Street Paws vet’s fears over NI’s growing homelessness crisis

Street Paws vet’s fears over NI’s growing homelessness crisis

A young Belfast vet who runs the Northern Ireland branch of the Street Paws charity, has told how homeless people here are now often faced with a choice between feeding their dogs or feeding themselves.

Lauren Collins, who along with around 10 other veterinary volunteers treat the companions of Belfast’s homeless once a month, said: “People would go without to see that their dog is sorted. During the pandemic we were contacted by people saying they were faced with the decision to feed themselves or their dog and the demand for dog food has certainly gone up.”

Having worked in England after graduating Lauren, above, who now works for Braemar Veterinary Clinic, set up the NI branch of Street Paws in 2018, “having seen the great work they do and wanting to get involved”.

She told NI Veterinary Today much of what they do is preventative, but not all. “You’d mostly be talking about vaccines, fleas and worms and just a health check, giving people the peace of mind that they are doing a good job and that their dog is ok.” she explained.

“The biggest thing I’ve done recently was I had a dog in surgery at Braemar after someone at one of the hostels called to say that the dog of one of the fellas staying there was very ill.

“It turned out she had a pile and a massive ovarian tumour and we ended up doing the surgery there. That was by far the biggest thing I’ve done for one single patient.”

Lauren told NI Veterinary Today that wile some people may not understand why a homeless person would want the hassle of having a dog “for a lot of people it gives them a purpose, that first wee face that they see in the morning”.

And she now fears that as the homeless crisis worsens the demand for Street Paws will also rise.

‘More new faces’

“With the pandemic and people losing jobs and houses the worry is that this will go up and we will see more new faces because of that,” she said,

“Someone from the Welcome Organisation phoned me earlier on in the pandemic to chat about their fears that things were growing, and that people would be needing our services and their services more.

“What I didn’t really fully appreciate until I got involved in this is that people experiencing homelessness are not just people living rough on the street.

“There is an unpredictable element. There are people in those hostels couch surfing and staying where they can.

“There was a guy the other night who told us he’s been sleeping rough for a few weeks with his dog and going to the table for food was a new experience for him.

“All I can do is make the service available to people who want it.

Read more in the next edition of Northern Ireland Veterinary Today.