The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Dick Vet Outreach to the Homeless

For the past two years, vets Andrew Gardiner and Amy Jennings, from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Roslin Institute, have been providing basic veterinary care and advice clinics at two Edinburgh hostels which permit homeless people to keep their dogs and other animals with them.

A homeless man sits with his cat

Every large city contains a population of homeless people and their pets. Whilst some might argue that animals should be removed from people who apparently cannot look after themselves, the vets disagree.

Most of the animals we see have good lives,’ Andrew says. ‘They are with their owners a lot, spend much of their time outdoors, and are often well cared for. They provide a sense of stability in often difficult and chaotic lives. They mean as much, if not more, to their owners than regular companion animals, many of who get left alone for lengthy periods while owners work. Anyone can become homeless, all it takes is a combination of factors such as loss of income, severe debt, perhaps mental health issues or addiction. Of course there are problems, but there can be problems wherever animals are kept.

Andrew GardinerVeterinary Clinical Lecturer
Pisa the homeless cat

The service provided by the vet school offers the chance for homeless people to access care and advice in an environment with which they are familiar. Arrangements are also in place to deal with unexpected emergencies through Vets Now, a national provider of emergency veterinary care. And dogs belonging to those who are homeless can be registered with the Dogs Trust Hope Scheme, which covers more extensive treatments. In Edinburgh, such treatment is carried out at Dundas Veterinary Group and the PDSA.

Future plans in Edinburgh include a ‘walkabout’ service in the evenings, run in conjunction with the Edinburgh charity Streetwise, to access those people and animals who do not appear at the hostels themselves. Vets and vet students will accompany Streetwise staff on their rounds in the city. The work is currently funded by a legacy left to the vet school in 2002 by Vida Howie and by a Pet Plan Welfare Grant received in 2011.

An excellent documentary film made by Susi Arnott and Stephen Blakeway about Edinburgh streetdogs and their people, called ‘Sleeping Ruff’, is available at the web link below. It was shortlisted for a Saltire Award at the Edinburgh Film Festival. More information on the work in Edinburgh can be obtained from Andrew.Gardiner@ed.ac.uk.

If you would like to make a donation towards the work of the clinic, or to discuss other ways of supporting the School, please contact Sandra Chilton on 0131 651 1407 or Vet.Fundraising@ed.ac.uk