Supporting animal shelters post lockdown – their toughest challenge yet

The pandemic is causing animal shelters to struggle - so just what can we do to aid the animal charities in need of rescue?

animal shelter

by Katharine Wootton |

Charitable organisations of all kinds have suffered this year from a loss of income from donations as people understandably tighten their belts.

The pandemic has had a devastating effect on so many parts of life. But as we head into winter, animal shelters are pleading for any support we can give, however small, so they can survive into the new year.

From dogs to donkeys, thousands of animals in the UK every day are given a new chance at life and happiness, thanks to selfless animal lovers who pour their hearts and souls into amazing animal rescue charities.

Now Britain’s animal charities are truly facing their toughest challenge yet, going into winter after receiving more unwanted animals than ever as people realise they can no longer cope with the pet they got at the start of the pandemic once they’ve returned to work.

Veterinarian Dr Rory Cowlam is a respected voice within the veterinary industry with an ever-growing career in broadcast. Rory is the lead talent of CBBC show ‘The Pets Factor’ now on its 8th series. He regularly appears on programmes such as ITV’s Lorraine, BBC Breakfast and Sky News. Rory is also an ambassador for charities such the RSPCA, StreetVet and works closely with The Dog’s Trust. We asked him for his view on the current pandemic that animal rescues are facing.

"There are so many dogs in this country in rescue centres, it is heartbreaking. Particularly now we're seeing a huge increase in numbers going to rescue centres because of lockdown.

"It's all well and good saying now's a really good time to get a dog. But if a puppy or dog didn't fit your life pre-lockdown, why - unless things have massively changed and for the foreseeable future, you're going to be working from home, fair enough - but if pre-lockdown you weren't kitted out for a dog, why are you now, and will you be?

"I really implore people thinking about getting a dog to think 12, 18, 24 months ahead."

Prices of dogs have also sky-rocketed since lockdown, yet numbers in animal shelters are still on the rise - so why pay through the nose when there are wonderful dogs sat in kennels around the country, just unwanted?

"I always ask people when they're importing dogs or buying from breeders, why not give a dog that is already there a chance, rather than going and buying a new puppy that really the demand shouldn't be there for.

"I think the reason for this is twofold. Firstly, people are worried that rescue dogs are going to be more of a handful.

"To those people I say if you choose the right dog, they are no more of a handful than a puppy. All puppies can be pains at times, in fact a well trained rescue dog could be an absolute breath of fresh air!

"Number two is that humans are inherently impatient. So, when it's going to take you six months to rescue a dog, people don't want to think that far ahead. They make snap decisions, go online, and think ah in three hours I can pick up this puppy, rather than registering with an animal shelter and having to wait.

"I'm not saying don't get a dog - just do it right and think about if you really have the time, energy and space for one in your life. Because the sad fact is that when you realise you don't, they end up in kennels, or being abandoned.

"I've recently rescued a puppy of my own (Nala) from the RSPCA. It's taken me literally over a year to rescue a dog, but she was so worth the wait."

Rory and puppy nala

Rory has also recently written a book about his experiences as a vet, 'The Secret Life of a Vet'. "The reason I wanted to write this book was to give people a bit of an insight into what it's like to be a vet and the ins and outs of the industry I love. We have so many funny stories from the industry, and things that just wouldn't happen to anyone else.

"I also wanted to lift the lid on a slightly more serious, sort of underlying thing that I think is a bit of a dirty secret, which is the mental health crisis within the profession.

"We’re four times more likely than the general public to commit suicide. I’m passionate about changing this statistic, and starting the conversation on that is a huge step in the right direction."

the secret life of a vet

Andrea Gamby-Boulger is founder of Wetnose Animal Aid, a charity she set up with her late husband to be a lifeline to small animal rescues who are struggling to survive on the love of animals alone. Having previously run her own dog rescue for 13 years, Andrea knows all too well how tough it can be keeping a charity afloat, but says the current situation requires urgent help.

“Many rescues had to close their doors to visitors from mid-March to prevent the spread of coronavirus with a 60 per cent reduction in their revenue as a result of being unable to do any fundraising activities or open their charity shops,” she says.

Meanwhile, many rescue centres are working flat out as they’ve had to reduce volunteer numbers at a time when they’re at their busiest.

Andrea says things may get worse as rising unemployment may mean more people cannot afford to keep their pets, while the colder weather means rescues may need vital equipment.

“I totally understand that at this time many of us are thinking about helping humans and that’s absolutely right, but I think going into Christmas, which is a time of reflection, I hope people can remember that animals need our help, too.

“Animals don’t stop getting hurt or ill or needing a new home just because there’s a pandemic.”

She adds: “If you can’t afford to donate, see if your local rescue needs towels, blankets or newspapers or just call in and say hello. Even the smallest of actions can make a big difference right now.”

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