Supporting the homeless and their pets: StreetVet

Posted on October 11, 2017 by Jade And Sam

Jade and Josh - StreeVet

StreetVet is mine and Sam’s brainchild, and the result of seeing a problem and being utterly frustrated about our inability to do anything about it. Walking around the streets I saw so many homeless people, which is difficult enough in itself, but of course as a veterinarian part of my concern was always with the pets that share their lives. My work with StreetVet has proven how much these animals are loved and highlighted to me the various unexpected hurdles the homeless face when trying to access the help for their companions that is available.

The birth of StreetVet

Amazingly Sam and I actually started separately, both walking the streets with backpacks on and helping as much as we could. I was out in October 2016 when someone told me that there was already another vet doing the same thing – and that he even had the same name, StreetVet, although it isn’t hard to imagine how we both came up with that!

For me, StreetVet started after I met a homeless man in London who owned a dog with really bad skin. I was desperate to help him, and the options available at that time just weren’t compatible with his needs. After trying to find somewhere to volunteer as a vet in the UK I was forced to admit that what I was looking for simply didn’t exist, and if I wanted it, I was going to have to make it happen myself.

Sam had much the same experience, meeting a homeless man and his dog while on a night out and promising him help. After returning (a quite amazing feat in itself!) and conducting a simple health check, he saw how much that basic act of kindness meant. After that he knew he had to do more.

Since Sam and I met in December last year, and decided to merge our two StreetVets into one, the charity has gone from strength to strength. We have had huge support from Josh Coombes who I met right at the beginning of what was then a pilot project. His movement Do Something for Nothing inspired me and he helped me see that all the problems that faced StreetVet – costs, the approval of our professional body, man power, media coverage – were all manageable. Some of my best days outreaching are when we join forces - Josh cuts the owner’s hair and I check over the dogs.

Where is StreetVet now?

Since we started this incredible journey, the help we have already received from the veterinary and homeless support community has been beyond all expectation. We have expanded to a core of 32 vets and nurses, helping us cover most of London. We arrange places the team will be every week, so that word of the service gets out amongst the homeless community. We also try and work alongside more established charities such as soup kitchens so that we are easy to find and word spreads quickly. Seeing the same faces, building relationships with the community, and seeing the difference the service makes is as rewarding as helping the animals themselves.

What’s in the future?

We both hope StreetVet will continue to go from strength to strength. We are currently looking at consolidating our London coverage, but plan to move to new cities in 2018. We expect to start in Bristol and Brighton currently, and more if we can manage it!

Volunteers and support

Jade Streetvet - outreachStreetVet is staffed entirely by volunteers, including Sam and myself, and we consider ourselves hugely lucky to have such a dedicated team. Despite this, with jobs ranging from staffing our current stations, to a bewildering amount of admin, there is always heaps to be done. That means alongside the incredible work from the people we have, we are always looking for extra hands. The great thing about StreetVet is that with a hugely flexible system, our team can be part of the movement by spending as little as two hours a month on the streets. That means we can really open the program up, as we know first-hand that vets and nurses are always very busy!

The fact that StreetVet can do anything a vet in practice can do is a huge source of pride for us. Our team support each other to get going, and once new volunteers are happy, they are supported to become the new face of their community. This doesn’t mean anyone is ever alone though, and the team has a real sense of togetherness. Getting this great initial team has been a long journey, and as it grows we hope we will be lucky enough to add some of the huge range of the skill sets we see throughout the profession – marketing and PR for example are areas Sam and I certainly need help with!

Finally, StreetVet can’t work without the support of local practices. While many things can be done on the streets, simple operations such as neutering, dentals and lump removals need the use of theatres. Part of our future plan is to work with local practices and out of hours providers, which would allow us to expand our care even further.

Veterinary community

StreetVet has been an experience like no other. It has been a fantastic and exhausting chapter of my career and one I hope we can get support for within the veterinary community and wider. If I have learnt anything so far, it is that you can do anything you put your mind to, and that the veterinary community has a huge capacity for love and support. I do not doubt we will see unlimited evidence of that as we move ahead, and we look forward to wherever StreetVet will go!

If you think you might be able to help, please get in touch via our website.

Jade and Sam

Written by Jade and Sam

Jade graduated from Glasgow Vet School in 2002, and Sam from Bristol in 2015. Jade has since completed her Small Animal Medicine certificate, and still loves clinical practice and Sam enjoys working as a vet for the Village Vet Group. Despite both having a busy working schedule by day, they also manage to find time for StreetVet, although that definitely isn’t always easy!