“I don’t know what I would do without Tara.” Tara is an old dog with unusual crossbreed characteristics and a permanently wagging tail. Tara’s ‘mum’ currently lives in temporary housing. Her dog is her rock.
The relationship between homeless people and their pets has been making headlines recently, after an animal activist group snatched a puppy from a distraught homeless man in Paris. The video went viral, sparking international debate.
Yet in Glasgow, the Trusty Paws Clinic, set up by fourth year veterinary students last year, is championing local homeless people and their beloved canines, like Tara.
Ruby Shorrock, a keen vet student at Glasgow University, founded the clinic last year to provide care for homeless people’s dogs. She believes their service has a role to play in preserving the bond between a “homeless man and his dog.”
“The bond that these guys have with their dogs is another level and it is something that we think benefits the homeless and that is worth trying to preserve,” she said.
“I have had a guy say that he would die for his dog, and someone else that refused the chance to go into four different flats because they couldn’t take their dog with them. They would rather not have the flat than give up their dog.
“We get a lot of characters in the clinic. Tara used to be very nervous dog coming to the clinic but now she runs in with her tail wagging and knows who we all are. Her mum is a lovely person and when she said to me I don’t know what I would do without Tara,’ I realised what the relationship meant to both of them.
“We really believe in the human-animal bond and that this bond can really help people that are in difficult situations. It’s a really valuable relationship. The clinic hopes to help preserve this, whilst ensuring that the animal gets what it needs.”
The clinics are run on the first Wednesday of the month out of the Simon Community‘s offices in Glasgow. The homeless charity helps run the drop-in clinic in the city centre with the intention that homeless people who bring in their dogs can also get help for themselves through advice, food, and a chat if they need it.
“We are not experienced in helping the homeless so it’s good to work with an amazing charity that has been working with them for over 40 years and who know the system,” said Shorrock .
Simon Community operations manager Willie Brown promotes the clinic to the people that use his service.
“At the Simon Community the clinic is considered part of this person’s support, so they will be supported at the clinic with their animal,” he said.
“Trusty Paws runs out of our information and advice centre, in our office, if you like. So when people come in to do housing application and might have a dog with them, we point them to this service.
“What we get out of it is that the people can maintain themselves and keep their dogs well, so it keeps them well at the same time.”
The eager veterinary students donate their time to treat animals at the clinic. It’s a service that would normally be off-limits for homeless people with little money. A single treatment can often cost upwards of £50. The clinic team fundraise to pay for treatments, such a worming tablets and injections, all under the watchful supervision of a trained and qualified vet.
“A homeless person can be quite afraid of going into a big formal vet practice if they don’t quite know what is going to happen”
The fear of receiving an expensive vet bill naturally puts homeless people off seeking treatment for their furry companions – but the cost is not the only barrier.
“They know that their dog should be getting vaccines, unfortunately it is just really expensive to go to the vet and do it. We also find that a homeless person can be quite afraid of going into a big formal vet practice if they don’t quite know what is going to happen,” said Shorrock.
The clinic is not the first to run in the UK in a bid to look after the homeless and their dogs. Other services such as The Hope Project offered by The Dogs Trust treats almost 600 dogs belonging to homeless people every year.
In North America, groups have been quicker to acknowledge the need for caring for the homeless and their canines. Pets of the Homeless, run from Carson City in Nevada, distributes almost 400 tons of pet food and supplies to the homeless and disadvantaged who own pets across the US and Canada, and boasts a huge and passionate following on Facebook.
Although similar projects are widespread internationally, this young project is quite unique. They may only have seen about 20 dogs so far, but the combination of practical training for young vets and essential support for the homeless dog owners is already a winner.
“Our clinics are quite informal and we make it as much about the person as the dog. Ultimately these dogs provide companionship and don’t judge them, they’re not going to leave them or lie to them,” said Shorrock.
“Having a dog is a stable relationship, which is essential because a lot of the homeless people we see are homeless because of loss of relationship and relationship breakdown.
“With a dog they have a working relationship with something, and that responsibility can actually help them to move forward.”
The clinic is currently asking for support through an Amazon wish list to provide the dogs they treat with coats, harnesses and leads. You can donate support it on their website. They also fundraise year-round to cover expensive vet bills for extra, more costly, treatments.