“If you look down on someone, make sure it’s to pick them up.” Michelle Clark, Talking Tables Phenomenal Woman of the month, a new series inspired by the collection of the same name.
For many homeless people a dog is their family and only comfort. But what to do when you need help for your dog? A vet appointment is out of the question. Enter Dogs on the Streets, aka DOTS, and their remarkable founder Michelle Clark.
It all began with a street dog called Poppy. Michelle was running outreach for rough sleepers and circumstances brought Poppy into her foster care. Poppy got lost in the system when her owner was in hospital and then went into emergency accommodation which at the time wouldn’t accept dogs. “Looking after Poppy made me realise more was needed than I was doing,” she says.
Michelle founded DOTS in 2016 and today it’s meeting those needs which can vary from vet treatment to fostering to legal representation. When we spoke to Michelle she had just appeared in court on behalf of a dog and its owner. It had been ‘typed’ as a potentially dangerous dog and in order to be exempted the owner had to be able to show a registered address. Dogs on the Streets paid the deposit for accommodation so the dog would not be destroyed.
Unfortunately, there is a rising number of rough sleepers, with over 11,000 in London alone last year, and many, many more in insecure accommodation (sofa surfing, hostels etc). One in ten has a pet. While there are a number of charities doing great work with the homeless, DOTS fills a unique space that contributes to the welfare of both rough sleepers and their animals who are crucially important for them. “Their dogs are their life,” says Michelle. “It gives them purpose, gives them a routine and most of all a dog gives them love. I get told so many times ‘I didn’t rescue my dog, my dog rescued me’.”
Totally operated by volunteers, DOTS runs a free mobile veterinary service in London, Kent, Oxford and Milton Keynes as well as a four acre centre currently housing 47 dogs (five more emergencies were arriving that day). It’s on call 24 hours a day for referrals (“because homelessness is 24-7”) from London hospitals, the Ambulance Service and the Metropolitan Police: “We were using an outside kennel site but it was expensive and we couldn’t access it in an emergency.”
How did Michelle manage to build such an impressive operation from scratch? “We did it by social media, we advertised for volunteers.” (We found them via Twitter and can attest to their social media savvy.) “Now we get inundated with volunteers and can’t take them. We’ve a small established team. Vulnerable people don’t like change. You need to build trust with them,” says Michelle.
It’s certainly a very personal service. “ We get involved with the people. Circumstances force people into this position. For us they are not just a number or a surname. If you give a little bit of help it can make a big difference.” She says that it’s a two way working relationship and while DOTS can provide the tools to help, people are expected to participate and remain in charge and control. “They never take advantage,” she adds.
So how can people help?
1 If you see anyone on the streets say hello so they don’t feel invisible.
2 Spread the word about DOTS and follow them:
Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: @dotslondon
3 Buy Michelle and Poppy’s book.
4 We've donated on behalf of our team and customers but if you'd like to too you can here.