Five years ago Andy Hutchins walked out of prison with nothing other than £60 and the clothes he was wearing
He’d spent most of his adult life living on the streets, battling heroin addiction and had no choice but to turn to crime to fund his habit.
But the day he left jail, he walked past two women begging and clutching four week old pups who were so tiny their eyes hadn’t even opened.
Frantic, Andy wanted to do something to help. He bought one of them, Bailey, for £12.
He hand reared him on Goat’s milk, kept him huddled in his coat to keep him warm, weaned him on mashed potato and soon Bailey was a thriving dog.
From the moment he picked up Bailey, Andy never touched another drug.
Thanks to support from StreetVet, a social enterprise helping homeless dogs and their owners, they have a home
StreetVet was founded in 2017 by Jade Statt and Sam Joseph and you can read their story here How Jade, Sam and the StreetVet team are helping homeless dogs.
The movement started with Jade and Sam going out with their backpacks and treating dogs on the street and once news of their work spread, other vets and vet nurses volunteered too.
Now over 275 StreetVets help dogs in London, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Plymouth, Birmingham, Cheltenham and Southampton and they continue to expand.
They are applying for charity status and have been nominated to win a £100,000 prize from insurers Animal Friends to further their work. You can vote here www.animalfriends.co.uk/100kcharitygiveaway
Andy is one of hundreds of owners they’ve helped. He’s now writing a book about their incredible journey together and is training to be an outreach worker.
“I can’t thank Sam, Jade and the volunteers enough for what they’ve done for me,” he said. “Without them I would never be where I am now.
“I would never have had the opportunity to write a book, or be back in touch with my family, and I’m now training to be an outreach worker. My life is fantastic.”
Andy was speaking at the first StreetVet conference held in London on Friday where more than 200 vets and nurses united
The two day long event saw speakers from all kinds of backgrounds – from vets and behaviourists to psychiatrists – support the StreetVet team and their clients and help them to improve their skills.
I know this sounds gushing but it was an honour to be there. I’ve followed Jade since September 2017 when she invited me to join her on outreach and the work they do is just so humbling.
But Andy’s illustrates the impact of their work far better than I ever could.
Here is the story he shared at StreetVet Skills
“I bought Bailey the day I left prison for £12. He was only four weeks old and should have still been with his mum.
“His eyes hadn’t even opened. I took him to the vet the next day. The vet was concerned about him because I was homeless and I don’t think he had very much faith in me.
“His advice was for me to have him put down. But I couldn’t do that. I kept him in my coat and fed him every two hours with Goat’s Milk.
“As he grew, I weaned him on mashed potato. Because I was doing the right thing for him, it meant I was doing the right thing for me. He saved me.
“When you’ve been on the street, most people out there have mental health problems, drug problems and there’s the homelessness issue as well.
“When you’ve got a dog it’s very hard. You’re judged. It’s like people think, ‘If you’re so poor and you can’t feed yourself why have you got a dog?’
Having Bailey was companionship. I didn’t trust another human being
“I’d had the trust beaten out of me. He taught me how to trust again.
“When you’re on the street most of the time you have bad experiences with figures in authority, whether it be police, council workers, whoever.
“If someone comes up to you and offers to look at your dog for you, because of the situation you’re in, you see them as an authority figure.
“You hear all sorts of horror stories, people having their dogs taken off them and things like that, and if it’s said enough it’s believed.
“It’s difficult. Say your dog has a skin complaint which is common because you’re in such close proximity with each other, sleeping in doorways, you don’t want that to be seen.
“You’re afraid you’re going to be judged so you shy away.
The thing that Sam did, which was clever, he was interested in me as a person as well
“StreetVet, in my experience, build a relationship with you. It’s not just about the dog.
“The human relationship is important and that’s got to flourish before any other relationship can go ahead. It is hard to trust when you’ve been let down so many times.
“Sam showed an interest. He spoke to me on a level. It wasn’t ‘homeless person’ and ‘posh vet bloke.’ It was just two people talking about football.
“He built a relationship with me first before he attempted to get near Bailey which went a long way. Then before I knew it he had my dog checked over.
“There are a lot of people who I’ve met on the streets that fear someone could come up and take their dog. You find people hide their dogs.
“It’s fear, but if you can break through that mask, that barrier, you can help.
That’s the good thing about Sam and the StreetVets in Hackney and how they work
“You can tell them to F off every time you see them but sooner or later you think ‘God, I can’t tell them to F off again. I’m gonna have to let them look at the dog.’
“They’re in the same place every week, so you get to see the face and get to know them.
“Now, I’m drug free, I’m on the verge of getting my own house and it’s thanks to the massive support I’ve had from StreetVet over the last 18 months.”
Andy’s story shows the huge impact StreetVet volunteers have on the people they support and Sam, Jade and the team would love to hear from anyone who would like to help.
Collaboration is key to their success. Sam Joseph told how working with John Glackin from Streets Kitchen in London enabled them to build trust with clients.
He said: “When we set up all of our stations we made the point to collaborate with a well established soup kitchen or social care organisation.
“John has been running Streets Kitchen for over 35 years so when introduces us to clients it opens doors and makes it a lot easier for us. That’s why it’s really important for us to partner up with other organisations where there’s a synergy.”
StreetVet would like to recognise a number of people and organisations
Dr Gabriel Galea was awarded the Dean Lester Coleman award in recognition of his compassion and commitment to helping volunteers.
Partner organisations working with StreetVet at the conference were All4Paws, Care for the Paw, Trusty Paws, Vets in the Community, PDSA, Dogs Trust, Blue Cross, RSPCA and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.
Amanda Boag, President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons who gave Jade the Impact Award this year for her work, attended.
The StreetVet team would like to thank their sponsors Simply Locums and the Goddard Vet Group for supplying catering, Vets4Pets for the venue, Vet Help Direct for the delegate bag and Global Vet Careers for buying StreetVet caps.
Finally, StreetVet would like to thank National Veterinary Services for a monetary donation and Ann Boden who ran the London Marathon and raised funds to provide ophthalmoscope/otoscope sets for each StreetVet city.
If you like reading about people making a difference, you might enjoy Janey Lowes – why I’m saving Sri Lanka’s Street Dogs or How rescue dog Beautie inspired Lisette to start DoggyWarriors and help thousands of dogs in need