As animal shelters face closure across the UK, we speak to 5 independent animal rescue centres to find out how we the public can support them…
Over the last few months, you’ve probably heard plenty of worrying tales about animal shelters and the devastating impact coronavirus has had on them.
In March, Battersea Cats and Dogs Home suspended their intake and closed to the public for the first time in their history.
In April, RSPCA homes started seriously considering closure after a 90% drop in income.
And in May, Dogs Trust changed their 30-year-slogan from ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’, into ‘A dog is for life, not just for lockdown’, in an attempt to prevent a predicted surge in puppy abandonments post-pandemic.
These are arguably the three most well-known animal welfare charities in Britain and so when they’re this concerned, you know things are bad.
In This Article:
- Meet The Independent Shelters affected by COVID-19
- How COVID-19 Has Affected Shelter Activity and Donations
- Impact on Rehoming
- Fostering during COVID-19
- The Future
- How You Can Help
But what about the shelters we rarely hear from?
To find out what’s really going on, we spoke to five independent animal shelters close to our hearts to find out the details behind why COVID 19 is affecting shelters so badly, these were:
- Wood Green, The Animals Charity – Cambridgeshire, England
- Cheltenham Animal Shelter – Gloucestershire, England
- Hope Rescue – Llanharan, Wales
- Jerry Green Dog Rescue – Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire & Yorkshire, England
- North Clwyd Animal Rescue – Hollywell, Wales
Between them, these animal shelters boast over 260,000 followers on Facebook, a staggering amount that makes them some of the most respected independent shelters in their regions.
More important though, is the fact that they all take care of literally thousands of animals on an annual basis, making them also some of the most impactful animal shelters in the UK too.
In a series of responses, they explained to us how coronavirus has changed their structure, services, finances and future…
How COVID 19 Has Affected Shelter Activity & Donations
As you will already be well aware, besides our health and wellbeing, COVID-19 has hit us hardest in our pockets, with the looming recession spelling especially bad news for UK animal shelters.
As charities, animal shelters rely almost entirely on volunteer help and donations to properly function and with most relief efforts now being redirected at NHS charities and the public saving pennies, many of them are struggling.
“The immediate impact (of coronavirus) was financial,” The Hope Rescue Centre told us, a small Welsh charity who managed to help over 800 dogs find homes last year.
“We work really hard to generate our own sustainable income sources from trading as well as relying on voluntary donations but our charity shop was already shut after being flooded by Storm Dennis,
“When Covid19 hit, we also lost the income from our boarding kennels, grooming, paddock hire and rescue centre shop as well as fundraising events.
“That is a lost income of £1,000 every single day… and we are struggling to make up the shortfall.”
It’s devastating to hear that small but impactful shelter’s like Hope are struggling so much during the crisis, but sadly, it was a very similar story for the other four shelters too.
“(Coronavirus) has completely closed all our avenues of income,” stated Nicky Owen of North Clwyd Animal Rescue, the largest animal welfare charity in North West Wales.
“The running of the rescue is still the same, but with a much smaller team as most of our staff have had to be furloughed, so the work is tougher for the ones still here as they are having to work harder.
“Our charity shops, cafes and vets have all had to close and so we are struggling with funds to keep the charity running.”
For the foreseeable future they estimate to make losses of £37,500 per month, purely through loss of trade.
Given larger charities like this are also struggling, there’s genuine fears as to whether some smaller animal shelters will survive and some of the expected financial losses due to the pandemic are staggering.
Despite boasting five animal rescue centres across five different UK counties, animal charity Jerry Green Dog Rescue has had to temporarily close their North Yorkshire centre.
This is an effort to try and combat a 55% drop in their projected income for 2020.
These sorts of figures are particularly troublesome for charities like Cheltenham Animal Shelter who receive no government funding and rely entirely on donations, the generosity of local businesses and grants to get by.
At a cost of £650,000 a year, things aren’t looking good so far and they’re not confident that the government is going to step in and save them anytime soon.
“Sadly, the latest measures announced by the government to support frontline charities with £750 million during the coronavirus pandemic is unlikely to benefit animal charities,” said Cheltenham Animal Shelter’s Head of Fundraising, Alison Jarvis.
And the shelter’s general manager Peter Newcombe didn’t seem positive about the future either.
“The core animal care team are still working on site as key workers, supported by staff working from home to ensure that the administration and management of the charity day-by-day continues,” said Newcombe.
“But to be completely honest, it’s getting harder week-by-week as the amount of income we are losing starts to add up to tens of thousands of pounds and we have to cancel more events and fundraising activities.”
The loss of such events has been one of the biggest blows to these shelters, as COVID’s wipeout of all public meetings and large gathering events has seen their calendars completely skewed and high profile, money-raising ideas go up in smoke.
Cheltenham alone has had to cancel a spring community dog walk, several Easter holiday animal days for children, the hosting of a pet show at the Tewkesbury Big Weekend in May and a huge community open day in July.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise the financial impact of these cancellations is mammoth.
Though you might assume many of these charities acquire their donations through standard gifts, it’s actually events, charity shops, boarding schemes and rehoming projects that help most of these charities prosper and with coronavirus appeals now their sole source of income, it’s no wonder times are hard.
“We have had a fantastic initial response from the general public on social media,” said Cheltenham’s Head of Fundraising Alison Jarvis.
“To date they’ve donated more than £9,000 to help us to continue to look after the animals currently in our care, but we need to ask for more at this unprecedented and unpredictable time.”
It’s an undeniably phenomenal effort from those that donated, but in reality it’s still £641,000 shy of the shelter’s yearly running costs and we’re already in June.
Something more must be done.
How COVID 19 Has Impacted Animal Rehoming
One direct consequence of the COVID-19 crisis has undoubtedly been the phenomenal surge in pet adoptions across the UK.
With so many people being furloughed or having to work from home during lockdown, it seems that many people have deduced that this is the perfect time to bring home the family pet they’ve always wanted.
If you yourself haven’t been swayed, it’s more than likely that you have a friend or neighbour who has, while a conveyor belt of influential celebrities from Miley Cyrus to Michael Douglas have plastered their social media with images of their newly adopted puppies.
This celebrity endorsement of sorts will probably only exacerbate the re-homing situation, and it’s one that’s bringing heavy concern to independent animal shelters.
“In the first month of lockdown, searches for ‘puppy’ on our website increased by more than 1,000%” stated Linda Cantle, Director of Pet & Owner Support Services of Wood Green, The Animals Charity in Cambridgeshire.
“We also saw a sharp increase in people looking to rehome and while there are benefits to taking on a new pet when you have the time and space to introduce them to your home… it also presents a false environment.
“When their routine is changed again, it could result in challenging behaviours, stress responses and ultimately the need to relinquish the pet.
“This may lead to an influx of pets coming into our care as workplaces, schools and social spaces begin to reopen over the next few months.”
This fear that a cease to lockdown will result in a mass return of newly rehomed animals is not unique to Wood Green either, as the quarantine has undoubtedly blurred people’s vision when looking to the future.
“We are getting so many requests, but due to being closed, we can’t rehome,” stated Nicky Owen of North Clwyd Animal Rescue.
“People are saying it’s the ideal time to adopt (a pet) as there will be someone with them all day, and this is all very well now, but what happens when you go back to work?!”
It seems then that some shelters can rest easy in the knowledge that their closing and inability to rehome is at least not contributing to a potentially disastrous situation, although they’ll unfortunately still suffer the consequences should a mass abandoning of pets occur.
It must be said that being unable to rehome is no blessing in disguise either, as the strain of looking after a larger number of animals for an extended period of time is something many aren’t used to.
Cheltenham Animal Shelter usually rehouses more than 600 animals every year but has had to put their processes on hold after closing public access to their site. This has left them with around 30 animals to care for at once, a number which could grow should any emergency cases arrive at their centre.
“While the care team is doing an excellent job, we are very conscious that it’s not ideal to have pets living in kennels and pens waiting for homes indefinitely,” stated General Manager, Peter Newcombe.
“Our income has drastically reduced, while the length of stay for every animal in our care has increased by a minimum of six weeks, which is costing us more in food, care and medical bills.”
When you add to that the potential costs associated with an influx of new arrivals once lockdown is lifted, it’s easy to see why shelters are worried.
To ease this strain on operations, some independent shelters have seen fit to continue re-homing pets, because after all, people aren’t continuing to adopt pets by magic.
However, to ensure the absolute safety of shelter staff and soon to be owners, such processes must follow the strictest of guidelines.
Jerry Green Dog Rescue are continuing to provide life changing care and support to dogs across four of its UK shelters, opting to make significant changes to the way they operate to ensure their survival.
Although closed to the public, Jerry Green has begun rehoming again following permission from DEFRA and does so in accordance with the Canine & Feline Sector Group’s social distancing guidelines.
This guide states that shelters must deliver animals to their new homes, prioritising local areas to avoid longer journeys. They must also ensure there is absolutely no physical contact between a new owner and a member of staff, to avoid spreading the virus.
This is understandably difficult, as determining whether a home is suitable for an animal is incredibly difficult without visits.
Wood Green, who have also begun rehoming measures, have opted to use video call technology as a way around this – assessing a new owner’s home through Zoom or Skype and also giving owners the opportunity to view the animal and make a final decision.
The CSFG guide also mentions that shelter’s should consider making some animals available for fostering, a more cautious alternative as opposed to offering permanent rehoming at such an unusual time.
This would presumably help limit the predicted increase of unwanted animals and ease the strain on the economic situation of a shelter, however, it turns out the views on fostering are just as diverse as rehoming.
Shelter Attitudes Towards Fostering Animals During COVID-19
For those with foresight, the most logical thing to do in terms of getting a pet during isolation is to foster one, meaning you can enjoy an animal’s company and spirit for the remaining lockdown months until factors such as time and caregiving opportunities become an issue.
For many shelters, it’s the only option they’ll allow, believing it to be the most practical in terms of an animal’s future as well as the most financially stable decision for the shelter themselves.
For example, Hope Rescue Centre may have seen rehoming enquiries treble since lockdown, but it’s only their foster rates which are actually increasing at this time.
“As a general rule, we’re not adopting out.” said the Hope Rescue team.
“We worked really hard in the weeks leading up to lockdown to get as many dogs into foster homes as possible to create space and reduce numbers…
“We currently have 100 dogs in our care, with 62 in foster homes and 38 at the centre.”
Despite the measures taken, that’s still quite a lot of dogs currently at their premises and there’s more coming in all the time.
In fact, since lockdown, Hope Rescue has brought in a further 27 stray or ill dogs and so it’s been essential for them to continue a fostering program so they can fulfil their stray dog contracts.
By undertaking virtual home checks and providing willing foster parents with crucial supplies, they’ve been able to give some lucky dogs a much needed caring home for the time being, opening up room at their facilities for newly homeless dogs who are suffering amid the pandemic.
This blueprint of mass fostering has been a popular option for a lot of shelters, and in many cases, a crucial one when it comes to surviving an extended period of low funding, with no definitive end in sight.
Wood Green Animals Charity in particular have taken this method to lofty heights, astonishingly placing more than 200 animals in foster care and focusing their time and resources on ensuring these foster homes remain suitable places of living.
“Our team is going above and beyond to provide every foster home with advice and support, as well as being on the road every day to drop off supplies and pick up pets for veterinary appointments,” said Wood Green’s Linda Cantle.
“This has meant that fewer people have been required on site in order to observe social
distancing, and the foster pets could spend the lockdown period in a home environment.”
However, despite fostering taking a stressful load off large shelters and allowing them to continue to bring in unwanted animals, other centre’s are dead against the practice, especially in such large numbers.
Speaking on behalf of Cheltenham Animal Shelter, manager Peter Newcombe said:
“Fostering animals is not an option while the site is locked down and we are unable to host meet-and-greets or carry out home checks,
“We also know that (fostering) is unsettling and stressful for the animals, who can take weeks to settle in a new environment, only to be returned at the end of the foster period.”
It’s a fair point raised, as temporary fostering does not help shelters solve the issue of a predicted spike in unwanted animals, and is merely a quick fix while shelters wait for regular rehoming processes to become safe again.
However, for shelters like Cheltenham, this policy has meant that they have had no choice but to halt admissions of all non-emergency cases to save room at their facilities, meaning a lot of new animals will be turned away.
In terms of rehoming and fostering, COVID-19 has created a terrible Catch-22 situation for shelters, and no matter what choice they make, there is always a negative side effect they must endure.
Animal Shelters On The Future
It’s depressing to read the horrific reality being faced by our UK animal shelters and with things looking so bleak, it’s only natural to look to the future…
Can they get through to the other side without a scratch?
Unfortunately for now, the outlook is uncertain and it’s difficult for these charities to remain optimistic.
However, they are clearly up for the fight, and are working harder than ever to ensure their animals receive the best care possible in unprecedented times.
Their first expectation though is for things to get worse.
“I really fear for charities like us in the future,” said Nicky Owen (North Clwyd).
“We will have to do things differently to survive and many smaller charities will sadly not be here after all of this as they just can’t afford to carry on,
“That will in turn bring strain on larger charities like us as we are already full and it will mean more animals coming to us, so it’s scary to think what the future may bring.”
With a shelter as large as North Clwyd clearly struggling, the plight facing smaller shelters is even bigger and the situation is so dire that it’s getting to the point where praying is one of the only solutions left.
“Our biggest concern is our financial sustainability,” said Hope Rescue, the smallest and youngest shelter we spoke to.
“We’re a small independent rescue that’s only 15 years old, so we don’t have any large legacy reserves and every penny that comes in goes out on improving and building it up.”
The truly worrying thing for Hope Rescue is that they are still completely in the dark as to when income from trading may start up again, and for some avenues of income, they already know they’re years away from recovery.
“We doubt our boarding business will recover for at least 12 months, as no-one will be going on holiday abroad,” They said.
“It’s also unlikely fundraising events will be able to take place for a very long time and we’re not sure when the charity shop will be able to open properly, as the restoration works after the flooding haven’t even started yet due to COVID 19 putting them on hold.”
It’s a frightening recession we’re heading for and it’s not just shelters and staff that stand to have their lives thrown upside down, as some of the larger shelters are beginning to worry about the future for pet owners too.
“Wood Green is already starting to see a growth in requests for financial support (from pet owners), particularly to cover veterinary costs, as many people’s income has been affected by coronavirus,” Said Linda Cantle (Wood Green)
“We’ve also seen some people cancelling their pet insurance to reduce their monthly outgoings.”
This is not good news, and more or less confirms suspicions that people will find it tough to support the wellbeing of a pet during this time.
This will only lead to higher figures of rehoming in the next few months, or worse, animal abuse and abandonment nationwide.
As for the shelters themselves, Linda gave us a grim but realistic outlook:
“With hundreds of pets in our care and numerous pet owners in need, this has stretched our resources to the limit…
“Wood Green and the whole charity sector will feel the financial impact of Coronavirus for months, and even years, to come.”
How We Can Help Save Struggling Animal Shelters
Admittedly, the future isn’t looking so bright… but surely there must be something we can do to save some of our beloved animal shelters?
Thankfully, there are many different ways to help, from the obvious donations all the way to lesser known acts of charity.
Our first suggestion would be to consider fostering an animal if your local shelter is able to offer the service and you can afford the room.
The expected influx of new unwanted animals means shelters are going to be struggling with numbers to the point where they will sadly have to turn animals in need away. By fostering a pet for a short while, you’d help shelters free up space until they can gain more control over the situation.
If you’re someone who is starting to have troubles financially when it comes to looking after your own pet, or you’ve recently went back to work and are finding caregiving time an issue, you can also help shelters by getting in touch for advice as soon as possible.
Shelters like Wood Green and Jerry Dog Rescue work very closely with their communities and run advice helplines to help solve these exact issues, in some cases even providing financial support or providing necessities such as pet food for people in need.
To once again help prevent numbers from escalating, it’s wise to seek advice earlier, as a shelter may be able to help you work things out before resorting to rehoming.
The biggest way you can help shelters of course though is to donate and many charities now offer direct debit options so you can provide monthly support. However, one-off donations are just as welcome and anything you can give always makes a difference.
If you haven’t got your own money to spare, a fantastic thing to do instead would be to do some fundraising for a shelter of your choice.
Captain Tom Moore has inspired thousands of people to partake in self-set challenges or other such activities and they’re a great way of bringing lots of people together to support a cause.
As most shelters have had to cancel their own social fundraising events, these are an especially beneficial act of charity, as you’re bound to make far more of an impact than you would with a solitary donation.
Another thing you might not have considered doing is making a non-monetary donation, which can help support the day-to-day care of shelter animals and allow the charities to use regular donations to help support the general running of the shelter.
These can be things like food, litter, blankets and toys, or anything which may improve the lives of animals living at their centres. Some charities will give you the option to order these as an online delivery, while others will be glad to organise a delivery/drop-off schedule.
To try and prevent more animals going into care, it’s also a good idea to indirectly help shelters where you can.
If your pet is not neutered and your veterinary surgeon is not offering the service, it is a good idea to try and restrict your animal’s involvement with other pets, especially if they are a female!
There are plenty of mating seasons approaching and with so many veterinary services not available, there is a huge risk of unwanted litters on the horizon, which you will need to help prevent.
By contributing more to your community as a whole, you can also help shelters indirectly by providing for those who are struggling to look after their pets.
The easiest way to do this is by providing pet food to local food banks, as people who can’t feed themselves are unlikely to be able to feed their animals.
Finally, there’s no better way to help raise money for your shelter than by spreading the message. By paying close attention to a shelter’s social media pages and website, you can help share appeal messages and events to your own social network.
You never know who you might reach and how much they may be willing to give!
How To Support the Shelters Involved
Wood Green, The Animals Charity
Wood Green is a charity based in Cambridgeshire that advises pet owners on pet behaviour, health and wellbeing and helps pet owners that can no longer take care of their pet find them new loving homes. As well as cats and dogs, they rehome many chickens, rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, ferrets and more.
To make a monthly donation visit here or to immediately make a one-off £5 donation, text WOODGREEN to 70500.
Cheltenham Animal Shelter
Cheltenham Animal Shelter is a charity that has been helping animals since 1926. Based in the heart of Gloucestershire, they rescue and rehome around 1000 unwanted and abandoned stray cats, dogs and small animals every year.
Find Cheltenham Animal Rescue’s donation page here.
Hope Rescue is a charity based in Llanharan, South Wales and primarily helps stray dogs in Local Authority pounds who would otherwise be euthanized. They also run a “Hope in the Community” programme focusing on helping both pets and people with projects such as a canine respite service for pet owners in crisis.
Find Hope Rescue’s donate page here, which displays any current appeals and fundraisers
You can also buy gifts such as toys and food for dogs in their shelter here.
Jerry Green Dog Rescue
Jerry Green Dog Rescue is a registered Charity operating across Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire & Yorkshire.
The sole purpose of the Charity is to rescue, care for and re-home abandoned dogs, or dogs whose owners sadly are no longer able to care for them.
North Clwyd Animal Rescue
The largest animal welfare charity in the North West of Wales who rehome over 1800 domestic animals each year and work with local councils to take in stray dogs. At any one time they care for 120 dogs, 100 cats and 20 rabbits & guinea pigs.
Find North Clwyd’s Just Giving Page here.