2 August 2019

On one of the busiest corners of the capital, a street dog named Boris is waiting patiently for a vet.

One of dozens of homeless people’s dogs being treated today at a mobile street clinic, Boris the silver Staffie has his temperature taken, heart rate assessed and is given fresh water.

Last week’s temperatures nudged 40C in central London, triggering an emergency weather protocol for homeless people and dogs who are their lifeline.

While public concern for homeless people often peaks in winter, heatwaves are just as dangerous.

Dogs on the Streets (DOTS) volunteers are out in every weather.

“When people have sunstroke, they can seem intoxicated which can be a particular problem for the homeless. 

"People are quick to make assumptions,” says DOTS founder Michelle Clark, out distributing oral ­rehydration drinks and cooling coats for dogs, and water and caps for humans, on the hottest day ever recorded.

If a dog is really struggling, DOTS can admit them to their emergency foster sanctuary.

“But most homeless people are clued up about their animals,” Michelle says. “In difficult weather they put their dogs’ needs first.”

DOTS works in London, Oxford, Kent, Milton Keynes, Birmingham and Taunton, with more opening soon.

“A lot of people are actually on the streets because of their dogs,” Michelle says. “Temporary accommodation often doesn’t accept animals, and they can’t think of giving up the only thing that has never let them down.”

At the makeshift veterinary post by Charing Cross police station, ex-homeless volunteer Michael Mulholland, 41, explains how Dogs on the Streets helped his beloved half-whippet, half-Staffie, Lucky, but ended up saving him too.

“I was on the streets more or less since I was 18, after growing up in care,” he says.

“I’ve had Lucky since the day she was born. She’s stuck with me. When I used to live outside the ­underground in Leicester Square, the staff used to bring Lucky food.

“A lot of people think homeless people don’t look after their dogs, but sometimes they are all we’ve got. A lot of us are people who don’t mix with others very well. I was on the streets because I came from an abusive family. I had a lot of anger and I just used to let it out.”

Michael sought DOTS’ help when Lucky developed a heart problem.

“Michelle told me I needed to sort my life out and they’d sort Lucky out,” he says. “I’m housed now and I’m able to care for my mum who is ill, as well as for Lucky. I talk about my problems instead of bottling things up. I know there’s people that care.”

Seven years ago, Michelle stopped to help a homeless man and his dog outside a supermarket in North London. She asked a market stall holder for a box and filled it with treats, toys and a blanket.

“Street people are special people,” she says. “They very rarely ask for anything. They’re used to being invisible.”

Realising homeless people’s pets were a lifeline, Michelle started helping more dogs on the streets. But then, in October 2015, a homeless man she had befriended collapsed.

When he refused to go to hospital because his dog, Poppy, wasn’t allowed to go with him, Michelle stepped in to take her home. “Poppy inspired me to set up DOTS,” she says.

Michelle started with an outreach programme on The Strand in London in March 2017 with vets carrying ­backpacks. Then, in December 2017, an anonymous benefactor donated a custom-made mobile vet surgery.

DOTS’ care extends to extraordinary lengths – from organising dogs’ funerals to paying for hotels for dogs and owners while they recover from operations.

The charity also fosters dogs while owners are in hospital, temporary accommodation that doesn’t allow pets, or sometimes police cells.

On one occasion, they even fundraised for a boat to house a dog and his homeless owner. In February, the body of a rough sleeper was discovered by police in London.

Next to him was a dog who had refused to leave his side for the previous 12 hours. Michelle was able to identify the dog as Scarper – and the man as Nick.

“The relationship between street dog and homeless owner is in a way exactly what that the relationship between dog and owner should be,” Michelle says.

“They are so close, they totally understand each other. They spend every waking and sleeping hour together. It’s heartbreaking to think Scarper wouldn’t leave his owner.”

Recent figures from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) revealed 8,855 people slept rough in the capital in 2018-19, a rise of 18% in a year.

When he was London’s mayor, Boris Johnson pledged to end rough sleeping. Now, Boris the street dog and his owner wait to see what the new Prime Minister is going to do to fix Britain’s housing crisis.

Source: Mirror