“A source of constant companionship”: dogs of the homeless and a vet who cares

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Ruby Sharrock’s clinics care for dogs owned by homeless people or those living in temporary accommodation. Photo provided by Ruby Sharrock

Have you ever wondered how homeless people care for their dogs? Ruby Shorrock is the answer, a vet who, in her fourth year of veterinary school, decided that she would establish ‘Trusty Paws,’ a not-for-profit clinic for homeless dogs.

“I did some research in Glasgow” she says, “and not only did I find that there wasn’t a clinic like that in Glasgow, but also that there weren’t any clinics that took dogs at all and only a couple of temporary housing associations. So that got me thinking.” She now runs two clinics, one in Glasgow and one in London.

The organisation is generous with what they provide. One dog called Bruno, who was taken in by ‘Trusty Paws,’ was diagnosed for a hefty £1000 in vets bills. He had cushing’s syndrome, a hormonal condition which meant he was producing too much steroid. Ruby says, “Sadly he died this year, and that was obviously moving because he meant a lot to his owner and we fought quite hard for it.”

The service provided by ‘Trusty Paws’ is important to homeless people in many ways. According to Ruby, you can’t underestimate how much a dog means to its homeless owner. “I think the human-animal bond is a really powerful thing and you see it with disabled people and dogs, the elderly and dogs or the homeless and dogs.”

Having a dog is of particularly comfort to the mentally ill who find themselves sleeping rough. “If they’ve got a dog then they’ve already got an established relationship and it means a lot to them.” Ruby elaborates: “A dog isn’t going to lie to them, cheat on them or argue with them. They are just there as a source of constant companionship.”

A dog is also a source of safety. “If they are sleeping on the street a dog makes them feel a lot safer and obviously the warmth from them being there,” explains Ruby.

Many people without a home are even prepared to reject an offer of accommodation if their dogs are not accepted. Ruby says, “A lot of them will refuse to go into a flat if they won’t let them have their dog. If they can’t stay with the dog then they won’t accept housing. So that’s how much these dogs mean to them.” She adds: “Actually London’s got a lot more hostels that take dogs.”

The clinics are supported by private sponsors, members of the public, a veterinary supply team and a food company. Their outreach teams attend charitable events and visit soup kitchens to raise awareness of their service among the homeless. Also charities help out by passing their details to rough sleepers or those in temporary accommodation who own dogs.

So the next time you see a homeless person on the street, feel reassured that it is not suffering for the sake of its owner’s companionship. The ‘Trusty Paws,’ clinics will be ensuring that these dogs, which are so valuable to their owners, have all the care they require.

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