For homeless people, a dog can be their only companion and an essential respite from isolation, loneliness and cruelty.
But the expense of food and vet bills puts an extra burden on people who are already in a vulnerable situation.
Add to that the reluctance of some landlords to allow dogs to move into new accommodation with their owners and it means the numbers of dogs forced out on to our streets with their owners is growing all the time.
One business that knows more than most about looking after dogs is Bwlchgwyn-based Woof Walkies.
Offering dog walking and dog care on their purpose built 10 acre ‘Doggy Day Den’, the company’s team are now setting their sights on Wrexham – where they are determined to bring a bit of festive cheer to animals who offer vital companionship to their homeless owners.
“This Christmas, we want to provide every single one of the known homeless dogs and any unknown homeless dogs that we are made aware of in Wrexham with a Christmas parcel full to the brim of food, treats and other essentials such as collars, leads, wormers, flea treatments and if possible a voucher for a consultation with a vet or vet nurse and a groomer if necessary,” says Woof Walkies’ Nicola Griffiths.
“We knew there were 15 homeless people in Wrexham who had dogs with them. We contacted all our clients to ask if they could donate a shoebox full of bits and pieces.
“The response has been phenomenal and our clients have persuaded friends and relatives to donate.
“We were hoping for a few old blankets and leads, but people were clearly going out and buying new items to give to us and overall people have just been amazing.”
Earlier this year it was revealed Wrexham has the highest rate of rough sleeping in Wales with numbers up nearly 60 per cent in a year according to figures.
A snapshot sample revealed the town had the most, with 27 people spotted bedding down outside at night on November 3.
The issue even made national headlines when a shanty camp sprung up on the site of the former Groves School in June.
“The issue of homelessness is definitely becoming more obvious,” says Nicola.
“It’s always been there but it’s the sign of the times when people you don’t expect to be in that situation find themselves without a roof over their heads.
“It’s particularly hard for people who are devoted to their dog. I remember years ago when I first left home and I had my dog trying to find anywhere to rent when you had a dog with you was not always the easiest thing in the world to do.
“I can well imagine some of these guys have ended up in this situation as they didn’t want to be parted from their dog.”
The most common problems facing homeless dogs are digestive due to the fact they are not on regular or healthy food, but there are other hazards too.
“When dogs are on the streets there can be problems with them becoming violent and threatening,” says Nicola.
“Then there are other problems people tend not to think of.
“Someone can drop a bottle of beer on a Friday night and the next thing the dog has got glass stuck in its paws. The owner has not got the money to take them to the vets and it gets infected.”
Nicola and colleagues including Vicci Stanley-Roberts, who started the company seven years ago, are preparing to empty their houses of the many items donated before giving them to the homeless dog owners.
“Vicci’s house is overflowing and she is now storing things in her car.” laughs Nicola.
“I’ve been picking up 10k sacks of food and boxes with 12 tins of dog food. I can’t believe how lovely people have been.
“It’s all doom and gloom a lot of the time, everything is miserable and sometimes it feels like the world’s ending so it’s nice to read about something happy.”
For Vicci the success of the appeal marks the end of a fine year for her company which now employs 10 people and recently won Pet Service Business of the Year at the Pet Industry Federation awards.
“We always like to do something every year and this Christmas it really felt like the issue of rough sleepers was one we couldn’t ignore,” says Vicci.
“We were expecting to collect a few goodies but the appeal basically went viral and we’ve ended up getting donations from all over the country.
“We honestly couldn’t have asked for a better result.”
Two lorries have been hired. With the help of Dee Davis at Wrexham Homeless, Vicci and her staff hope to meet the rough sleepers and their dogs in the next few days.
“I’ve made a business out of people spending a lot of money on their dogs so it’s not hard to spot the irony,” adds Vicci. “When it comes to the homeless I’m open minded and don’t want to judge as it’s obvious how easy it is for someone to find themselves on the streets. Doing this has inspired us. We’d be more than happy to do it every year.”