Consider Our Companions: The fight for positive pet policies in housing

‘What is man without beasts? If all beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beast also happens to man’
Chief Seattle of the Duwamish Tribe 1855

 

Pets are Important…

Since the dawn of time animals have been a great source of comfort for human beings. There is no denying the bond between a pet and their owner. Pets give us purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. Meeting an animals needs requires routine and responsibility, which are vital for many vulnerable people, especially those with mental health issues .Research shows that animals that are properly cared for and kept responsibly can be a positive attribute to any community (RSPCA.)

John’s story…

One man who loved his pets was John Chadwick. John was born and raised in Manchester. His early life was troubled but he continued to carry on with hope and determination that things could better. Around ten years ago he found himself homeless on the streets of London. He lived like this for a good couple of years until he was eventually found wandering around the streets by St Mungo’s Homeless Charity. John was then transferred to the Kenward Trust, in Yalding, Kent. By this point John had become addicted to alcohol to help him cope with his life on the streets. Despite his struggles, he embarked on a 6 month rehabilitation programme, and later secured a tenancy with a private landlord.

In 2008 John met Dee Bonett. They hit it off straight away building the foundation of a firm friendship. Dee was so inspired by John’s story that she eventually secured employment with the Kenward Trust, with the aim to help others just like John, who she affectionately refers to as her hun.

In 2009, John went back home to Manchester for a few days. Returning to Maidstone was too much for John, and he relapsed. He was then detoxed, and returned back to the community around two weeks later. Dee knew that John’s life needed a purpose so to help him Dee decided to get him a kitten named Gizmo.

They are more than just animals…

John adored Gizmo. He had always loved animals and was always destined to have pets of his own. He loved them so much,  that he later got Theo and Tinkerbell, a pair of Jack Russell Cross puppies. John didn’t see them purely as animals, instead they were his babies, his family, and now his family was finally complete.

During this time, he had also become part of another family. By now, John and Dee had become so close, that he would accompany her family for Christmas Dinner. Their nine year friendship was a special one, and Dee understood everything he had been through without judgement. John felt safe with his new found family of friends, and his fur babies. Despite steps forward Dee was always aware that John had struggled with his mental health and remained by his side through his silent battle.

Christmas 2016 John was served with a section 21 when his private landlord wanted his property back. Dee had her reservations at this point. Having worked within housing she knew if he was rehoused that there was very little chance he could take his fur babies with him. In March 2017 John was evicted from the place he called home. After a meeting with the council, he was placed in a B&B. That was the last time he saw his fur babies. His mental health and wellbeing quickly deteriorated. John was quickly offered a flat, but it was on the 7th floor and animals were not allowed. This devastated John, and he knew he wouldn’t be reunited with the family he took so long to find.

The so called duty of care was to house John, but nothing else was taken into consideration. Not his past, his addiction or the therapeutic benefits that his fur babies brought him. John needed those animals with him. He needed them to give him a reason to wake up in the morning, a reason to go on. They gave him hope when he was hopeless, and helped him find happiness in the most unlikely of places. Dee tried to advise the council how important his animals were to him. She was sure that he wouldn’t be able to survive without them, and the animals were distraught without him also.

Ten days after this on March 16th 2017, fearing a future without his babies, John sadly took his own life at the B&B he was staying in. He took a fatal overdose of alcohol and prescription drugs, before sending a goodbye text to Dee and his best friend Shane, who was looking after his dogs. It was also the anniversary of his mother’s death, someone whom he loved dearly. John died of a broken heart.

Devastated by her best friend’s tragic death, Dee put everything she had into campaigning to raise awareness for the therapeutic benefits of animals for vulnerable people. Her aim is not to point the finger or to proportion blame but to make sure that no other vulnerable people meet a cruel but unavoidable fate like her best friend, John. Animals are family, and Dee is fighting tooth and nail to make sure things change regarding the rules in housing. Her strength and tenacity during this tragic time is inspirational, and she continues to fight every day for John:

I’m currently running a campaign in my huns memory of the issues raised around homelessness and the therapeutic benefits of animals on those more vulnerable members of society, which also includes the elderly. I feel suicide/ mental health is a very misunderstood subject, one which many avoid to discuss, therefore leaving those who suffer, to do so in silence. I can’t just walk away from this, my hun is dead and that’s that??!! I realise there is no miracle around the corner for others, but if my huns story can save one life, or become part of a much needed change for the future, then this heartache we feel will also give us some purpose…for we are broken here in Kent and also his friends in Manchester….there is no North/South divide…..we are one love….John Chadwick

Theo and Tinkerbell have luckily been safely re-homed together, and Gizmo is now with Dee’s eldest daughter. John would be pleased his babies are being taken care of, but he should have been here today to be with them and it’s an injustice that he is not. As a society we need to see housing as more than just bricks and mortar, a house is a home. John’s home was where his fur babies were, and knowing he would be separated from them was just too much to bear.

What can Housing Providers do?

More local authorities and social landlords need to adopt positive pet policies, and understand the life changing benefits owning a pet can bring. Dogs have proven to be beneficial for people with physical disabilities, and those benefits can be extended to those who suffer with mental illnesses, but only if things change. A lot of social landlords are working hard to adopt positive pet policies but there is still a long way to go with many still against a positive pet approach.

Why are pets not currently allowed in rented or temporary accommodation?

Unfortunately, there are still some irresponsible pet owners that ruin it for the majority of people who responsibly look after their pets. That’s why positive pet policies are so important so that the problems that arise with irresponsible pet ownership are outlined. Giving every tenant the opportunity to own a pet within their home, and having the responsibilities clearly set out to avoid misunderstanding.

The chances are if someone isn’t looking after their pet properly, they either are having support issues that need to be identified, or they don’t care very much for their animal. Someone like John, clearly loved his pets dearly and those problems that people often anticipate, would not have been presented. All he needed was the chance. There’s no denying that owning pets is not always suitable for every property, but if we have these discussions then a common ground can be found, and prevent any more owners being separated from their pets, often their only lifeline.

What can you do?

If you’ve been inspired by John’s story, and would like to help Dee raise awareness in his memory, then please share her petition here so that no one ever has to choose between their pet, or their home.

 

IN LOVING MEMORY OF JOHN CHADWICK

Housing Gone Wrong – The Life (and Death) of John Chadwick

The inspiring and moving homeless research, written by Miss Amy Felicity Varle, is now with 10 Downing Street. There is a dedication P91, to John and those who have lost lives.

 

 

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