Michelle Southern, the founder of Street Paws charity in the North East, has been honoured with an OBE in King Charles’ New Year’s Honours for her outstanding services to homeless people and their beloved pets.
This prestigious recognition highlights her relentless dedication to supporting those experiencing homelessness and preserving the crucial bond between individuals and their animal companions.
Addressing the remarkable honour, Michelle expressed her overwhelming gratitude, acknowledging the significant impact the award could have in raising awareness about the charity’s crucial work. She extended heartfelt appreciation to the hardworking volunteers, supporters, and individuals contributing to Street Paws’ invaluable initiatives.
Empowering Pets and Owners: The Birth of Street Paws
Established in Newcastle in 2016, Street Paws aims to empower homeless individuals to keep their pets by providing free veterinary care. Michelle’s inspiration for this noble cause stemmed from her volunteering at a central Newcastle soup kitchen, where she observed homeless individuals accompanied by their loyal pets. Recognising the absence of services catering to the animals’ needs, she initiated efforts to bridge this gap.
Driven by her passion and background as a former veterinary practice manager, Michelle collaborated with a vet to offer essential check-ups at the soup kitchen. Establishing trust with pet owners, who feared separation from their cherished companions, became a cornerstone of Street Paws’ early days. The charity’s first encounter was with Clyde, a ferret, whose simple need for a nail clip endeared him to the team, laying the foundation for their empathetic approach.
Navigating Challenges and Making an Impact
Street Paws, now a registered charity, operates across multiple regions in the UK, providing vital support to homeless pet owners. The organisation identified a pressing issue affecting homeless individuals and their pets: limited access to accommodations due to restrictions on allowing animals indoors. In response, they launched the Dog Champions scheme to encourage hostels to accommodate pets, offering staff training, canine first aid, and veterinary care, thereby ensuring a safer space for both residents and their animals.
Michelle emphasises the well-documented positive impact of the human-animal bond on mental and physical well-being, challenging the prevalent norm where homeless individuals are asked to relinquish their pets for shelter access. Street Paws envisions a future where homelessness does not equate to pet separation and actively works towards a pet-friendly environment in shelters.
Amid the challenges posed by the pandemic, Street Paws persevered, offering unwavering support to the homeless and implementing innovative schemes like the Dog Champions programme. With influential patrons, including renowned TV vets and celebrity supporters like Vicky Pattison, the charity continues to champion the cause of homeless individuals and their faithful companions.
Michelle underscores the transformative impact of the Dog Champions Scheme, heralding a significant shift in ensuring homeless individuals with pets find refuge without separation. As Street Paws approaches its eighth anniversary, the charity remains dedicated to its mission, fostering a brighter future for homeless individuals and their cherished animal companions.