At any one time there are around 28,000 homeless cats and dogs in the UK and new research suggests that could be just the tip of the iceberg. Demand exceeds capacity for many animal shelters and although many pets are re-homed a substantial number have to be put down. The cost of caring for homeless pets ran to £340m in 2010.
Vets working on shelter medicine at the Centre for Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine at The University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science have carried out a census of un-owned dogs and cats in the UK to establish the scale of the problem and find out what can be done to ease the suffering of abandoned pets.
Dr Jenny Stavisky, a research fellow in Shelter Medicine in the Centre for Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine (CEVM), said: “The animal welfare community is really struggling. Because of the current economic situation many have seen their incomes drop. At the same time rescues are on the increase because of tightened household budgets. Some people are forced through circumstance to give up their pets — often because they are moving into rented accommodation There are also concerns that some people are treating dogs and cats as disposable commodities — buying them as accessories to look ‘cute’ or ‘tough’ only to abandon them when the animal becomes difficult because they don’t understand the animal’s complex needs.”
The study documented the origins, destinations, husbandry and costs associated with the care of un-owned animals. Of the 1,380 organisations contacted just under 40 per cent responded to the survey so the concern is that the true number of homeless cats and dogs is likely to be much higher.
The challenge faced by animal shelters
The survey showed that 89,571 dogs and 156,826 cats were taken in by the participating organisations in 2010. Approximately half these animals were relinquished by their owners. Others were found as strays or confiscated for welfare purposes. Seventy five per cent of dogs and just over 77 per cent of cats were rehomed. Ten per cent of dogs and 13 per cent of cats had to be put down.
Jenny Stavisky said: “These are huge challenges for the organisations attempting to help these animals. In order to target interventions it is essential we gain a better understanding of how and why these animals become un-owned. We need to do more to educate people about how to be responsible pet owners. We need to encourage people to only get pets if they can commit to the animal’s whole life and supply its physical and mental needs. There’s plenty of advice out there — from organisations such as the RSPCA and Dogs Trust — but we need to do more to stem the tide of un-owned pets.”
It has also been suggested that cats and dogs living in shelters are at an increased risk of impaired physical and psychological welfare. The shelter medicine team at the CEVM is dedicated to research to improve the welfare of these animals, including prevention and treatment of diseases, as well as looking into how we can reduce the numbers of animals entering rescue shelters. Led by Rachel Dean, the team has recently expanded with the addition of Emily Newman and Gemma Clark. These two vets will be providing clinical care to the dogs at Dogs Trust Loughborough Rehoming Centre, helping to teach veterinary students, and of course carrying on with the CEVM’s shelter medicine research,
The research paper can be found at: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1746-6148/8/163/abstract
Websites that offer help and advice include the RSPCA’s Get Puppy Smart advice: http://www.rspca.org.uk/getinvolved/campaigns/companion/getpuppysmart
The guidelines on pet management from Dogs Trust can be found here:
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