Selling a street paper can be a lonely job. Some vendors find that having a four (and in one case, three) legged friend can be a vital source of companionship and mutual support. Big Issue North vendors in the U.K. introduce their canine friends and explain what an important part their pets play in their lives.
By Christian Lisseman
Courtesy of INSP News Service www.INSP.ngo / Big Issue North
Edited by Denver VOICE
Chris and George
“George was my partner’s daughter’s dog to begin with but she couldn’t manage. We were going to get him a new home but then, on one of the first walks we took him on, he went and jumped, or slipped, off this rock and shattered his leg. We were a mile away from the car. We took my partner’s coat off and wrapped him in it, carried him back to the car. He never made a sound.
We got him in the back seat and took him to the vet. He had his leg off the next night. I picked him up the day after, and two days after that he was back on his feet. It’s his eternal optimism and zest for life that keeps him going, I reckon. Anyway, after he had his leg off we thought we’d never find him a home so I ended up keeping him.
He’s come to mean everything to me. When I was homeless, he was the reason I kept going. When I could have been lying in the tent until, well, whenever, I had to get up, had to feed him and get him water.
I became homeless after a relationship breakdown and I just couldn’t manage. Things got on top of me. I was a functional alcoholic, I suppose. But actually I stopped drinking the day I became homeless because I knew I had to look after George. I guess you could say he saved me from the drink. He’s a saint.
When I became homeless I just decided I had to get away from things so I started walking…I thought, if I was going to sleep outside, I may as well do it somewhere warm. So I started walking with George, this three-legged dog. Luckily, after a few days, this bloke stopped in a van—I think he’d passed us a few times on the road. He gave us a lift to Bristol and then I ended up selling The Big Issue there for the first time.
I have slept rough sometimes because I couldn’t find a place to stay with George. There was a lot of soul searching that went on when I first became homeless. I mean, thinking about his quality of life and was I being fair? He had a better chance of being in a house than I did. I mean, look at him. You couldn’t say no to a face like that.
There were some times when I thought maybe I wasn’t being fair, and I considered giving him up. But I couldn’t. I worried about how he would be treated and, well, there’s a lot of things that go through your mind.
Now I take him everywhere. The longest he ever gets left is ten minutes here and there. He gets a lot of attention. People make a lot of assumptions about the level of care you give, that sort of thing. But after a while, they get to know me and George both and realize that we have a special relationship.”
Hughie and Dave
“Dave was four months old when I got him and he was hard work, really hard work. But over the next couple of years I trained him. Now he’s an amazing dog—one of weirdest dogs you can ever imagine. He won’t walk through puddles, but he’ll jump in a bath and just lie down on his back to let you wash him. And he’s a misery arse. He’s a bit like a kid—if he doesn’t eat his biscuits, I have to go over to him and say, ‘Now come on, Dave!’”
Chris, Andy, and Taz
“Taz is nine years old and he’s a Staffie. He belongs to me and my mate Andy, and he comes out with us every day. He’s our pride and joy. People come and feed him meat, chicken, and sausages. Everybody knows him in Manchester city centre. He’s cheeky. He knows where to go, like where the sausage van is. He’s definitely spoilt. He’s better looked after than we are. We’ve had him since he was a pup and he’s company. He’s there when nobody else is there.”
Kevin and Jack
“Jack is a little Jack Russell and he’s perfect. I’ve had him for nine years, ever since he was a little hamster. Someone gave him to me. He was being abused and someone said to my girlfriend, ‘Do you want a dog?’ Now he means the world to me. He’s faithful, he doesn’t give me cheek, he’s just a nice dog. I go everywhere with Jack. We go fishing together with my daughter every Sunday and he comes out [to vend] with me. People are always making a fuss of him.”
Macca and Ice
“My daughter was given a dog and four days later it gave birth to seven pups. I bought one off her and called him Whisky because he was a brindle color. He followed me all over. Four weeks later my partner asked if she could have the last pup because it was given back to her from someone who’d changed their mind. When my daughter brought this tiny white ball of fluff, we had to call her Ice, because of Whisky and Ice. Unfortunately, Whisky and Ice contracted parvo, a disease that kills dogs, and sadly Whisky passed away, so I’m teetotal now that I’ve just got Ice! I keep Ice with me all the time and would be absolutely devastated if anything happened to her.”
Shaun and Ronnie
“Ronnie is a Japanese Akita. I wasn’t after a dog like him in the beginning, I was after a Golden Lab like the one my mom had when we were kids, but then I saw him and I thought ‘Oh, knacker it. I’m going to have him instead.’ He keeps my head in the right place all the time and he gives me something to focus on. I try and make it as hard as possible for myself, so that I get more motivation to get out of bed, because the harder you make it, the better it is. All I want to do is try my best for my dog and for myself as well.”
Mark and Kia
“I never really planned to have a dog. I got Kia from an ex-girlfriend. She kept bringing her round and asking me to look after her, a weekend here and a weekend there. But in the end she ended up stopping with me. Now she sleeps on the end of my bed, even though she’s got her own. She comes and puts her head on the bed and just looks out of the corner of her eye at me until I say ‘Kia, get up’ and then she’ll jump up. She’s better fed than I am. If there’s only one meal in the house, she gets it and I do without. And that’s how it should be.” ■