“There were so many, I wish I could’ve taken them all”- The reality of hundreds of pets being abandoned this Christmas

The RSPCA expect a huge rise of abandoned pets this Christmas as shelters fill up over the holidays.

Amy Owen investigates.

Willow is full of life. She is a young Staffy-cross with a lot of love and energy to give. But this hasn’t always been the case. Just a few months ago Willow was left abandoned on the streets of Stoke. Her owner left her to fend for herself in the cold, days before Christmas with nothing. Not even a name. 

Willow is one of over 23,000 pets who were abandoned in Britain last year, and this crisis is only set to get worse. Luckily, Willow was found by a dog charity where she waited with dozens of other unwanted pets. Out of the cold, she was still scared and alone.

Willow’s story

Lucy, a retail worker from Shropshire had just said goodbye to her dog of 10 years and felt it was time to get a new addition to her family.

“It was just after Christmas and I knew that a lot of puppies and pets are abandoned around that time of year, so I decided to adopt, I just couldn’t believe the number of dogs that were there and wish I could’ve taken them all”.

Nearly a year later and Willow has a smile back on her face. Lucy describes her as a huge part of the family and a loving young pup. But there are some cons to adopting an abandoned pet.

“She isn’t very good with other dogs or men. This may have something to do with her past, but it’s taken her a lot of time to become comfortable around our other dogs and family members”.

Lucy says, “She’s the shyest dog we’ve had and can get very nervous in new situations but knowing she’s safe and not left alone at the shelter makes it all worth it”.

This story is echoed across the UK for thousands of pets. The RSPCA reported that last year, there were 1,684 dogs reported as abandoned in December and 1,678 abandoned in January, and there were more dogs than any other animal being abandoned over the festive period. They also rescued and collected more than 102,900 animals.

Suzanne Norbury from the animal charity said it’s difficult to say why someone would abandon a pet.

“We only see the end result in most cases but there could be a number of reasons someone might abandon a pet; it could be the cost of looking after one, the behaviour of the animal, or they just don’t fit in with their lifestyle or family. But abandoning a pet is never the answer”.

Unfortunately, what comes with such high figures of abandoned pets, is a lack of knowledge on how to solve this current crisis. A recent survey conducted in Gloucestershire showed that just over 57% of people wouldn’t know where to report an abandoned pet or how to help it. Suzanne says that anyone who is struggling with an animal should always call the RSPCA or a local animal charity, as well as seeing a pet alone or in danger.

Brooke and Daisy’s story

Sometimes, it’s not all happy endings. Kimberly, a farm owner from Oxford, who adopted two abandoned horses, Brooke and Daisy, had a different experience. She was looking to expand her interest in horses and get some new additions for the farm.

“I had two older horses, both mares, from the Blue Cross. Both were abandoned and I felt sorry that they’d had a bad end in their later life. One had been badly abused, and they were both very flighty.”

Kimberly gave both horses lots of love but in the end, couldn’t handle their behaviour.

“They were big horses and I had difficulty looking after them, when walking them one day I was knocked over after they got spooked and broke my arm. At my age, I just couldn’t look after them and they are back looking for new homes again.”

Despite the hardship both horses caused her, it didn’t deter her wanting to adopt again.

“I would recommend adopting abandoned pets to anyone, it’s very worthwhile and they give a lot of love back, I just needed something a lot smaller”.

Adopting instead of shopping for a pet is always the best option, says Suzanne. A lot of research should be done first as a pet needs to fit with your family and their needs.

Dermot Murphy, Chief Inspectorate Officer at the RSPCA, said: “Christmas is a busy time for us, as sadly cruelty and abandonments do not stop over the festive season and our staff work tirelessly to rescue and care for animals in need”.

In the South West over 400 animals were reported as abandoned with 47 of these in Gloucestershire, which was particularly high compared to previous years. As last year the charity received 23,673 calls about dumped animals in June, July and August across Britain.

That’s an abandoned pet every 6 minutes.

CountyNumber of animals reported as abandoned (Dec 2018) RSPCA

A report from the Express said Britain is facing a pet dumping nightmare and says the RSPCA should brace itself for a welfare crisis over the fear of a massive spike in the number of animals being abandoned. With there being a 50% rise in numbers last summer compared to the winter months.

This winter, the RSPCA expects to take in more than 10,000 animals in need across the UK and Wales. So, what can be done to lower this number?

The Dog’s Trust campaign “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas” brings these statistics to life, showing how easy it is for pets to become abandoned. The tear-jerking ad and slogan were created over 40 years ago to remind people of the lifelong commitment owning a pet really is. Yet adverts like this still need to be made every year.

A high profile case that made headlines last year was the story of Snoop. CCTV footage caught the owner abandoning Snoop in Stoke-on-Trent days before Christmas, like Willow. Millions of people watched the heartbreaking footage leaving Snoop on the side of the road with nothing but an old bed. He was found hours later and taken to the vet. 

To stop people abandoning pets like Snoop, the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 makes sure offenders could face a prison sentence of up to 6 months, and receive a fine of up to £20,000. They can also have their pets taken away and even be banned from having pets in the future. The RSPCA also secured 1,678 convictions by private prosecution last year to protect animals from those who break the law.

What can you do to help?

Abandoning a pet is never the answer and if you know someone struggling or you yourself need help, always make sure to contact a local charity who can give you the support you need. To stop this crisis, more people need to understand the support in place as abandonment is not an option. It’s not a last resort. It’s a crime.

It costs around £670,000 to run an RSPCA centre for a year, so donating to a charity is always a good place to start if you want to help. 

Not all pets should have a life starting like Snoop or Willows or ending like Brooke and Daisy’s.  All pets deserve a life, and should not be punished behind bars because their owners abandoned them. This crisis we are facing is one that should have never started, but one that does need to end.

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