Cambridge StreetVet a ‘lifeline’ to rough sleepers and their pets

dog in a duvet with homeless owner
Image caption,StreetVet volunteers say the pets of homeless owners are often very well cared for

A charity is offering care and support to the four-legged friends of a city’s rough sleeping community.

Volunteers with StreetVet provide medical check-ups, treatment and outreach care in Cambridge city centre every week.

Clinicians say the pets they see are often as well or better cared-for than those seen in general practice.

One rough sleeper told the BBC he could not have afforded his dog’s care without the help of charity.

The team meets on Thursday nights close to the city’s Grafton shopping centre and also reach out to local homeless shelters.

‘Warm fuzzy feeling’

Jo Brand
Image caption,Jo Brand help establish StreetVet in Cambridge in 2018 and volunteers have seen hundreds of pets in that time

Jo Brand helped set up the Cambridge outreach and said the team had completed 789 consultations since 2018.

It currently has 30 volunteers.

“I get a warm fuzzy feeling from doing it,” she said.

“The clients are really appreciative, some of the clients wouldn’t be able to access normal vet practices, they certainly wouldn’t be able to pay up front for a consultation.

“So we are a bit of a lifeline to them.

“The animals are so important to their owners and also a lot of pets, all they want is human company, and actually I think a lot of these homeless dogs have a really good life.

“They’re with their human 24/7 and their owners will make sacrifices to make sure that animal is safe and warm.”

‘I’d have been in trouble without them’

Vinny crouches down behind dog Cali.
Image caption,Vinny Easey said he might not have been able to keep Cali without the help of StreetVet

One-year-old dog Cali has had lameness and skin irritation, which the StreetVet team assessed and treated over the last month.

Her owner Vinny Easey is currently sofa-surfing and said: “I wouldn’t have been able to afford the problems she’s had, I’d have been in trouble really.”

He said the thought of having to give Cali up was “unbearable” and he was “so grateful” for everything the StreetVet team did.

“I just feel safe with her, especially when I was on my own on the street. It’s given me someone to be with,” he added.

Marie Swann, a friend who sometimes looked after Cali, said the volunteers did a “wonderful job”.

“There’s a lot of people who need their animals, especially ones who live on the streets,” she said.

“People that actually live on the streets, they need them for companionship and protection and these people make it possible for them to be able to keep that.”

‘Dogs have the best life’

Street vet team
Image caption,The StreetVet Cambridge team has treated hundreds of animals since they began in 2018

Veterinary nurse Matt Wright, 38, said he enjoyed getting to connect with people through their animals, who were “usually very well looked after”.

He said: “My experience is I find most of these dogs have the best life, they have one-on-one time with their owner all the time and are usually in great conditions.”

Most of the issues animals come to StreetVet with were the same as the volunteers saw in general practice, he said.

Mr Wright said the clients he met would often choose to sleep rough because shelters won’t accept their dogs.

“So they’re putting their pets first because they won’t give the pets up and that’s their family, that’s their comfort,” he said.

“That pet has probably been with them through the worst point of their lives and we shouldn’t have to ask them to give them up and they will do anything for them and feed the pet before they feed themselves.”

‘Clients always grateful’

Image caption,Vet Joana Momkute said she sympathised with owners not having a permanent home

Vet Joana Momkute has been volunteering with StreetVet for about a year and said she sympathised with clients’ struggles to find a permanent address.

She moved to the UK from Lithuania 13 years ago.

She said: “I can really feel for people who are in a similar position, it’s nowhere near what our clients end up going through but I kind of always felt a bit like the system is not well prepared for people to get out of those situations – and I just wanted to help.

“I’ve never had negative feedback from people, they’re always grateful we’re there to help.”

Laura George
Image caption,Volunteer Laura George says the owners she meets always want the best for their pets

Volunteer Laura George, a registered veterinary nurse, said she was always struck by the “love and devotion” of owners.

She said: “The thing that sticks with me most is just how kind all of the owners are, how much they love their pets, that is undeniable.

“You can see how much they care for them and how much they just want to do the best they can for them.

“And it comes through in spades,” she added.

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