As with other charities, we saw more and more people living their daily lives increasingly online and when it comes to choosing a family pet, more animals are being sought and exchanged online, all too often with unfortunate and even life-threatening consequences.
By 2017, with such an online challenge, Battersea predicted that the UK’s rehoming centres could be faced with becoming the option of last resort, both in terms of giving up an animal or seeking one.
In addition to the online challenge, some 30% of dogs coming into Battersea in 2017 had been turned away by other organisations, safe in the knowledge that we will take in any animal irrespective of its health, age, condition, behaviour or breed.
For dogs, your typical “scruffy mutt” is increasingly rare and instead we are seeing more “harder to rehome” ones. It is now common for Battersea to receive some very sick animals that were previously bought online from puppy farmers, dealers or even brought in from abroad. Sick and unsocialised European street dogs are being rehomed as pets to unsuspecting owners, who then turn to Battersea when they realise they cannot cope.
There are fewer cats in London too, again partly due to online sales and partly the success of neutering initiatives. And many people still interested in rehoming a rescue animal are hoping to meet a kitten, a puppy, or the latest fashionable breed.
Anticipating this changing landscape, in 2017 Battersea set in motion a major initiative to highlight the many benefits of choosing a rescue pet from our charity, as every dog or cat cared for in our centres has been given a full “MOT” in terms of its health and behaviour – making choosing rescue a more attractive prospect. We also greatly enhanced our digital offer and rehoming procedures, making it much easier for people to begin their rehoming journey with us through our website via online application.
Another significant change Battersea made was in stepping up our work to help the countless dogs and cats beyond our gates. Nowadays, Battersea’s work is not only about caring for the animals in our three centres, but the millions more that will directly benefit from our extensive efforts to help raise national standards and change policies in dog and cat welfare.
Through Battersea’s leading role in the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes (ADCH), we are increasingly bringing the sector together and helping it to speak with one voice, ensuring that like-minded dog and cat rescue organisations across the British Isles are supported, informed and able to work collaboratively. ADCH is also advancing its work to raise welfare and operational standards within animal rescues. It published and rolled-out its Minimum Standards in 2017, accompanied by an Assessment Framework, both of which we have shared with Governments across the Association’s jurisdictions.
This Impact Report highlights much of our wider external work to help those animals and the most striking example in 2017 of Battersea using our influence to great effect was in persuading the Scottish, English and Welsh Governments to commit to five-year maximum prison sentences for the most shocking cases of animal cruelty. Serving as a powerful deterrent, we expect countless animals’ lives will be saved in future by these tougher measures.
Everybody knows Battersea for our 157 years of expert care for the over three million unwanted animals we have taken in and rehomed. Yet some people may still be less aware of Battersea’s wider strategic role within animal welfare that has come so much to the fore in recent years. Battersea will be making every effort to communicate the changing face of animal welfare, and our place within it, long into the future.