Dogs living on the streets with their homeless owners are at risk of getting heatstroke, burned paws and sunburn, charities warn, as temperatures reach the highest on record this year.
Britain is sweltering in the heat as the mercury rocketed to 35C on Thursday - the hottest day of the year so far, according to the Met Office.
Ample advice on how to stay safe in the scorching temperatures has been issued for the general public, but for rough sleepers and their companion animals, escaping to the luxury of an air conditioned office and staying indoors between 11am and 3pm is not an option.
While the public are increasingly aware of the plight of homeless people during the winter months, charities have warned that interest can wane during the warmer times of year, even though the risk to humans and animals remains high.
The heatwave has led one local authority to launch its biggest ever summer response for rough sleepers.
Westminster City Council this week initiated the same severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) measures it implemented when temperatures plummeted at the beginning of the year. It is the first time the council has implemented SWEP in the summer.
Charities have also been distributing water, cooling coats, cooling mats, suncream and cooling spray to the homeless and their dogs during the extreme weather. In the space of 12 hours on Wednesday, one charity gave out 300 bottles of water to rough sleepers.
Michelle Clark founded charity Dogs on the Streets (DOTS) in 2011, offering free veterinary treatment to rough sleepers’ companion animals.
“I have always said that summer is equally detrimental to the homeless community with or without dogs as the winter is. There’s a higher chance of dehydration, sunstroke and heat exhaustion,” Clark told HuffPost UK.
“Although rough sleepers shouldn’t be out there, in winter you’ve got a better chance of keeping warm than you have in the summer of keeping cool. You can only undress to a certain point.
“Also, with London being very built up, heat is just bouncing off the concrete walls. And then they’re subjected to other issues like the fumes, the toxins and a lot of them have chest issues like lung problems.”
The Met Office has warned that the hot weather is set to continue into August.
StreetVet, founded in 2016, also offers free veterinary care for homeless street dogs.
Anna Minoli is a senior vet who volunteers with the charity. She has seen many dogs on the street suffering from the effects of the heat, with animals getting sunburn, burnt paws and heatstroke.
“Heatstroke can be lethal very quickly to dogs,” Minoli tells HuffPost UK. “We have seen a lot of blistered paws. If the payment is too hot for you to keep your hand on then it’s definitely too hot for a dog to walk on.”
She added: “Dogs don’t sweat the way we do. They sweat very, very little through their pores – they mainly cool down by panting, so it’s much more dangerous for them to overheat because their mechanisms to counteract that are a bit rubbish.”
StreetVet and DOTS both say the rough sleepers they work with are doing everything they can to minimise the risk to their animals by moving out of the heat, often to areas where there is less footfall.
But Clark warned that more needs to be done to help rough sleepers during the extreme weather.
“There’s this crisis in front of us and people need to just give up the coffee, buy the water and get a wet towel,” she said.
Clark also encouraged cafes and shops with air conditioning to allow rough sleepers to sit in their premises.
“More people just need to open their doors,” she added.
Westminster’s SWEP outreach programme involves council workers distributing basics for the hot weather, such as sunscreen and bottled water. Daily clinics will also be run by homeless health nurses to check people for signs of dehydration and heatstroke.
Westminster Council, which has the highest number of rough sleepers of any local authority in England, has partnered with DOTS to ensure that pets living with their owners who are rough sleeping are safe in the heat.
Owners will be offered sleep mats, bowls, water and rehydration kits.
For those who do want to help rough sleepers and their animals in the extreme weather, charities recommend offering bottles of water and giving a wet towel to help cool dogs down.
Buying a gift card from a coffee shop which has air conditioning and allows dogs in will also help, as this will offer the recipient some respite from the soaring temperatures outside.