Care for the pets of the homeless

The Australian Veterinary Association is proud to be involved with the Pets in the Park (PITP) Program, a Sydney-based charity that provides basic veterinary care to the animals of Sydney’s homeless people or those at risk of homelessness.

Pets in the Park aims to support, build relationships with and improve the wellbeing of homeless people in society living with animal companions. Many people who are experiencing homelessness own pets that play a significant role in their lives. These much-loved pets offer unconditional love, companionship, emotional support and security; basic human needs that are often not met elsewhere.

According to Homelessness Australia, around half of one per cent of Australians are homeless. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it equates to 105,237 people, or around 1 in 200 Australians. SOURCE: http://www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au/index.php/about-homelessness/homeless-statistics   

Many of them sleep in overcrowded temporary accommodation, boarding houses, supported accommodation for the homeless or – if they’re lucky – with friends or acquaintances. Imagine losing your home. If you happen to have a companion animal with you, you’re eligibility to access accommodation is reduced. Around 6 per cent of homeless sleep in abandoned buildings or even tents. For those with companion animals, accommodation like this – often without power or running water – may be the only option. There may be pressure to surrender a pet in these circumstances – yet when the going gets tough, a companion animal may be the only constant, the only source of unconditional friendship. 

Although pet ownership greatly enriches the lives of those who are homeless, it also comes at a significant financial cost. Annual vaccinations, flea treatment, routine worming, de-sexing and microchipping an animal costs hundreds of dollars.

How the program works

At Pets in the Park, each pet owner requires a referral from a human services organisation or agency to visit the clinic. This ensures that those being seen really are Sydney’s homeless and severely disadvantaged.

The pets are provided with a basic veterinary health check and, if required, some donated pet food and accessories (such as dog collars, leads and cushions). They are also vaccinated, given flea and worm treatments, and dispensed basic medications and medicated shampoos if required.

Dr Mark Westman started Pets in the Park in 2009 by taking a fold-up table and an Esky to a small park in Western Sydney’s Parramatta to offer free veterinary health checks for the animals of the homeless that were there to attend an outreach program.

Following a successful start in Parramatta, he joined forces with veterinary nurse and TAFE teacher, Vicki Cawsey, photographer and veterinary nurse Linda Warlond, and veterinarian Leah Skelsey, to start the Pets in the Park Program in Sydney’s inner-city.

Pets in the Park has:

  • become a registered charity with tax-deductible giving status
  • garnered the support of a number of industry partners including Virbac Animal Heath, Hanrob Pet Hotels, Princess Highway Veterinary Hospital, Jurox and Advanced Anaesthesia Specialists
  • started a de-sexing clinic

And most importantly, Pets in the Park has supported hundreds of animals that otherwise wouldn’t have been provided with veterinary care.  It’s truly a remarkable program made possible by its volunteers, corporate supporters and public donations.