In August 2022 – in a twist of fate - my temp agency sent me to Dogs Trust to be the Hope Project Temp Assistant. I had spent fifteen years working in theatre and the entertainment industry doing various jobs from bartending, ushering, to costume designing and dramaturgy. The pandemic put a sudden stop to my theatre life, and I tried to figure out a new direction. I didn’t want to go back to my old theatre life. The pandemic made it extraordinarily clear to me that one of the most important things you can do as a person is to be of help, to be active in your community and to try and change the little bit of world around you. I loved working on the Hope Project, particularly during the Christmas parcel service, and when a full-time position came up, I applied, interviewed, and was lucky enough to be offered the position of Hope Project Team Assistant.
I work in the London office a few times a week and I work from home the other days. I start the day by checking the Hope Project emails. Our emails build up quickly. We will have emails from new clients, current clients, microchip companies, vet practices, our Vet team, homelessness services, councils, etc. all emailing about anything from needing to receive veterinary care for their dog, invoice queries, to questions about homelessness, to potential clients telling us about themselves and their situations.
Carrie Walsh, Hope Project Team Assistant at her desk
We first check for any emergencies that might’ve been emailed in, but if there aren’t any, we delegate the emails to the rest of the Hope Team. We try to respond to queries as quickly as possible, but sometimes a backlog and complicated cases means it can take a few days. But we aim to be as quick as possible.
This morning my task is to begin to write the Hope Project monthly report, which is a report that goes out internally to staff within Dogs Trust to update other departments on the goings on of each team. First, I collate the data from the Hope Project from the prior month. I find out how many vet treatments we’ve funded, how many dogs we’ve treated, how many calls we’ve taken, how many people we’ve registered on the veterinary scheme. This summer, we’ve broken all previous records, with homelessness on the rise in the UK and expected to rise further, the numbers are staggering.
At the time of writing (August 2023) we’ve funded 1,140 vet treatments for 618 dogs in 2023 which is already exceeding the totals for the whole of 2022. This is a 71% increase in the number of dogs supported compared to the same period in 2022.
Dan and his dog Frankie - some of the people and dogs we support on the Hope Project
I then collect news reports about homelessness in the media, read through them and make sure I’m familiar with stories about homelessness across the country. It’s important to remain abreast of positive news stories as well as the more emotional ones. It’s also critical to stay up to date with the latest housing legislation and political developments that affect our clients; such as the Renters Reform Bill in progress at the moment and the ongoing Cost of Living Crisis.
While doing this, I’m in constant communication with my team, whether that’s in-person in the office or via Teams. Today, one of my colleagues needs advice about the correct housing confirmation we ask our potential new clients to send in. We need a confirmation of every owner’s housing situation to ensure our clients are accessing the appropriate support for their housing in addition to their dogs’ vet care. Someone has sent in a text message from a landlord telling them that they’re going to be evicted. I tell my colleague that we need official documentation such as a Section 21 Notice. We’re always kept on our toes on the Hope Project.
Once I’ve finished my monthly report, I move onto sorting invoices with a much needed (huge) cup of (very strong) tea and some biscuits. I go over any invoice queries from vet practices, chase up remittance or missed payments (these things happen unfortunately) and process invoices for veterinary treatments in the invoice queue. Here, you really see just how many treatments we’re doing and the wide variety of treatments we can fund. I’ve learnt so much about vet care in the past year!
Soon it’s lunchtime. It’s sunny today so I take my sandwich and book and go and sit by the Regent’s Canal which passes close by the office. Our London HQ is just down the road from where the first gathering of the National Canine Defence League (the former name for Dogs Trust) was. It was organised by Lady Gertrude Stock at the first Crufts. They met at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington. I feel very lucky to work in such a gorgeous location. I watch the narrowboats glide by, appreciating the last moments of calm and summer sunshine before I head back to the office.
After lunch, it’s my turn on phones. On the Hope Project we have a very busy phoneline and we take turns manning the line. We are often the last port of all for many potential clients who have tried various other charities, everyone is seeking help, answers, but most of all someone to listen to them. I can’t lie, it can be incredibly challenging. After fifteen years in theatre, I have become accustomed to the fact anything can happen and everything does. We had a call from someone wanting advice about their cats. I direct them to Cats Protection. We have a few calls about fostering, we’re unable to foster so I direct them to other charities but also listen to their stories. Often, for people looking to foster they’ve tried every avenue possible and are usually in desperate situations. I find these calls the hardest as we can’t help. So, I listen, and just make them feel valued.
I then have a call from someone whose dog Lana has been admitted to a veterinary surgery with “some sort of womb issue”. They’re incredibly upset, but from what they’ve managed to describe it sounds like it’s pyometra, a life-threatening condition and we need to act fast. They’re not currently registered on the scheme so I ask them if they can send in conformation of their housing situation by someone supporting them in a professional capacity. They say they have a housing support officer at the council. I ask if they can call them and email us their confirmation of housing. Once I have taken information about the owner and their dog Lana, I call up the vet practice Lana is currently at. I explain to them what the Hope Project veterinary scheme is and hope they’ll agree for us to fund treatment. I ask them to send over an estimated invoice and history for Lana so I can pass this on to our vet team. Pyometra treatment is very costly so we need to get approval for it first before we can confirm we can fund it. Luckily, we sit next to the Vet Team in the office, and one of the vets lets me know straight away we can approve it. She finished off the email so we have it in writing while I call the vets to let them know we can fund the pyometra treatment. Lana is rushed into surgery, and the owner is put at ease knowing their precious family member is being taken care of.
I take a few more calls. Someone has called in who can’t afford their vet bills due to the cost-of-living crisis, but they’re not experiencing or at risk of homelessness. I signpost them to their other low-cost vet services who can often help people who aren’t experiencing homelessness/at risk of homelessness. Someone else calls as they need to find dog-friendly accommodation. They live in Liverpool so I am able to pull up our online directory of dog-friendly homelessness services and can direct him to services endorsed by our Welcoming Dogs scheme.
At the end of the day, I send a message to my work colleagues in the office to see if anyone wants to go to the pub to unwind. I feel it’s incredibly important to have work friends you can confide in, to unwind with and to have a much-needed laugh with! Our job can get incredibly heavy at times, and I’m so lucky to have a team around me that is supportive and open. I am so glad I’ve found this job (or did it find me?) and I am so proud to be part of Outreach and the Hope Project.