A Fife vet has forged a pioneering link with the NHS to provide free medical check-ups for homeless people – and their dogs.
The scheme is the brainchild of Adam Tjolle, partner at Inglis Veterinary Hospital, Dunfermline, who was concerned that many homeless dogs appeared to look after their pets better than they look after themselves.
So for the past few months Mr Tjolle has been holding a free monthly veterinary surgery at a drop-in lunch service held in Gillespie Memorial Church Hall, Dunfermline, by Frontline Fife, a registered charity working with homeless people in the Kingdom.
He's seen around a dozen “homeless” dogs since the scheme was launched in the spring, and spent a few sessions building up confidence with their owners before the NHS stepped in to offer free medical checks.
Nurses from the NHS's Keep Well Project have been performing simple health checks on the drop-in centre's users, and offer medical advice, while Mr Tjolle has been giving their dogs a once-over.
“We launched this scheme without knowing the true extent of the problem,” said Mr Tjolle, “and in truth we still don't know. The people whose dogs I have seen have been really appreciative but I have no means of knowing how many homeless people with dogs there are out there.”
He said that one problem was that many housing providers did not welcome dogs, and homeless pet owners were therefore wary of anything that smacked of officialdom.
Mr Tjolle started the scheme conscious of the fact that homeless people's dogs were often healthier than other people's. They get regular exercise, and their owners often give them more attention than they would get in conventional situations.
“Dogs are wonderful for homeless people,” said Mr Tjolle. “They give them real companionship, a commitment to care, and feeling of security. And there is plenty of evidence that having a dog is great for homeless people's mental wellbeing. It's a very positive thing for people who often do not have much positivity in their lives. Now, we want to convince these people that they would be able to look after their animals better if they themselves were fit and well.”