Many homeless people or those at risk of homelessness are struggling this winter as temperatures drop below zero in parts of Sydney. For those with pets, it’s even harder as they want to keep their companion animal safe and warm, too. On any given night in Australia, 1 in 200 people are homeless¹.

Wanting to make a difference, Year 5 students from Sydney’s Knox Grammar Prep School organised a blanket drive as part of the school’s annual ‘Compassion in Action’ project for Pets in the Park. Pets in the Park is a national charity of volunteer veterinarians and veterinary nurses that provide free vet care at monthly pet health clinics and quarterly desexing clinics for much-loved animal companions of people struggling with homelessness.


Four classmates Chester Swaffer, Max Byrnes, Hunter Goulston and Harrison Richmond delivered donated blankets – along with their homemade dog treats – to PITP’s Darlinghurst clinic last month.

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“Blankets are so important for people and pets living on the street at this time of year,” said PITP Director Dr Mark Kelman. “Many people have the comfort of their homes, heaters and the security of a roof over their heads when the weather gets cold and wet. But for those on the street, it’s the toughest time of the year; they risk sickness and misery. Fresh, clean blankets and clothes can make all the difference.”


Dr Kelman said out of all the charities and organisations, the boys chose to help Pets In The Park because they wanted to help homeless people and their pets.


“It’s so good to see young philanthropists wanting to help people less fortunate themselves, especially in this way. This also reinforces just how important pets are to everyone, including those who are homeless and disadvantaged,” he said.


“Being able to care for a pet helps people to connect with a living being, and our pets are often our best friends. I think young people who also share that incredible bond with their pets can be great ambassadors for what Pets In The Park is all about.”


Pets are a refuge for the homeless

Homeless people or those at risk of homelessness lead a difficult and isolated life. Their pets provide them companionship, unconditional love, emotional support and security that they’re unable to find elsewhere.


“The benefits of this bond between owner and pet are immense – including increased social, emotional and physical health,” said Dr Kelman. “However, although pet ownership greatly enriches the quality of life of those who are experiencing homelessness, it can at times come at a significant financial cost and result in the forfeiting of personal welfare. This is where Pets in the Park comes in.”


Today, PITP runs free monthly veterinary clinics in NSW (including a mobile ‘outreach program’ clinic in Sydney), Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. The monthly clinics operate on the first or last Sunday of every month (depending on the clinic) and are run by a strict client referral system.


And without the generosity and compassion of people like the students of Knox Prep School, the charity would not be able to help those in need.



Max Byrnes, Year 5 student

“I have learnt that the people that are homeless also have pets and care for them very much. I have realised that sometimes their pets are their best friends and they want to do everything they can to look after them, which sometimes means doing less for themselves. If we didn’t do this project, then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to help homeless people and their pets. I think this is a really good opportunity to show compassion towards them and to raise awareness for the work that the vets and vet nurses at Pets in the Park do.” 


Kirrily Swaffer, parent
Chester’s mum said she feels very proud of the boys choosing Pets in the Park as their charity, as pets are a very important part of people’s lives and happiness.


“I have always owned pets, especially dogs, and find they bring so much joy to our family,” said Mrs Swaffer. “Chester says seeing how much the homeless treasure their pets has made him more grateful for the happiness that our dog brings us. He was very excited to find so many people had left bags of rugs and towels to donate to PITP on their doorstep. It was like Christmas for the pets!


How can you help?

PITP relies on community donations and the financial support of sponsors and community grants. All donations are 100% tax deductible. The charity is also supported by veterinary practices that donate surgery space and surgical procedures, as well as the many wonderful volunteers who generously donate their time to health and surgery clinics.


To discover more about PITP, visit or follow Facebook.

By Caroline Zambrano.