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Maidstone woman calls for change to council policy so homeless people can live with their pets when re-homed

A woman is continuing her campaign to persuade Maidstone Borough Council to change its policy on re-housing the homeless to enable them to take their pets with them into new accommodation.

Dee Bonett was moved to act after the tragic death of her best friend John Chadwick in 2017 who took his own life after being told he would not be allowed to take his dogs Theo and Tinkerbell and his cat Gizmo into the permanent accommodation found for him by the council.

John Chadwick took his own life shortly after he was told he could not take his pets to his new accommodation
John Chadwick took his own life shortly after he was told he could not take his pets to his new accommodation

Ms Bonett achieved an initial victory following Mr Chadwick's death, when the council did alter its policy so that homeless people could take their pets into its emergency accommodation, but she wants the council to take the next step and alter its policy when the council makes an offer of a permanent home.

At present, if the client is offered a permanent home that does not accept pets and refuses it on those grounds, then he or she is deemed to have made themselves intentionally homeless and lose their right to further assistance.

Ms Bonett said that for the homeless, who had already lost everything, their pets were even more important to them than to most people.

She said that threatening them with sanctions unless they gave up their pets could push people at a particularly vulnerable moment in their life over the edge, as it had with Mr Chadwick.

Ms Bonett has already addressed three meetings of Maidstone council's Communities Housing and Environment Committee on the subject since last November and intends to speak again at the next meeting on August 25.

She has previously been told the council was working with housing providers to develop a more sympathetic pets policy.

Dee Bonett with John Chadwick in happier times
Dee Bonett with John Chadwick in happier times

But Cllr Malcolm McKay (Lab) said this was not enough.

He said: "When the council changed its policy on allowing pets in emergency accommodation it won plaudits from across the country for taking such a radical and progressive move.

"Maidstone now owns 80 properties across the borough itself, which it uses for emergency accommodation - people aren't shoved into bed and breakfast any more. Of course that's a good thing, but it meant Maidstone was able to make the first change easily.

"Persuading housing providers to change their pet policy is obviously more difficult, but we don't have to wait for them.

"We are still able to control our own policy, so that if the homeless cannot be found somewhere that takes pets at least no sanction is taken against them."

Dee Bonett addressing a pre-covid meeting of the committee
Dee Bonett addressing a pre-covid meeting of the committee

"To do otherwise is a total injustice.

"It is helping someone halfway up the housing ladder, only to then throw them off.

"Changing the policy is something we can do now. There is no need to dally-dally."

He was supported by Cllr Eddie Powell (Ind Maidstone) who said: "Dee has been along to our last three meetings, presenting a very strong and emotional case, asking the same question and not really getting an answer.

"I don't know why we haven't implemented this change already. It's a very important issues that resulted in an horrendous situation not to long ago."

Cllr Eddie Powell
Cllr Eddie Powell

Cllr Margaret Rose (Lab) said: "Companion animals mean so much to their owners. They are at times the only emotional support for many and especially needed through these difficult times.

"I realise that companion animals can bring difficulties if not properly looked after and controlled, but it is my hope that Maidstone council will exercise compassion when allocating accommodation when a companion animal is part of the situation."

John Littlemore, the head of housing at the borough, said previously that there would be implications for the council if it changed its policy and councillors should be in possession of all the facts before they made a decision.

The committee should wait for his report, which he hoped to present at the next meeting.

Ms Bonett added: "John was a wonderful man, loved by everyone who came into contact with him.

"I just don't want to see a tragedy like this happening again, that's why I'm continuing to campaign."

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