“I HOPE you’re getting him something special for Christmas…” Sarah, one of my colleagues at work, is Barney the Beagle’s biggest fan.

When we arrive at the office he makes a bee line for her desk. He knows exactly which drawer is the one in which she keeps his special treats. And whenever he escapes from my room, he dashes across the corridor and drools by her desk.

“No,” I replied. “He’s a dog. I’ll give him his usual food at Christmas. I’m sure there’ll be a bit of gravy to pour over his dinner; he’ll get a longer walk (as I walk off my lunch) but that’s it.”

In fact, Barney’s Christmas turned out to be a rather more lonely than usual. A family get together at my brother’s (who is allergic to dogs and cats…) meant that he spent rather more time than usual in his crate. (I did weaken a bit, and give him an extra Bonio in addition to the longer walk…)

But I’m not sure what to say to Sarah when I see her when she gets back on Wednesday and asks after Barney’s Christmas.

Pets are big business. In the UK, the pet ‘industry’ is worth over £4.5 billion; that’s about half the amount we spend on child social care.

Each dog owner spends, on average, over £1,250 a year on their pet; the same as they spend on all their energy needs in a year and the amount that Crisis estimates that it costs to give a homeless person the support, help and care they need to get them off the street for ever.

Meanwhile, official statistics have just confirmed what those working with homeless people have been saying – that deaths among homeless people have risen to over 600 a year – a 25 per cent increase in just 5 years.

“No-one is meant to spend their lives on the streets or without a home to call their own,” said Communities Secretary James Brokenshire. “Every death on our streets is too many and it is simply unacceptable to see lives cut short this way.”

It was great to read Andrew Lord’s account of the local initiatives in Footnotes last week.

Salisbury has much to be proud of; Alabaré and Trussell Trust (founders of the foodbank movement) were both born here.

But it is a shocking indictment on our country that their services are needed more today than when they were founded; that homelessness is increasing; that more people are dying on our streets, at a younger and younger age, of illnesses and diseases that are preventable or treatable; and that use of foodbanks is at a record level.

I explained to Barney that instead of a doggie stocking this year I gave a bit more to charity instead – but gave him a longer walk to make up!