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Housing

Why pets matter: New scheme ends heart-breaking choice for Scottish homeless

Dogs Trust and homelessness charity Simon Community Scotland have teamed up to ensure homeless people don’t need to decide between a home and their dog

A shortage of dog-friendly accommodation has meant that homeless people looking to get off the streets have historically faced the heart-breaking decision of whether to give up their canine companions to secure a new home.

Now Dogs Trust and Simon Community Scotland (SCS) have joined forces to consign that dilemma to the past and allow people to move into accommodation while retaining their pets, who are so often a vital source of comfort and emotional support.

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The homelessness-tackling Scottish charity has partnered with the Dogs Trust to fund the new role of Pets and Housing Development and Engagement Officer to make more of their accommodation services dog friendly.   

Cat Birt, who has been appointed into the role, will be working with accommodation providers to highlight the benefits of the human-animal bond and the importance of keeping people and their pets together.

Being forced to choose between their pets and a safe place to live is a choice no one should have to make

She will also develop a new regional strategy for SCS services, as well as other organisations and housing providers across Scotland, to boost the number of available places and support for homeless dog owners.

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“Some of the 13,000 people homeless at any one time in Scotland will have dogs or other pets but sadly the majority of accommodation options available to them do not accept companion animals,” said Birt.

“There are so many positives and benefits to keeping people with their pets, and that’s what my role has been created to explore, progress and ultimately try and change the tale for vulnerable people and their beloved dogs.”

The charities teamed last year to improve conditions for homeless pet owners, issuing ‘Paws for Thought’ guidance to give advice to organisations on how they could accommodate dogs alongside their owners.

But the creation of the new role will “help set out why pets matter”, according to Scottish Housing Minister Kevin Stewart MSP. 

“Pets offer comfort, stability and much-needed companionship for someone facing homelessness. Being forced to choose between their pets and a safe place to live is a choice no one should have to make,” he said.

“That’s why I’m glad to see this job being created by the Simon Community and Dogs Trust. It will help set out why pets matter and provide practical steps to support social landlords in helping people experiencing homelessness.”

The Big Issue knows just how much pets matter to our vendors. That’s why Bath vendor Chris and his pet dog Mack graced our cover in April as vendors told us how their animal companions helped them through their darkest times.

And, of course, the human-animal bond doesn’t get much greater than the connection between James Bowen and Street Cat Bob. That heart-warming partnership is set to be celebrated in a second film, to be released on November 6. James, his on-screen actor Luke Treadaway and director Charles Martin Smith recently gave us a glimpse behind the scenes.

And, don’t forget, we want to hear about how your pets have got you through 2020. For a chance to feature in our bumper Christmas special, email your stories to editorial@bigissue.com. And remember to send a photo of you and your pet facing the world together!

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