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Advice: Hostel dogs

June 04 2014
Many homeless people have dogs and Dog's Trust vet nurse Heather Cutmore is there to help

An estimated 10–15 per cent of homeless people have dogs. Dog's Trust vet nurse Heather Cutmore is there to help.

Can you tell us more about the Dog's Trust Hope Project Veterinary scheme?

The Dogs Trust Hope Project is a unique scheme that provides free and subsidised veterinary treatment to dogs whose owners are homeless or in housing crisis. At present, the Hope Project runs in 103 towns and cities across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The Hope Project Veterinary Scheme allows homeless dog owners to apply for a veterinary entitlement card through any of the 295 homelessness organisations who participate in our scheme. The scheme is open to any dog owner who is homeless or in temporary accommodation, for example rough sleeping, living in a hostel, night shelter or temporary accommodation, or living on an unauthorised traveller site.

Why did the Dogs Trust think this was needed?

Dogs can be a great comfort and support to homeless people at a difficult time in their lives. They offer unconditional friendship and reduce feelings of isolation, which is why we feel that the Hope Project is so important.

Our aim is to help owners to keep their dogs happy and healthy until they can find permanent accommodation together. We get a lot of requests from homelessness organisations and their clients for someone to go out and talk to them about responsible dog ownership and dog health and welfare. It’s also important for me to talk to the staff in day centres and hostels so they understand the issues around dog welfare too.

And what is your new role all about?

I will be visiting homelessness organisations to give advice on all dog-related things. I can give welfare talks to dog owners, which covers everything from neutering to preventative health care, and basic first aid. I can also talk to hostels about accepting dogs and offering solutions to any issues that come with that.

What are the issues for your homeless clients and their dogs?

The hardest thing for homeless dog owners is not being able to access support because of their dog. Most hostels won’t accept people and their dogs. Also, dog owners who are homeless or in housing crisis worry about how they can afford veterinary treatment for their dogs. Most homeless people struggle to afford even basic veterinary care but the Hope Project Veterinary Scheme was set up to take that worry away and give them peace of mind, knowing that their pet can receive treatment whenever they need it.

So why don't hostels don't allow dogs in?

Sadly only seven per cent of hostels in the UK currently accept dogs, which means that many people are denied access to shelter and support simply because they own a dog. If people are forced to choose between a place to stay and their dog, most would choose to stay with their dog.

This is why we are working hard to encourage more hostels to accept people and their dogs. There are many reasons why hostels don’t accept dogs but it’s usually because they are unclear or worried about issues such as health & safety and dog behaviour. Our aim is to provide hostels with as much information, resources and support as we can so they feel confident enough to start accepting dogs.

You help advise hostels on their 'dog policy' – can you tell us more about that?

We provide advice to hostels on a range of issues such as health and safety, hygiene, dog behaviour and veterinary care. We also provide free resources including a sample dog policy, which are free to download from our website If hostels do begin accepting dogs, we can support owners with free and subsidised veterinary treatments, including free flea and worming treatments and vaccinations. If a hostel is thinking seriously about accepting dogs, I can also visit them to carry out a consultation and answer any questions or concerns they may have.

You also help homeless people carry out 'health checks' for their dog. Can you give us your top tips?

For all dogs the most important thing is to ensure they get regular preventative healthcare – regular flea and worming treatments and vaccinations are vital.

I’d also strongly recommended neutering as it can prevent serious and often life-threatening illnesses. Microchipping is also very important and will soon become a legal requirement for all dogs.

Keeping dogs at a healthy weight puts less strain on their bodies, particularly as they get older. Owners know their pets better than anyone so discuss any changes to the dogs’ normal behaviour with a vet. The Dogs Trust Hope Project Veterinary Scheme provides preventative treatments free of charge.

For more information see: