Ruff Sleepers: A dog washing service helping those in need
They say that dogs are a man’s best friend, but what if your best friend is what stood in the way of you and a home or life on the street? This heartbreaking decision is one that many homeless people in Australia have to face on a daily basis.
The numbers of people sleeping rough is rising in our capital cities. Those with pets are faced with the further challenge of looking after their companion without proper access to veterinary care and grooming. On top of this, there is a lack of social housing available willing to accommodate those with animals.
“Many homeless people are on the street because emergency accommodation doesn’t accept pets,” said Head of Department of Management, UTS Business School and Ruff Sleepers founder Dr Bronwen Dalton.
“In many cases their pet is their only family and source of love and in some cases the only relationship they have with another living being.
The pets help them to go through the day-to-day difficulties of sleeping rough and in many cases prevents the owners from turning to drugs and alcohol because they have to keep alert to protect their furry family,” she said.
Inspired to take action on this issue, Bronwen, alongside UTS Business Not-For-Profit and Social Enterprise students Tully Rosen (now deputy CEO of Homelessness NSW) and Linda Castellazzi, founded Ruff Sleepers.
Ruff Sleepers is a dog washing service for the homeless and those at risk of experiencing homelessness.
Each month they work in partnership with a group of volunteer vets, ‘Pets in the Park’ – who offer a free vet service – to wash and groom dogs, serve free meals and provide a range of donated items including dog accessories and pet food, to those doing it tough.
“We have about 30 volunteers. Some of them come along and wash the dogs or drink a coffee with the pet’s owner. Others volunteer from home and bake fresh food for the homeless people and for their dogs,” Bronwen said.
The mission of Ruff Sleepers is to create a friendly and caring environment where people can come together as dog lovers and have positive interactions between a group who want to do something and a group that needs help.
Since its inception in 2017, Ruff Sleepers has raised thousands of dollars for its cause, washed and groomed dozens of dogs and distributed thousands of dollars’ worth of goods including pet food, collars and leads, coats for people and dogs, sleeping bags and more.
Through extensive media and social media coverage, they’ve also raised public awareness of the value of pet ownership for the mental and physical health of those doing it tough, and how homeless pet owners cannot access crisis accommodation.
They have also met with the City of Sydney and are currently working with the NSW Tenants Union to campaign for homeless pet owner’s rights to access crisis accommodation.
Perhaps most importantly is the fun and friendly network they have created where everyone is welcome and all dog lovers are equal.
Moving forward Bronwen says they are hoping to buy a mobile dog washing station to gain more visibility and hopefully attract funding for their emergency treatments and surgeries fund. With the $25,000 donation they received this year and a commitment of $50,000 for 2020 from an anonymous individual, hopefully this goal will become a reality.
Bronwen and her team received a Commendation in the ‘Elizabeth Hastings Memorial Award for Community Contribution’ at the 2018 UTS Human Rights Awards for their work on Ruff Sleepers, recognising the role that universities can play in having a positive impact on their neighbours and local community.