wasn’t ‘homeless person’ and ‘posh vet bloke’. It was just two people, talking about football.
“He built a relationship with me before he attempted to get near Bailey, which went a long way. Then, he had my dog checked over.
“They’re in the same place every week, so you get to see their faces and get to know them. It’s changed my life.
“Now, I’m on the verge of getting my own house, and it’s thanks to the massive support I’ve had from StreetVet, over the last 18 months.”
Joseph says: “Andy’s story highlights the real value of what we do. It’s giving peace of mind to people who, often, have a lot more to worry about than a regular person.
“If you can care for an animal, and make sure it’s healthy and happy, that gives you value — that mentality can be one of the first steps to turning your life around.”
Hutchins shared his story at the StreetVet conference, earlier this month, where over 200 volunteers, from across the UK, showed how a dedicated community of like-minded people can make positive waves, and learned how to hone their own skills.
Speakers ranged from psychologists, offering expert advice on mental health issues and how homeless people, and those supporting them, can be affected, to vets specialising in telemedicine, eye health and street triage, which is emergency and critical care.
Dr David Williams from Cambridge University explains how his study into homeless dogs found that they were less likely to have separation anxiety, behavioural issues or obesity.
Working alongside student Sarah Hogg, he analysed the health and wellbeing of 100 dogs, comparing 50 who were living in homes and 50 who were homeless. Of them, only one of the homeless dogs was underweight.
We found homeless dogs were at least as healthy as homed dogs, and some were healthier
He says: “We found homeless dogs were at least as healthy as homed dogs, and some were healthier. They have this amazing bond with their owners, which is similar to that going back to neolithic times.
“Having a dog reduces their feelings of isolation, reduces drug taking and lowers the likelihood of them committing crimes, as owners would be separated from their pets and risk losing them, altogether. It gives them a real sense of responsibility.
“It also suppresses suicidal thoughts — in fact, two of the people we spoke to said they didn’t take their own lives because of their dog.”
People might think, ‘Oh, they just get one because they want people to feel sorry for them and give them more money’
Charity Crisis reported in April that the number of people sleeping rough in the UK rose 169% between 2010 and 2017, and the number of homeless people in London was 8,108 in 2017.
Due to the majority of shelters and hostels not accepting pets, owners often have no choice but to sleep on the streets. One of the key focuses for StreetVet is changing perceptions of homeless people who have dogs.
Statt explained: “If you’re a dog lover, you get it; you see how desperate they are to care for them, how frightening it must be, not just for the person, but worrying their dog could come to harm.
“People who don’t appreciate the completeness of having a dog in their life might think, ‘Oh, they just get one because they want people to feel sorry for them and give them more money’.
“It’s about changing that view and making people see these dogs are loved, cherished and their needs are usually put before the owner’s.
“The dogs are everything, and they can’t bear for them to suffer. That’s something every dog lover will relate to.”
• To find out more visit www.streetvet.co.uk. If you see a homeless dog, in one of StreetVet’s locations, who may require medical assistance, message them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @streetvetuk
Rachel Spencer 26th September 2018