This week Dogs Trust, the UK's largest dog welfare charity, is delivering more than 1,600 Christmas parcels to dogs whose owners are experiencing homelessness, as demand for the service continues to rise.
Dogs Trust has been running the Hope Project for more than 25 years and each year delivers Christmas parcels filled with festive treats, toys, collars, leads and warm winter dog coats, which are particularly important to those who are rough sleeping at this time of year.
This year the team are working with 212 homelessness services across the UK to deliver 1,630 parcels packed with essentials for dogs - a 6% increase on the number of parcels requested last year. This year the team went along to deliver some of the Christmas parcels to service users at St Mungo's in Clapham, giving them the chance to meet dogs and their owners and chat about the importance of having their canine companion by their side.
The charity also supports owners experiencing homelessness all year round by offering free veterinary treatment to their dogs. So far this year the Hope Project has supported 450 dogs and has funded almost 1,400 vet treatments.
Eleven-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Butch, is one of the dogs the Hope Project has supported through its veterinary scheme. His owner Aaron found that being unemployed and a dog owner meant it was difficult to find suitable accommodation and has often had to resort to living in a tent with Butch.
“During lockdown I found it incredibly difficult to gain access to showers and local facilities but with Butch by my side it has made the darker days seem brighter. Butch is loved by everyone who meets him; I have trained him well. He will stay by my side no matter what. He is my best friend and lifelong companion.
“When growths started to appear on Butch’s legs, I turned to the Hope Project who were able to fund his treatment thanks to the much-needed donations to Dogs Trust.
“I cannot thank the Hope Project enough for the incredible support it’s given us and knowing Butch is covered for vet treatment is a massive comfort for us both.”
Owner of Butch, who has been supported by the Hope Project
The Hope Project team also work to support homelessness services to accept dogs through their Welcoming Dogs endorsement scheme. Less than 10% of homelessness services in the UK are currently dog-friendly, meaning that many dog owners are denied access to shelter and support, simply because they have a dog. Since the start of the pandemic, the team have supported 25 services across the UK to become endorsed Welcoming Dogs services.
Harriet Page, Pets and Housing Manager, explains:
"Dogs are often the only companion of someone experiencing homelessness and as we all know, our dogs are a wonderful source of love and support, so through the Hope Project we do all we can to help keep people and their pets together.
We're so pleased we can send out more Christmas hampers across the UK to provide some festive cheer at what can be a difficult and lonely time for someone experiencing homelessness. We're so grateful to homelessness services like St Mungo's who have so many dog-friendly services, meaning that someone is not forced to make a decision between their best friend and a safe place to sleep."
Denise, who facilitated the visit, said:
"It was so lovely to have the Dogs Trust team visit us at St Mungo's. Receiving the Christmas parcels is a real highlight and we, our clients and our four-legged friends are vey grateful for Dogs Trust's ongoing support."
A project worker at St Mungo's Wix's Lane service
This year the Christmas parcel service was supported by a grant from the Julia and Hans Rausing Trust which supports organisations working to support health and wellbeing, welfare and education and arts and culture.