Paws for thought, urges charity as it launches dog-friendly guidance

Beggar in Barcelona

A man homeless and begging in the street in Barcelona with his dog, sleeping beside him.  Picture by Bill Heaney

By Rory Murphy

THE vital role dogs can play in the lives of people who are homeless – including providing companionship and a reason to exercise – is being recognised by one of Scotland’s leading homelessness charities, which is issuing guidance on how the likes of landlords and local authority offices respond to homeless people and their pets.

Simon Community Scotland is officially launching its ‘Paws for Thought’ guidance this morning, with the Scottish Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart MSP, in attendance, to help spread the word.

‘Paws for Thought’ consists of several pieces of advice, aimed at organisations who might otherwise be wary or unsure as to how to respond to people who are homeless, when accompanied by their pet dog.

Having a pet can be vital for a homeless person’s mental as well as physical health, and the guidance includes ‘pet friendly policies across housing and support services that dog owners sign and agree to in order to access accommodation, how to provide ‘dog friendly’ communal rooms in temporary shelters and risk assessments to ensure there are no issues with staff members being allergic to, or afraid of, pets.

In addition, a new Homeless Pet Friendly Officer at Simon Community Scotland will work in partnership with the leading dogs charity, Dogs Trust, helping homeless services and landlords recognise the importance and value of pets to people experiencing homelessness and supporting them to introduce and effectively manage ‘pet friendly’ policies.

Says Lorraine McGrath, CEO of Simon Community Scotland: “No-one should ever be placed in a position where they have to choose between a safe place to stay or their pet.

“What makes this choice even harder is the trauma and loss many of the people we support have experienced.

“Being asked to give up the only constant in their lives that gives them company, purpose, security and love simply adds more trauma and loss to an already awful journey.

“The great thing is it doesn’t have to be like that, being dog and pet friendly isn’t that hard. This document shares the experiences and opportunities to provide that approach.”

Stewart Kevin.jpg 4Added, Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, left: “Pets offer comfort and stability and much-needed companionship. For someone facing homelessness, it is already an extremely difficult time.

“Being forced to choose between their pets and a safe place to live is a choice no-one should have to make.

“That’s why I’m glad to see the positive recommendations in this report. It clearly sets out why pets matter and provides practical steps to support social landlords in helping people experiencing homelessness to maintain their relationships with their pets.

“A person centred approach is a key part of our ambition for delivering the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan, and I’m clear that respecting people’s meaningful and important relationships with their pets is an important element of that.”

Clare Kivlehan, head of Outreach Projects at Dogs Trust, also said: “Tragically, less than ten per cent of hostels across the country are dog-friendly, meaning many homeless dog owners struggle to find the sanctuary and support they so need and deserve. When we say a dog is for life, we mean it. Every effort should be made to keep homeless people and their pets together as they are often their only source of comfort and support.

“With support from the Scottish Government, we look forward to working closely with the Simon Community to ensuring homeless dog owners in Scotland don’t suffer the heartache of being separated from their beloved pet.”

Homeless - Rough sleepers gather for a drinking session on the Meadows in Edinburgh

Down and out in on The Meadows in Edinburgh.  Picture by Bill Heaney


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