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A dog’s life?

July 03 2010
We revisit being on the streets with man’s best friend

There is an old Polish proverb that states: "The greatest love is a mother's; then a dog's; then a sweetheart's." You don't see many mums on the streets, but canine companionship provides many rough sleepers with security, warmth and even a little conversation. But given the challenges to even sustain oneself on the streets, how easy is it to find shelter for man's best friend?

In January 2007, The Pavement's London edition reported figures from UK charity Dogs Trust that 73 per cent of day centres and shelters would not welcome individuals who bring their dog with them. In an update, the animal charity said London and Edinburgh were the most pet-friendly regions in the UK, with the vast majority of 80-100 residential services supporting pets. However, Bradford, Coventry, Leeds, Liverpool, Blackpool and Glasgow have been named and shamed as having no centres that will permit dogs.

Claire Kivlehan, outreach project manager with Dogs Trust, said: "Some hostels want to build boarding kennels but this doesn't work, as dogs need to be close to their owners. Their relationship is 24/7 and so it's often difficult to leave an animal with anyone else."

The Dogs Trust keeps a list of pet-friendly homeless services on their website, which they update once every two years. However, Ms Kivlehan complained the responses were poor: only 435 out of the 3,267 organisations canvassed bothered to answer the last time. The next update is due at the end of this year and Ms Kivelhan urged anywhere wishing to be more pet-friendly to get on board.

Vendazero (the name of his Twitter account, through which he first contacted The Pavement) sells the Big Issue in Balham, South London, with his dog Pennie. Outreach workers have continually suggested he get rid of her, but Vendazero argues that Pennie is more than just a friend: "There were times when I would not care about getting into an argument or fight and the only thing to hold me back at these times would be the thought of my dog in a cage at Battersea," he explained.

He is upset by the prejudice that homeless people should not keep animals because they cannot take care of themselves, believing that this lifestyle actually brings man and his best friend closer, and makes the dog's health a priority. Indeed, Vendazero has in the past taken some risks to let Pennie have a bed for the night: "I had her trained to lie in a hold-all and we would sneak her in to hostels," he said. "I usually got caught after a few days because she barks when there is a knock on the door, and then we're kicked out." But now, through St Mungo's, Vendazero and Pennie are on their way into long-term, pet-friendly, accommodation.

St Mungo's has a reputation for supporting animals, through working closely with the Dogs Trust, Mayhew Animal Centre and The Blue Cross to provide pet care. The London-based charity permits pets in 57 of 98 hostels, emergency shelters and semi-independent living homes. However, St Mungo's was unable to find out just how many dogs currently live in its shelters. "The most recent figure I could find is that around three per cent of St Mungo's residents have dogs, which represents around 40 people, and that figure is from 2009," explained press officer Audrey Thompson.

One of the capital's largest homeless service providers, Thames Reach, permits pets in all of its hostels. "We recognise that pets can be part of a person's support network and very important to them. It's helpful to have such a flexible policy, as it helps encourage rough sleepers to take up the offer of accommodation and move away from the streets and a damaging street lifestyle," said press officer Mike Nicolas. But he added policies are in place to make sure that other residents aren't unduly affected by the arrival of a pet.

Please do get in touch if you are a dog owner or pet-friendly space with your experiences.

• For more information on the Hope Project, go to the Dogs Trust site. And to read the previous dog stories, go to: Homeless services to pay for banning animals, A dog's life and It's a dog's life.

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