Birmingham & Black Country

On the streets of Birmingham helping homeless pets

Shadow and Jonathan Wall
Image caption Shadow, pictured with her owner Jonathan Wall, have been helped by Street Vet in Birmingham

When a beloved pet becomes ill, most of us don't think twice about taking them to the vet. But what if you are homeless and can't afford the bills - where do you go for help?

When eight-year-old Shadow was attacked by two dogs in the summer, she suffered a nasty bite to her stomach.

Her owner, Jonathan Wall, said within two days it got infected and developed an abscess.

Being homeless at the time, he said he didn't have the means to get her the treatment she needed.

He said: "The situation I was in, I couldn't make contact with vets, covering the costs was difficult.

"Street Vet provided everything - the antibiotics and emergency surgery if it was needed."

Image caption Shadow has made a full recovery from her stomach wound

The nationwide scheme, run by volunteers, offers free veterinary care to homeless people and their animals.

"Their focus is on the wellbeing of the animal, if they see a need they will step in," said Jonathan, who lives in Birmingham.

"Without them, I wouldn't like to think what the outcome for Shadow would have been."

Jonathan and Shadow have been together for five years. The 37-year-old has recently found work with the help of another charity in the city, and his new boss helped find him a place to live.

But on the street, it was his pet who helped him connect with others.

"Shadow and I are a partnership, a team," he added.

"She helps warm people who wouldn't normally speak to me, they will open up [with] her [around]."

Image copyright Street Vet
Image caption Sue Wildman, second left, says one of the best parts about volunteering with Street Vet is that "you look out for people"

At Digbeth charity HomeLESS One, Rocky the German Shepherd is sitting patiently, having his eye examined.

Vet Sarah Chapman has just finished cleaning his ears, checking his teeth and listening to his heart.

Rocky is one of her first patients, on her first night volunteering with Street Vet.

The charity visits the site for a couple of hours every Sunday night, taking with them a bag containing the basics - thermometers, antibiotics, nail clippers, microchips, flea and worming treatments.

Image copyright Street Vet
Image caption Nationally, Street Vet doesn't just see dogs - this summer, the London branch treated Buffy the Mouse Slayer for burned paws

Sarah, a freelance vet based in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, said: "I think it is something all vets want to be able to do.

"The cost of veterinary medicine is so expensive, and it allows us to provide assistance to these animals which are so important to their owners."

Street Vet operates in cities across the UK, but the Birmingham branch launched in June, so this will be its first winter helping animals in the city.

As well as visiting HomeLESS One, a group of volunteers will also walk around the centre on Sunday nights, looking for homeless people with animals who may need their help.

They also visit hostels and are starting up a weekly clinic.

Image caption Rocky the German Shepherd was treated by the vets at HomeLESS One

Neil Smith, lead vet at the Birmingham branch, said they now have about 45 qualified vets or registered veterinary nurses who volunteer outside their normal jobs.

"The [owners] look after their dogs and cats really well and it is really a question of giving them access to veterinary services," he said.

"The problems tend to be quite minor - a little limp, an infected ear, another needs eye drops - but they are well looked after.

"The animals tend to sleep in the same bedding as their owners which keeps them quite warm, but at the moment we are also giving out dog coats."

Image copyright Street Vet
Image caption As well as visiting HomeLESS One, the vets walk around the city centre looking for animals that might need help

Birmingham Street Vets has 40 to 45 animals on its books, but their owners tend to move around which means they aren't always seen regularly.

If they need care the vets can't provide during their outreach work, they have partnerships with practices and laboratories that can do the necessary treatments and tests for free.

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Back at HomeLESS One, Rocky, who is six months old, was microchipped by the vets last time they saw him, and is wearing the coat, collar and lead he was given.

Sarah discusses with his owner the possibility of arranging to have him neutered in the new year. She also gives advice about an eye problem Rocky has had since birth.

Also working on the night is Sue Wildman, a registered veterinary nurse who has been with Street Vet since it started.

She has brought some special food for Rocky and is handing out wrapped Christmas boxes for dogs, filled with toys, treats and food collected through donations.

"I love it," she said. "You get to know the people and their animals. It is lovely, you look out for people."

Sue keeps records of all the animals that have been seen at HomeLESS One, so if they return the papers can be updated with their latest treatment.

For Rocky, his check-up is done and he is free to go. His owner says the service the vets provide is "great".

Sue added: "We like to come every night, even if there aren't any animals, people will know we are still here to help."

Image copyright Street Vet
Image caption The vets have been giving out coats to keep the animals snug in cold weather

Javid Iqbal, from Birmingham charity Homeless Heroes, said providing treatment for the animals was something that was really appreciated by the owners.

"Often it is the only friend that people have, living on the streets.

"If Street Vet wasn't there they wouldn't be able to do anything, they would just have to let the animals suffer - die in some cases.

"Their animals are often the one they have to rely on, to be there for them, something to cuddle up to at night."

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