UK-based animal welfare charity Dogs Trust has partnered with Simon Community Scotland, a Scottish homelessness organization, to launch an initiative to increase dog friendly accommodation options for homeless dog owners in Scotland.
According to Dogs Trust, many emergency and temporary accommodation providers do not accept dogs, leaving pet parents unable to access the housing and support they and their dogs need, unless they make the heart-breaking decision to give up their pets, who are very often their only source of comfort and emotional support.
To help solve this problem, Dogs Trust and Simon Community Scotland launched a ground-breaking partnership, kickstarted by the creation of a unique role: ‘Pets and Housing Development and Engagement Officer’. It is hoped that this role, jointly funded by both charities, will mean less dog owners in Scotland have to make the difficult choice between a safe place to sleep and their beloved pet.
Cat Birt, who has been appointed into the new role, will be working with accommodation providers to highlight the benefits of the human-animal bond and the importance of keeping people and their pets together. She will be developing and delivering a new regional strategy for Scotland, working with Simon Community services, as well as other organizations and housing providers across Scotland, to increase accommodation and support for homeless dog owners.
Simon Community Scotland and Dogs Trust have a strong track record of working together. Last year, Dogs Trust contributed to Simon Community’s ‘Paws for Thought’ guidance, which gave advice to organizations who might otherwise be wary or unsure of how to respond to people who are homeless, when accompanied by their pet dog. The report and recommendations gained the support of Scottish Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart MSP.
“The latest figures suggest there are up to 13,000 people in Scotland that are homeless at any one time, which includes people who are rough sleeping, sofa surfing or living in a vehicle. A further 11,665 families live in temporary accommodation,” Birt said.
“Some of these people will have dogs or other pets but sadly the majority of accommodation options available to them do not accept companion animals. There are so many positives and benefits to keeping people with their pets, and that’s what my role has been created to explore, progress and ultimately try and change the tale for vulnerable people and their beloved dogs,” Birt added.
Over the next 12 months, Birt will be working closely with accommodation and housing providers, staff and service users on how being inclusive of dog owners and their companion dogs can have wider benefits.
“We will support these providers to welcome dogs safely and provide practical help and on-going advice on the best way to implement dog-friendly policies and practices,” Birt said.
Stewart said, “Pets offer comfort, stability and much-needed companionship for someone facing homelessness. Being forced to choose between their pets and a safe place to live is a choice no one should have to make.”
Hugh Hill, Director of Services and Development at homelessness organization the Simon Community said, “We’ve seen first-hand that for anyone experiencing any sort of housing crisis their dog will often be their only companion and source of love and support. That’s why we’ve already taken steps to make our services dog-friendly, but there’s much more work to be done for us as a charity, and for the sector as a whole.
Dogs Trust has supported Simon Community Scotland to make nine of its accommodation services dog-friendly. Dogs Trust has also already work with 25 homelessness organizations and 11 vet practices through their free veterinary entitlement card scheme in eight towns and cities across Scotland. In 2018, the Hope Project helped 30 dogs in Scotland by signing them up to the charity’s vet program (equating to 26 dog owners).
The Hope Project website, through its Welcoming Dogs initiative: www.dogstrusthopeproject.org.uk offers more resources and information around accepting and managing dogs in accommodation.