Several years ago, when campaigning for a ban on no pet clauses I was introduced to an inspirational lady called Dee Bonett, who through her own campaign was aligned with our values. This is a special and emotional day for Dee and all those who supported her journey. Today on the anniversary of the death of Dee's friend John, we would like to share their story and acknowledge her amazing achievements and her lasting legacy to John.
On October 5th 2021, The John Chadwick Pet Policy was introduced by Maidstone Borough Council, ensuring that those with pets who have become homeless are supported in Emergency Accommodation until suitable permanent accommodation can be found - for both the homeless person and their pet.
Dee lost her best friend John Chadwick on 16th March 2017, when he died by suicide 10 days after being made homeless, and separated from his beloved pets - Jack Russells, Theo and Tinkerbell, and Gizmo the cat.
Following John’s death, Dee contacted her local MP to find out why, given that we’re a nation of animal lovers, the needs of those that are homeless and have pets aren’t given more consideration.
More than four years later, thanks to a lot of persistence on Dee’s part and the support of various local Councillors, Maidstone has become the first council in England to adopt The John Chadwick Pet Policy.
John and Dee's story
Dee met John at Kenward Trust in 2008. John was born in Salford, sadly due to unforeseen events he had become Street Homeless in London for 2 years. John was found in a vulnerable state by St Mungo’s Homeless Charity who transferred him to Kent in the care of Kenward Trust . After he had completed a 6-month drug and alcohol rehabilitation programme he secured a tenancy with a Private Landlord in Maidstone, Kent.
Dee was always aware that John’s Mental Health presented as a “quiet” condition, no one would ever know just by speaking with him. She knew he was a gentle and kind man and one of the most grounded people she knew. John was loved and respected by all that knew him. His story so inspired Dee that she began working for Kenward Trust, helping those affected by addiction, homelessness, and crime in 2010 and is still employed by them today.
John lived with his beloved pets until he was served with a section 21 in 2016, as his private landlord wanted to sell the property. He was evicted on 6th March 2017, separated from his pets, and placed in a B & B, by Maidstone Borough Council. He was given one offer only of permanent housing, with a No Pet Policy. If John had declined the offer, he would become intentionally homeless. The unconditional bond John had with his pets, Theo, Tinkerbell, and Gizmo could not be described, they meant everything to him. He died by Suicide on 16th March 2017, 10 days after being separated from his pets; his family.
Dee's Campaign in Johns Memory
Dee had called the media prior to John’s death but to no avail - no one wanted to know. After he died, she then called them back and said he had died by suicide and suddenly it made news headlines. Kent Online News and Manchester Evening News became involved – the public were shocked by these events.
Dee started a petition in September 2017 which included support from Kent Online News and Manchester Evening News. This promotion led to a myriad of additional support from housing professionals, especially across Social Media platforms.
After receiving Dee’s letter, her local MP, Helen Grant, contacted the Minister for Local Government, whose office supplied the guidelines for local authorities. These showed that the Government’s commitment to reducing homelessness included endorsing accommodation that fulfilled an individual’s needs, however it simply stated: “local councils can consider pets when deciding if accommodation is suitable” - there was no obligation to ensure the homeless could keep their pets with them.
Helen then wrote to the Head of Housing and Community Services at Maidstone Council, who stated that John Chadwick’s case highlighted the much wider issue that couldn’t be solved solely via the council. Nevertheless, inspired by John’s tragic death and Dee’s amazing campaign, the Communities, Housing and Environment Committee (CHEC) at Maidstone Borough Council agreed to implement a New Pet Policy for Emergency Housing in July 2018, to ensure pets would be accepted in emergency accommodation.
However, the 3rd paragraph in the Pet Policy stated that if a permanent housing offer was made with a “no pet policy”, it would not be deemed an unreasonable offer.
To Dee, all this new policy did was help a vulnerable person and their pets halfway up the ladder, getting them into emergency accommodation. But if they were then given a permanent offer, they could have to choose between taking a home without their pets or giving up the offer that home. And if they gave up the offer, they would then be considered to be making themselves intentionally homeless and no further help would be given.
Changing the Policy in Permanent Housing
Dee reached out to a range of experts - including Amy Varle a Housing Entrepreneur, Daniel McDonald, a Homelessness Outreach Officer from Tampa Florida, and Carolyn Powell from the charity, A Slice of Happiness – and they all agreed the clause needed to be changed. She also sent Maidstone’s New Pet Policy for Emergency Accommodation to Claudia Beamish, a Scottish MP who was instrumental in launching Scotland’s own ‘Paws Clause’ campaign, asking if they could advise or assist with changing the clause in the 3rd paragraph.
Following their advice to contact a local Councillor that would support her campaign, Dee did some research and selected Councillor Malcolm McKay. He saw the logic in Dee’s request and, with his help, Dee’s request to attend the next CHEC meeting in November 2019 was accepted.
Dee read out a statement at the meeting, giving an outline of John’s experience and subsequent death, and quoted the clause from the New Pet Policy she was campaigning to amend:
“Whilst under this policy you have been permitted to home your pet(s) with you in your temporary accommodation. You may be offered accommodation to end the Council’s housing duty to you where the landlord is a housing association or private landlord. The housing provider is likely to have their own policy as to whether pets are permitted in their accommodation and the Council does not have the authority to overrule their decision. In normal circumstances, if you were to be offered accommodation where pets are not permitted, the offer of accommodation would not be considered as an unsuitable offer on the basis that your pet could not join you.”
After another round of meetings, and having secured further support from Councillor Margaret Rose, Dee suggested altering this clause via the route of a pilot scheme. And so, in August 2020, the council began to test what would happen if ‘no pets’ accommodation was turned down and housing officers were allowed to use discretionary powers regarding offers.
Following the success of this pilot scheme, Maidstone Borough Council agreed – by a unanimous vote - to amend the clause to read as follows:
“…if a tenant turned down accommodation which was either a no pet policy or not suitable for the pet, then housing officers were to use their discretionary powers to get the 2nd offer right.”
At the next CHE meeting, on 5th October 2021, two recommendations were requested from Maidstone Borough Council. The first was that The Pet Pilot Scheme for Settled Accommodation should become a permanent policy, allowing pets in emergency accommodation and ensuring a permanent home suitable for pets is found. The second was a request from Dee that it be officially named ‘The John Chadwick Pet Policy’, as a fitting tribute to the legacy of change in John’s memory. The panel voted unanimously in favour of both.
Dee Bonett channelled all her pain and grief into her campaign to ensure this tragedy does not happen again and. She has been overwhelmed and touched by the progressive changes made by Maidstone Borough Council in John’s name. Her hope is that this policy will be adopted by all the councils in England. We have tremendous respect for Dee, sadly she cannot turn the clock back for her friend so she has made the world a little better for others in his memory. We do hope that this policy will be rolled out all over the country sooner rather than later.
There are a number of key players who were instrumental in their support for Dee's campaign including; Amy Varle, Housing Entrepreneur, Elizabeth Ormerod, Society of Companion Animal Studies who represented John globally, Debbie Rook, Animal Law expert who has included Johns legacy as part of Animal Law students curriculum and Andrew Rosindell MP who included John’s case in his parliamentary bill ‘Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation Protection) Bill' as well and an Early Day Motion on Johns 4th Anniversary to honour his memory and Dee’s work.