Mick lost his job, then his house, and ended up living on London’s streets with his dog Benson in 2014. “Without him, I think I would have gone under,” said the 47-year-old of his Staffordshire Bull Terrier, ” and he would not be able to survive without me, simply because of our bond. We’re together 24/7.
“He understands me, I understand him. He’s the only thing I put my trust into and he never let me down.” Yet, because of his beloved 12-year-old pet, the Londoner says he has also been left struggling to get a home.
Their bond has only grown stronger over the years since Mick, who asked to only be called his first name, adopted Benson from his previous owner, who could not take care of him anymore, at 13-months-old. “How could I say no to him?” said the Londoner lovingly.
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“When he was three, I lost my job, then could not afford my rent so lost my property, and ended up on the streets. I wrestled with my conscience over whether it was right to keep him – but he’s been through so much upheaval, I could not. ”
The duo appeared on the hit ITV show Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs and are known in their local area, around Liverpool Street and Hackney, with people like the shop owners, taxi drivers and station owners all keeping an eye on Benson . “I’m always conscious of him – that people might try and take him,” said the 37-year-old, “Rest and sleep is the hardest thing on the streets – you’re sleeping with one eye open.”
He said: “Everything has to be centered around him and I have to worry about what’s going to happen to him. And then you can not take him to certain services. ” This includes many accommodation options for those who are experiencing homelessness. In fact, only around 10 per cent of hostels in the UK are pet friendly, according to StreetVet a charity working to increase this statistic and delivering free veterinary care to the pets of people experiencing homelessness around the country.
According to StreetVet, to apply for housing benefits, some form of address is required. A hostel address is usually used for this, but as Mick said he struggles to get into hostels with Benson, he is unable to even get started with the benefits process. He also noted that many housing associations will not accept dogs.
“You get accused of making yourself intentionally homeless so they do not take any responsibility,” said the Londoner, “I’ve been trying to get housed for seven years. You get the choice between your room and your pet – that’s not a choice. They’re not acknowledging Benson’s support as important in my life, despite my health conditions. ”
Mick suffers with anxiety and depression, which he said contributed to losing his job. He believes he would have turned to drink and drugs if it had not been for Benson. “He’s my escape and gives me something to focus on. He’s a mainstay in my life and keeps me grounded. If he’s not around me, I feel lost – I feel secure when I’m with him. He’s not so much for protection as he is for comfort. You look at him and think, ‘It ain’t all bad – I’ve got him. “As long as I’ve got him, I’m okay.”
He added: “When you’re on the street, so many things can happen. If I start getting heated with someone, he can bring me back down. He reminds me that there are more important things. If anything would happen to me, then what would happen to him? If anything happened to him, then that would kill me, and if anything happened to me then that would kill him – that’s it. ”
Mick claims that Benson’s role in ‘saving his life’ has not been taken into consideration in his attempts to find a home for both of them. Even during the pandemic, he claims he was not offered a room with his dog. He added: “I’d sooner take the risk on the street with my boy than be separated from him – simple.” He also says knows some people have only just had their pets returned to them. He said: “The authorities didn ‘ t grasp the bond between man and dog. ”
Founder of StreetVet Jade Statt explained that some places in the UK were better than others at housing owners with their pets – but the resounding feedback from her clients was that a poor effort was made in London. “They did not realize that people who have pets and are homeless are much less likely to engage in antisocial behavior because that would end up in them being separated from their dog. You have a reason, a role, a responsibility, ”said Jade, who founded the charity in London after meeting someone who was living on the street and was worried about how their dog was going to get help. She added: “Because that dog was everything to them”.
Mick and Benson are some of the charity’s oldest clients, having been receiving essential supplies and services for four or five years. “People like Mick have a dog that is everything to them and, because of the way life goes, end up in a situation where they’re experiencing homelessness,” said Jade, “The last thing he wants to do is give up his dog. – and he should not have to. ”
The “big, calm, passive, gentle – lazy! – Staffie ”has contended with a number of health issues over the years, which have required treatment, usually provided by StreetVet. Once, Mick had to push Benson in a stroller for eight weeks after he had surgery and was unable to walk. The dog has also had to have a couple of tumors removed and suffers from arthritis, for which he will be on medication for the rest of his life. The cold can exacerbate arthritis, so the 12-year-old often needs a hot water bottle and blankets to warm up while on the streets.
Mick said he did feel “like giving up sometimes”, adding: “Even though I suffer from anxiety and depression, people would not notice. I’m always smiling, but inwardly no one knows what’s going on. You become accustomed to it. ” And he is continuing to fight for a home for him and Benson. “My dream is to have somewhere to call home – a self-contained property where me and Benson can live out our days,” he added.
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