Jade from StreetVet is my first guest in my new Change Maker series, set up to shine a light on people doing extraordinary things to help animals.
Jade co-founded StreetVet along with another vet, Sam Joseph in 2016.
StreetVet is a charity delivering free care for the homeless and their pets on the streets of London and cities across the UK.
It started with two vets and a backpack back in 2016, and is now run by an army of over 650 vets and nurses in 16 locations.
In this podcast, I talk to Jade about the challenges faced by homeless people and their pets and how StreetVet helps.
You can listen in on the player below or read on for the full story.
How StreetVet first started
I met Jade back when she invited me to shadow her for a day for a feature for my Paw Post Pet blog, when StreetVet was just getting started.
Jade shared the lightbulb moment when she realised there was a need that wasn’t being met.
“I was on a night out in London with friends and I stopped to talk to a homeless guy with his dog,” she recalled.
“The dog had bad skin, I could see it was sore. And I thought, ‘wow, how do you get help? What happens? ‘
“We had a chat, and I walked away thinking if I had what I needed, the treatments I have access to every day as a vet, I could have just fixed that dog right there.
“A quick and simple antibiotic, some treatment, and that could have been it, sorted.
“My dog at that time, Oakley, coincidentally, was also where he was; elderly, not very well, he had cancer.
“It was a mixture of emotion. I saw how much this dog meant to him and how worried he was about the dog. And I wanted to make a change.”
The next step – helping the homeless community
Jade went away and tried to think of a solution. She contacted the BVA and RCVS and worked out a way to treat pets on the street.
Then she took a backpack filled with medication like flea and working treatment, food, toys, treats and practical items like leads and collars and took to the streets.
She discovered another vet, Sam Joseph, was doing the exact same thing, and they came together to form StreetVet.
But she had to build trust first.
Jade recalled: “I think I was pretty naive. I didn’t consider what it felt like on the other side.
“Here I come bouncing over with my backpack to offer help. I think there was a definite sense of distrust at the beginning.
“What you don’t realise until you’ve been working in the community for longer is that a lot of our clients maybe haven’t spoken to anyone for two days.
“And then, you come over asking to have a look at their dog. They get defensive and worried because they don’t want to lose their dog, and they don’t want to be judged.”
The challenges for homeless pet owners
Once she was out, treating pets and talking to owners, Jade learned about the difficulty they faced.
They loved their pet and wanted the best for it, but they were finding it hard to get help.
Jade explains: “They can have quite a lot of social anxiety, so sitting in a consulting room or a waiting room can be really intimidating.
“Other situations can be being asked for a donation if they go to a charity. And general mobility; being able to get their dog to some of these places.
“I think another reason they worry about going into a vet practice is they don’t know what are they are going to think of them.
“They worry that they’re going to take their dog off of them. They’re so attached to their pet, and they’re worried about losing them.”
How collaboration has helped StreetVet grow
Jade says working with other organisations supporting the homeless helped owners to understand that they were there to help.
She explained: “We team up with other grassroots organisations and soup kitchens; we’re present in the same location, week in, week out.
“We are visible and consistent and what happens is they then know that you’re going to be there, and they trust you. And the reaction to us is now completely different.
“We’re dealing with some of the most marginalised people in society, who have slipped through the cracks and who don’t trust easily.
“Their dogs are literally everything they have.
“So you’ve got to respect that and gain their trust. And that that’s what I think is the key to StreetVet.”
Going from two vets to an army of 650 volunteers
There is a huge need for vet support for the homeless. Jade explains that between five to 25% of the homeless population have pets.
And to say the profession stepped up is an understatement.
“As soon as we got any kind of publicity about what it was we were doing, we just had loads and loads of volunteers wanting to do it,” says Jade.
“As a nation, the UK is very animal minded, and the public is very aware of homeless people and their pets.
“I think the whole concept that there’s something being done to give that support was really, really well received by the public.”
What a StreetVet does on a typical outreach
StreetVets do as much as possible on the street.
Jade explains: “Anything that can be done in a vet consulting room, StreetVet can do on the street.
“We will take blood, and we’ll test urine, we’ll sample lumps because the biggest concern the owners have is being separated from their pet.
“If more treatment is needed we have vets who will facilitate this in their surgeries.”
Why do homeless people have pets?
People sometimes wonder why people experiencing homelessness have pets and Jade shares some of the background stories from her clients.
She said: “A lot of the time, the pets are linked to their previous life. One client lost his whole family in a car crash. The dog is the only connection that he still has.
“We’ve got another client who used to run a successful farm. The dog was his farm dog. He lost the farm; he lost everything. And now he just has the dog.
“If you’re feeling judged and ignored, and invisible on a regular basis, but your pet next to you thinks that everything about you is awesome, that’s pretty special.”
The sacrifices homeless people make for their pets
One point Jade is passionate about sharing is that homeless people stay on the streets because they can’t bear to be parted from their pets.
Only 10 per cent of hostels are pet friendly, and having a pet can be a barrier to hospital treatment and accommodation.
Jade is trying to change this. She says: “We’re looking at providing boarding so people can go into hospital, we’re looking at hostels, and accessing services that give them a way back into society.
“For instance, we write pet references to help people get into accommodation, and we vaccinate, so dogs are allowed into hostels.”
Purina Better with Pets prize – StreetVet Accredited Hostels
StreetVet won the Purina #BetterWithPets prize this summer, set up to support organisations that harness the human-animal bond.
Jade says: “It is amazing to have won and means so much to StreetVet and the funding is being used for our accredited hostels project.
“It’s to help hostels who have never accepted dogs and support hostels that do.
“Aside from the veterinary care and dog essentials, a large part of it is training staff so that people who work in hostels feel confident to work safely with dogs.”
Jade’s ultimate goal for StreetVet
Jade says: “I want there to never be a situation where someone’s asked to choose a roof over their head or their dog.
“Whether that’s rough sleeping, trying to get into rental accommodation, or needing hospital care.”
If you’d like to do something to help people on the streets with animals, you can connect with StreetVet on the links below.
Amazon Wishlist: https://www.streetvet.co.uk/how-to-use-the-amazon-wish-list/ >
YouTube: StreetVet on YouTube