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Pets in the Park Volunteers help the homeless care for their pets

For National Volunteer Week 2023, we spoke to Dr Mark Westman,
co-founder of Pets in the Park about how PITP volunteers support, build relationships with, and improve the wellbeing of homeless people in society living with companion animals.

What drove you to create Pets in the Park and how has the organisation evolved over time?

“The idea for Pets in the Park started in 2009”, says Westman. “A close friend of mine from high school, who was involved running a local soup kitchen in Parramatta (approximately 25km west of the Sydney CBD), asked what he could do to help clients that turned up with dogs. 

I offered to start coming down once a month to the soup kitchen with an esky, some vaccines and flea treatment, and perform free medical checks. Three years later, I joined forces with some friends of mine (Leah Skelsey, Vicki Cawsey and Linda Warlond) and Pets in the Park was officially launched in 2012 and registered as a charity.

We now have around 15 clinics running in most states of Australia (NSW, Vic, WA, Qld, Tas and ACT), and have helped thousands of dogs and cats since 2012.

Our network has grown exponentially and PITP can now rely on hundreds of volunteers nationally. At the clinic I help run in Parramatta, we typically have between 10-15 volunteers helping run any one clinic. 

These volunteers are often veterinarians and veterinary nurses who work Monday to Friday in the industry and have enough goodwill and energy to donate their time on a Sunday, but we also have many of other enthusiastic volunteers from all walks of life who learn the ropes quickly. 

All you need to be a PITP volunteer is a non-judgmental attitude, a care for the disadvantaged and less fortunate in our society, and a heart for service.

Our ‘pop up’ clinics run for approximately 2 hours and provide free prophylactic health care (vaccination, flea and worm treatment, microchipping) and basic medical checks for non-emergency conditions. 
They are done out in the open where possible, in conjunction with human health services such as soup kitchens. 

The intention behind this is a One Health approach to ensure both two-legged and four-legged members of our society are getting the love and assistance they need. 

For many people who experience homelessness, owning a pet plays a significant role in their lives. 

These much-loved animals offer unconditional love, companionship, emotional support, security, and a sense of purpose: basic human needs that are often not met elsewhere.
“Our clinics are conducted monthly in order to see our clients regularly and build strong relationships with our volunteers.”  explains Westman.
“We sometimes are also able to offer assistance with surgeries and procedures (e.g. dentals) in between clinics, although this service is completely reliant on assistance from our partner clinics. We have some amazing colleagues who have been so kind and generous to Parramatta PITP, in particular Great Western Animal Hospital and Acacia Gardens Veterinary Hospital.” 

Beyond qualified vets and vet nurses, does PITP need other types of volunteers and how can they apply? 

“Any skills that can help a charity operate more efficiently, grow and be able to help more people and their pets is welcome! This could be anything – event organising, marketing, financial skills, grant writing, journalists, committee members, Board members, etc. 

We have a wonderful team of volunteers and we are always looking for more wonderful people to join our PITP family. 

If you're interested in becoming a volunteer with Pets in the Park, simply register your interest (selecting your State) here:

With our ongoing housing crisis and the financial pressures so many people are finding themselves under, are you seeing a larger demand for your services?

“Yes. And sadly the future is looking bleak for any kind of relief from these pressures. We (PITP) of course would prefer for our services not to be needed, and to be reducing in size as time goes on, not the other way around. But wherever there is homelessness and pet ownership, we will do our best to make a positive contribution to our local communities.” 

Are you finding it it easier or harder to retain or recruit new volunteers vs when you first started?

“Harder. The veterinary profession is in a perilous position with difficulties retaining veterinarians and veterinary nurses. Many staff are understandably tired and burnt out performing their full-time jobs; to rely on them to give even more of themselves on the weekends is a big ask.” 

Can you share with us any new projects or initiatives you're currently working on?

“Yes. My next project is to establish the first student-led community clinic in Australia, run by final year veterinary students. Similar programs are successfully running overseas, and it is just a matter of time before something similar is established in Australia. 

These clinics help address the welfare issues associated with people unable to afford veterinary care, as well as promote education and learning opportunities for the next generation of veterinarians and veterinary nurses. 

I would love to be part of the group that establishes the first of its kind in Australia.

What have you found has been personally the most rewarding part of running Pets in the Park?

“Our clients become more than that; they become friends who we enjoy seeing every month. I love seeing them get back on their feet and finding their way in life. 

It’s a privilege and joy to hopefully contribute something positive to their life journey, at a time when they most need love and support, concludes Westman.

To learn how you can assist Pets in the Park through volunteering or by making a donation, visit their website at

You can follow them on Facebook at or @petsintheparkau on Instagram.

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