03 Dec Guest Blog from Dogs Trust: Welcoming Dogs
What does your dog mean to you? Ask me that question and the answer is simple. Molly means the world to me. She is my friend and companion, a source of stability, unconditional love, comfort, and strength. Dogs don’t judge, you can tell them anything and they don’t answer back. I wonder what she would say if you asked her?!
My love for dogs and working with people is what has brought me here, to this brand-new role as Pets and Housing Development and Engagement Officer with Dogs Trust, in partnership with Simon Community Scotland. Having worked in the Animal Welfare sector for 15 years, I am passionate about animals, and the therapeutic, positive and loving role they play in a person’s life.
During this 12 month project, running until September 2021, my role is to promote the human-animal bond and support homelessness services to welcome referrals from dog owners. Ultimately our goal is that for dog owners in Scotland who are experiencing homelessness, there are options inclusive of dogs, and support available to be able to make that happen.
Many of the people experiencing homelessness or housing crisis have significant trauma in their lives, issues around loss and difficulties in relationships. Telling someone to abandon the relationship with their pet in order to access services removes control, enforces loss and creates yet more trauma in their lives. No one should have to choose between a safe place to sleep and their dog, but people are left with that decision. Because being without their dog is an unbearable thought, this can result in someone feeling they have no other option than to sleep rough or live in unsuitable or unsafe accommodation.
When recently talking to a dog owner living in a supported accommodation service with her dog, she told us,
“When I became homeless I was terrified and I also had to worry about my dog Freya. Most places do not take dogs and I couldn’t afford kennels so what would happen to us? Then the Simon Community said they would take me and Freya could come. The staff looked after me and Freya, we were made extremely welcome. They soon put us in touch with vets and Dogs Trust. They also treat Freya like one of the family and Dogs Trust and Simon Community even bought her Christmas gifts. Soon we will be moving to our forever home together and we will miss all the staff at Simon Community Kent Road.”
Our Dogs Trust Veterinary Entitlement Card provides Freya free veterinary care and provides reassurance and support to her owner that Freya is cared for by a vet. Most importantly what Freya needs is to be able to remain with her loving owner, and that is what the Simon Community service has allowed.
At the heart of welcoming referrals from dog owners, is a person-centred approach. It is about recognising what the person needs to be safe and supported and seeing that their four-legged friend is an essential part of coping with the everyday. To support a person to stay with their dog has huge benefits to that person and wider benefits to other people living and working in the service. Dogs are social icebreakers, and they can enable a person to open up and talk about what their pet means to them.
My role exists as a result of the ‘Paws for Thought’ report Simon Community Scotland published last year, which explored in depth the barriers dog owners face when accessing services, putting a spotlight on the human-animal bond and the importance of keeping people and their pets together. The ‘Paws for Thought’ report showed that when the commissioning process has required services to be pet friendly, service providers have been creative, positive and willing to develop services to fit the person.
What we are offering to homelessness service providers is free, practical, help and advice for services to implement small changes, that will make the world of difference to dog owners experiencing homelessness. By working together, Dogs Trust can endorse a service as a ‘Welcoming Dogs’ service. This simple process includes creating a bespoke dog policy and dog owner agreement, Dogs Trust providing free veterinary treatment for the dogs in a homelessness service, and practical advice and resources for the safe inclusion of dogs in accommodation and housing services.
I understand services may have concerns about risk, and the practicalities of including dogs. The ‘Welcoming Dogs’ process is tailored to a service to be able to discuss any concerns people have. We support services to discuss how risk can be safely managed with practical advice, and robust policies and procedures, so barriers are removed for people trying to access a service with a dog.
I believe that empowering people to responsibly care for an animal in a homelessness service, will greatly support residents to sustain future tenancies. By welcoming people who keep animals responsibly as part of their agreement with the service, this will help support people to feel ready for the next step of renting from a housing provider with their dog. Putting it simply, if they cannot access this support with their dog, they cannot access this future opportunity to rent a home of their own.
Working in animal welfare and homelessness I am constantly learning and challenging myself. There is always new information to provoke thought, and I hope this short piece has scratched that itch for you.
Click here to learn more my work in Scotland and how I am here to help – moretodogstrust.org.uk/hope-project-parent-our-work-in-scotland
Click here to read Simon Community Scotland’s Paws For Thought report – simonscotland.org/our-initiatives/paws-for-thought/
I would love the opportunity to talk with you about how I can support homelessness services to be inclusive of dogs. Please don’t hesitate to reach out. My details are Catriona.Birt@dogstrust.org.uk, Direct Phone: 07384 834 466.