7th November 2018
Hunting through my inbox today for something or other not too important, I made a small but joyous discovery.
It is exactly one year to the day that I officially became a StreetVet. The day I dug out my professional insurance forms, signed on the dotted line and committed to my two hours a month.
Everything these days is compared to the price of purchasing a daily coffee. This, I assured myself, is equivalent to four minutes a day, or less than the time I spend staring vacantly at the kettle. Definitely doable. And at no cost to me except for my time.
The transition from volunteer to passionate advocate
What I didn’t factor in was how quickly I would become immersed in the project, the mindset and the StreetVet community.
You see, I am the eternal fence-sitter. I revel in playing devil’s advocate, regardless of who or what that devil might be. I have voted for minority parties more than once. I skip through online polls as they rarely have an ‘all’ or ‘none of the above’ option. Yet, shortly after joining the StreetVet cause, I felt incensed to read negative critiques and I was surprised at myself.
“StreetVet is discriminatory”
“StreetVet encourages homeless people to have dogs”
“Pets are a privilege, not a right”.
And yet, I understood. No one wants to prioritise one person over the next if both are in need. No one wants to encourage those who are in dire straits to get a pet. And yes as vets we should be promoting careful choices and responsible pet ownership. But people become homeless and people have pets. These two circumstances will always exist and are not mutually exclusive whether we like it or not.
When the choice is to remove pets from people because they are homeless, directing them to the back of the long queue of animals awaiting rehoming, versus enabling responsible pet ownership in homeless communities to the benefit of all parties, then my stance is very clear.
Sunshine, laughter, and song at the soup kitchen
Years ago I looked at helping at my local soup kitchen but then life got in the way. Of course, this was a convenient ruse that I was happy to hide behind. Quite frankly I was nervous it would be a step too far out of my comfort zone. I imagined standing on cold dark nights dishing out unpalatable gruel to a sinister, mute and faceless crowd. I did not expect the sunshine, the laughter, the spontaneous eruptions of guitar and song, the delicious cakes we share together, the dancing in the rain and the friendships that outreach sessions can bring.
I often think of the poem “First they came….”. Most of you will know it, but if not I urge you to Google it.
When StreetVet came knocking I was quick to get off my sofa. It was an easy decision; my excuses were wearing thin and I wasn’t even fooling myself anymore. Let’s not forget that life does not come with any guarantees and one day I might need someone to get off their sofa on my behalf.
Outreach sessions now
My most recent outreach session reminds me how far I have come. I recognise all the dogs and their owners on sight and many turn up just for a chat. Examining, sampling and treating the dogs in a busy shopping street is second nature and just a small part of what StreetVets do. Nowadays I take my time to chat with everyone and I try to ask the question “how are you?” or “are you ok?” whenever I can.
I have not seen Alice and her dogs for six months. Her situation has improved and her face is completely changed, relaxed, smiling. It is a real gift to witness this transformation and spend time fussing her dogs and measuring their lumps.
Alfie eagerly clambers his way to us through the crowd – Alfie is an exuberant elderly Labrador and a very special patient with an equally special owner. I worm and flea-treat him and check his arthritic joints. I tease his owner about making sure that Alfie doesn’t swim in the sea for a few days and that no one pets him on his neck where his flea treatment has been applied (he’s a very pet-able dog!). His owner openly teases me back when I am the first to ignore my own advice!
An elderly lady who is well known to us stops by as she’s run out of money to buy cat food. I rummage in the bags. “How are you doing today?” I ask her. Not good. Her housing situation is in crisis and her legal representation has fallen through. I point her towards the old transit van where a couple of lawyers have set up shop and, like us, are volunteering their time. She can’t believe it. Minutes later I chase after her with a few crumpled sachets of cat food. She turns with tears in her eyes and grips me in a huge hug. It is such a small gesture on our part that clearly has a huge impact; a favourite moment of mine.
“The act of ‘StreetVetting’ is a real skill…”
StreetVet has been an incredible journey for me. The act of ‘StreetVetting’ is a real skill, but there is so much more going on behind the scenes. Like a serene swan, beneath the surface, we are desperately paddling to keep the ship afloat.
It is an endless endeavour: fundraising, responding to emergency calls, attending council and community meetings, writing press releases, preparing for VMD inspections, training new volunteers, liaising with local veterinary practices and ultimately trying to get the word out about who we are. All this around being ‘regular’ vets and vet nurses and family life.
New volunteers will always be welcomed with open arms, so please do get in touch. Of course, we all spread ourselves too thin these days and not everyone can volunteer but you can still help.
StreetVet has been nominated for the Animal Friends 100k Charity Giveaway. This incredible prize fund would enable us to improve the lives of so many more pets and their owners who are homeless and currently out of our reach. The impact of StreetVet on these individuals and their dogs is far greater than you’d ever imagine. It’s so simple to vote, just follow the link above…
You won’t even need to leave your sofa… I promise!