Paws for reflection

Many of our vendors rely on their pets for emotional support and wellbeing. But not everyone sees it that way

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Max is six and a half and Bailey is ten. Stephen* believes Max’s previous owner got rid of him because he only has one eye.

“I got them just before Covid started,” says Stephen, who sells Big Issue North in Leeds. “They were the best thing to have because for a start it meant that I could get out of the house to exercise them but they’re also good company. I love them both.

“I get up at half seven and take the dogs for a walk and then I get on the bus to come into town and sell the magazine, and that’s what makes me happy.”

Pet ownership levels peaked in 2021/22, probably as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and increased time spent indoors. Unsurprisingly, dogs and cats are the most popular pets, with an estimated 13 million dogs and 12 million cats with owners in the UK, according to Statista.

Pet ownership among homeless and vulnerably housed people is particularly common. It’s estimated that of the 300,000 people currently classified as homeless in the UK, 5-25 per cent have a pet. They help alleviate loneliness, isolation and depression, and reduce suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and criminal activity, according to a study by Nottingham University and Dog’s Trust. But it also showed that there are barriers to homeless people having pets.

Vulnerably housed pet owners often have reduced access to services including accommodation, advice and healthcare. In the case of our vendors, some have also reported negative reactions to them owning a pet, with people wondering how they are able to afford them.

Leeds vendor Stephen with his two lockdown dogs Max and Bailey

Shaun, a vendor based in Hull, has owned his dog Ronnie for more than ten years. He saved hard to afford him and says that his canine friend significantly improves his mental health. Unfortunately, passers-by are not always supportive.

“Having the dog with me seems to invite them to give me abuse even more,” he says. “I get people coming up to me and saying: ‘I bet that cost you loads of money to pay for.’”

This had such an emotional and financial impact on Shaun that he felt forced to leave his beloved companion at home while he went to his pitch. “When my dog isn’t out here, I haven’t been sworn at once.”

Lewis, who sells the magazine in Lytham, was never far from his dog Georgie before she passed away last October. He says his dog helped save his life and set him on the road to stability.

“If I didn’t have Jade [his partner] and the dog I wouldn’t be here now,” he says.

We work with a number of charities, including Street Paws and the PDSA, to support our vendors and their beloved pets to keep healthy and to keep working.

To find your local vendor, just go to bigissuenorth.com/find-a-vendor. You never know – they may have a four-legged companion in tow.

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