Ruff Sleepers caring for the pets of Sydney homeless

Some people may question why homeless people choose to keep their pets even when it means they do not get access to crisis accommodation. But for many people experiencing homelessness, pets are their greatest – possibly only – comfort and support during their difficult times. Pets make a loving companion for them, just like they do for anyone. Sadly, it is often nearly impossible for them to afford basic pet care due to their tough circumstances. Inspired to help homeless people address these issues, Ruff Sleepers was then founded in early 2018.

This not-for-profit charity provide free pet washing service and flea treatments for puppers of the rough sleepers, while offering food and positive conversation to the owners. Linda Castellazzi, one of the co-founders, recently shared with Lyka Pet Food about Ruff Sleepers and their hopes to raise awareness on the importance of keeping pets for the homeless, and the needs for more pet-friendly housing in Australia.

What drove you and team to start Ruff Sleepers?

At Ruff Sleepers, we love dogs and people. We believe that dogs are part of the family and that the relationship between homeless people and their dogs is even stronger because they spend 24/7 of their time and they support each other to face the daily difficulties of living rough.

Linda Castelazzi, third from the right, with Ruff Sleepers volunteers

What is the change you want to see through Ruff Sleepers?

We want to promote social inclusion. We want the community to understand that homeless people are just people that are having a hard time and need support. Their dogs sometimes are everything that is left in their lives. In Sydney, if you want to access crisis accommodation you need to give up your dog (there is only one shelter that accepts pets in all Sydney). This means that homeless people face the hard choice between a safe place to stay and their dogs, and many choose the dog. We hope to convince the community that pets are family members and we need to help people with pets to access crisis accommodation.

Can you tell us a story about the problems one of your clients faced, and how Ruff Sleepers were able to help them?

We have recently helped an old dog with cancer to get life-saving surgery. While grooming the dog and chatting with the owner, we realised the dog had a big lump on the belly and needed to see a vet. We organised the vet to come and the dog will undergo surgery next week to remove the cancer.

What do your clients say and think about Ruff Sleepers?

They are happy to see that someone is taking care of what they love the most. Many people do not want to have any kind of contact with other organisations. But they are happy when they see us because we help them to take care of their loved pet companions.

A dog being washed by Ruff Sleepers volunteers

Who are your main partners in running Ruff Sleepers?

We are 3 founders. Bronwen Dalton (now Head of Management at UTS) was my lecturer when I studied at UTS and Tully Rosen (now Deputy CEO of Homelessness NSW) another student. UTS is giving us a space to work, interns and volunteers. But we also collaborate with the vets of Hope Project (they take care of homeless people’s pets), Orange Sky Laundry and other local non-profit organisations. We believe in collaborations and sharing resources.

What are some of the main challenges you find?

Vet care is expensive, and it is difficult to act fast when there is an emergency! We hope to be able to do more in this field in the future. Also, it is difficult to fight the stigma around homeless people and their dogs. I hear all the time that homeless people are lazy and do not want to work. But the problem is much deeper. I believe that people tell themselves these lies because they do not want to accept a very painful reality: our society is broken, and we are closing our eyes when we see people desperate for help on the street.

Homelessness is strictly related to family abuse, violence, sexual abuse, drug addiction and poor mental health. Most people you see on the street have suffered the worst trauma. And still, instead of offering them a smile or a kind word, we pretend they aren’t there, and we say it’s their fault if they are in that situation. Do you really think someone would choose to live on the street?

Many people also believe that the homeless keep their dogs to beg. In my experience, this is completely wrong. Many homeless people feed their dog first. People sleeping rough also told me they try to remain clean from drugs or alcohol because they have to make sure to be alert in case something bad happens to their dog. The dog makes them feel responsible and, in many cases, saves them.

A dog with Ruff Sleepers volunteers

Where and when do you usually operate?

We work in Darlinghurst and Woolloomooloo.  We are working at a schedule.

Are there any upcoming projects that you are currently working on and would like to share?

We hope to be able to start soon an emergency vet service.

What support do you need for the project, and how can the community get involved?

We need donations to make this project real!

If you want to financially support their cause, you can buy their merchandise or donate here. For more information on volunteering opportunities in their upcoming projects, you can send them an email to or reach out to them through to their Facebook page.