Big Issue vendors and their life-changing, life-saving dogs

For many Big Issue vendors — and countless homeless men and women across the country — their dog is their lifeline. There is a level of companionship and dependence in an often fractured life. As Christmas approaches, we thought it was high time we gathered some of our vendors together to celebrate the paws-itive power of The Big Issue pooches…

Ben Crutchley and Jessica (above)
Union Street, Birmingham

I’ve always had dogs. I love ’em. Earlier this year, though, I was not in a place to have a dog — until Jessica found her way into my life. It was the first time in my life I’d been homeless.

I saw this bloke giving his dog a boot in the street and I went and said something. About 20 minutes later I see the dog on its own, this time with no collar, so I went and asked again what this guy was playing at. He basically told me he didn’t want her, and that was that. We weren’t allowed dogs in the place I was sleeping at the time but I couldn’t leave her. So we took her in, managed to get into a shared property — and fell in love.

My girlfriend and I weren’t doing too good for a while. Life was hard. But Jessica has been like a natural anti-depressant. She’s perked us right up. She’s always there, always happy to see you, always so well behaved. I don’t know what life Jessica had before us but I can safely say she’s spoiled rotten now.

She comes to work with me and I wrap her up in all these blankets for a little bit while I sell my magazines, then we’ll go for a walk, then start again. People love her. She’s got more regulars than me! One customer even made her a coat.

It’s been a hard time for us all but Jessica has brought a lot of happiness back into our lives. I’ve not felt that way in quite a while. I think this is a happy ending.

Steve Trigg and Charlie
Broad Street, Oxford

I got Charlie when she was just five weeks old, a collie-cross puppy. She’s been with me now for almost seven years and she means the world to me. She’s my little darling. I love her to bits.

When I got her, I was in a hell of a state with alcohol problems. After I started looking after Charlie, I turned my life around. Having a dog gives you a great sense of purpose, having someone to care for and love. She saved my life.

Unfortunately Charlie has leukaemia, or something very like leukaemia — her immune system is killing her red blood cells. I was told by the vet three years ago, so we got Charlie started on immunosuppressant drugs. We spend every minute together. I never thought a dog could have such a powerful influence on my life.

June Fullerton and Jack
Poole Road, Westbourne

I started selling The Big Issue four years ago. I was doing badly at the time. My husband had died a year earlier and I’d struggled to cope with everything on my own. I was facing losing the house and was really worried about keeping a roof over my head. I got a companion last year — my dog Jack. I’d never had a dog but we’ve got along great. He’s a Staffie-cross and a good-natured soul.

I inherited him because a previous owner was mistreating him. Jack’s with me on my pitch all the time — even when it’s raining he’s as good as gold. One of my favourite things to do is walk Jack along the beach between Westbourne and Bournemouth in the evenings.

Posty and Scoob
High Street, Bath

My dog Scoob is a cross-breed. He’s a very good-natured dog — better behaved than me. I’ve had Scoob since 2007 and he sticks with me everywhere I go. I look after him, he looks after me. We love walking in the countryside around Avebury. It’s beautiful there. Me and Scoob set out on Sunday morning from Marlborough all the way to Avebury, have a cup of coffee, then back again. It takes four hours, there and back.

Nick Cuthbert and Bryony
Lemon Quay piazza, Truro

My dog Bryony is a real local celebrity here. We’re part of the community. We can’t go to a car-boot sale or walk through town without being recognised. Bryony is a seven-year-old chocolate Labrador-collie cross. I’ve had her since she was seven weeks old. She is the love of my life. We’re never apart, and it’s been that way for more than seven years.

I’ve had dogs all my life and, as an ex-alcoholic, Bryony keeps me going every day now. I know that I have to keep it together, that I need to work and keep a roof over our heads. I walk her every morning before work, and then she comes to my pitch every day.

My customers have helped us through a couple of hard times. When Bryony was a pup, she had elbow dysplasia, which required expensive X-rays and an operation. It wasn’t cheap but a customer helped me out, we’ll always be grateful. It makes my day when customers come over to chat to us.

Bryony gets a lot of attention, especially at Christmas. Last year, over the space of a couple of weeks, I ended up with a few bags full of toys and treats that people gave us. There’s only so much one dog needs and I was really happy to be able to give lots of it to a local dog shelter, K9 Crusaders. Hopefully we helped a few other dogs too in our way.

Jane Burns and Caz
Wimbledon

Caz is an American bulldog crossed with a mastiff. People see this big dog but she’s the softest, most beautiful thing you could ever meet. I got her in 2012. If I didn’t take Caz she was going to get destroyed. She was just a pup and had been with four people before me, had been attacked and was in a terrible state. I got talking to someone on my pitch one day and that was that, I took her home and now we’re never apart. She’s a dog transformed. I don’t think I’d be here if it wasn’t for Caz. I would just have given up. She’s my soul mate.

Sean Hodgkinson with Sweep and Menace
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

Everyone in the village loves my dogs. Menace is a mastiff cross-Staff and I gave him that name because he was always tearing around, full of beans. He was a handful but in a good way — a very good-natured dog. Sweep is Menace’s daughter. Everyone thought she was lovely as a pup but she’s getting quite big now. I called her Sweep because a pal of mine noticed she looked like the kids’ TV puppet. There’s nothing I like better than going on a long walk with my dogs. There’s no shortage of good walks in the Cotswolds.

Richie and Stix
Outside M&S, Lincoln

I was homeless for 20 years and my dog Stix was with me for 10 of them. I’ve had him for 12 years so he’s an old boy now. In 2014 our friends were so sick of seeing us homeless that they wrote letters and made calls on our behalf. It felt like nearly half of Lincoln did something! Now Stix and I have a one-bedroom flat just off High Street. We’re together all day, every day.

Anthony Williams and Beans
Stall Street, Bath

My dog Beans is always with me — she has an even bigger fan club than me. She’s very good natured. I got her on Christmas Day. She was the runt of the litter and nobody wanted her, so I took her and we’ve been inseparable since.

Paul Younger and Treacle
Covent Garden, London

I have Treacle, my faithful companion. She’s a Staffordshire terrier. I saved her from drowning. One day I overhead a couple of guys saying they couldn’t get £100 for this puppy so they were going to stick her in Regent’s Canal. So I said: “Look, I’ll give you £30 for her.” She’s a very good-natured dog and she’s with me 24/7.

Gaz, Nottingham
Remembers his dog Sausage

Last month, after 13 years together, I lost my dog Sausage. He was my life. I really mean that. Old age got the better of him, he was struggling to get up and walk, and I had to make the toughest decision of my life and say goodbye. We were inseparable. Even when I got my bike, I made a little waterproof trailer to carry sausage around behind me. He loved it.

In the past I’ve been homeless and in jail but the last time I got released from prison I made a promise to my mum that I wouldn’t go back, that I was putting that life behind me. Sausage is the reason I am where I am today. He kept me responsible, kept me working, kept me out of trouble. I started selling The Big Issue because I had no money and I needed to look after my dog. Things got better from there. I’ll always miss him.

“VENDORS’ PETS ARE OFTEN THE LUCKIEST OF ALL”

There are so many myths about the relationship between homeless people and their animal companions, says Wendy Kruger, dog behaviour specialist with animal charity Wood Green

“Some people assume that if someone is struggling to cope with their own living circumstances they won’t be able to give the right care to a dog but they couldn’t be more wrong.

“We recognise that dogs looked after by Big Issue vendors are often the luckiest of all: they have 24-hour contact, an unbreakable bond with their owner and are always well looked after.

“In my experience, dogs in that situation are really easy going — nothing seems to bother them and that’s because they’re living in a changing environment. That nomadic lifestyle really suits a dog’s natural behaviour — their daily life is enriched because it is constantly moving. We are much more likely to see behavioural problems that develop as a result of the boredom or social isolation that comes from living in a home environment, with the stresses and strains that brings.

“Because people affected by homelessness give their dogs such great care, Wood Green does everything it can to support that relationship. If someone is really struggling we need to offer help because moving that dog and putting them into a less enriched environment wouldn’t necessarily be an improvement on their lifestyle.

“It’s incredible to witness the special bond between a vendor and their dog: having that 24-hour-a-day contact creates a unique connection.”

Wood Green’s Christmas appeal will raise money to expand its work, and to help launch its new Canine Companions course. woodgreen.org.uk

This article was originally published in The Big Issue (edition 1233) on November 28, 2016.