Battersea research reveals 'imminent' animal welfare crisis for lockdown pets

07 DECEMBER 2020

It’s safe to say we’ve all felt the effects of living through a global pandemic this year, but new research done by Battersea has revealed the potentially devastating impact COVID-19 has had on dogs and cats.

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From popular local rescues facing the threat of closure through lack of income, to pandemic pets bought on impulse left suffering due to irresponsible breeding, the consequences of COVID-19 for animals in the UK are far-reaching. Battersea is calling on the Government to do more and to help struggling rescue centres and the animals that they care for, across the UK.

Rescues are in need of rescue

Our research shows that dozens of animal rescue centres across the UK and Ireland are facing closure due to the pandemic, with more than half seeing their income drop by 50% or more since March. Unwanted and abandoned dogs and cats across the UK have continued to need help throughout the different lockdown measures and, with a major recession looming, this is likely to get worse as owners struggle to afford to care for them. Our research predicts that the UK as a whole is likely to see an increase of up to 27% more dogs being abandoned or left to stray in the next five years. Which begs the question, if rescue centres are forced to close, who will be there for them?

Lockdown pets may be suffering

With more time being spent at home, the first nationwide UK lockdown led to thousands of people buying pets for company. More than 40% of people who bought puppies during lockdown admitted they had not previously planned to get a dog, and with demand so high, and the market so lucrative, many may have inadvertently acquired these animals from less reputable sources. As a result, thousands of pets have suffered the effects of poor breeding and ill health, with a few high profile examples even hitting the headlines. Our research also found that the number of veterinary consultations taking place in the UK was down 25-40% as late into the year as September, as restrictions eased. This means lots of animals simply aren’t getting the treatment they need.

At Battersea, we’ve seen the effects of this first-hand. Tiny Spitz puppy Rocco was brought to us in August after his owners, who had bought him from a breeder, realised he had serious congenital eye problems they simply couldn’t afford to treat. Rocco was sent to stay with one of Battersea’s foster carers where he could be closely monitored and remain under the charity’s expert veterinary care. After finally getting the all clear from Battersea’s vets, the fluffy livewire was able to go to a new home.

The tiny Spitz puppy Rocco

Casper, a Maine Coon cat, was found abandoned in Battersea Park in a carrier with a heart-breaking note from his owner explaining they had lost their job due to the pandemic and could not afford to pay for his medical problems. Casper’s fur was badly matted and he required weeks of treatment before staff found him a loving new home.

There are animals like Rocco and Casper in need of help right across the UK, but if rescue centres aren’t rescued, who will be there for them?

What can be done to help?

Staff at Battersea have been working every single day across all three of our centres and taking in emergency cases even during the height of lockdown. Unlike so many other sectors, animal charities have struggled to access Government support, so we are calling on the people in power to change this.

Battersea’s Chief Executive Claire Horton, who is also Chair of the Association of Dogs & Cats Homes (ADCH), said “We know many of our fellow rescues are struggling to stay afloat for the dogs and cats that so desperately need their help – and our research shows the worst welfare consequences for many of these pandemic pets may be yet to come.

“At Battersea, we continue to do all we can to support not only the dogs and cats coming into our own centres but those needing help across the UK and beyond. Between us, a number of partners and ADCH, we’ve awarded more than £700,000 to rescues in need – but so much more needs to be done.”

Claire Horton continued: “The Government, which has so far provided no direct grant support to our sector, needs to recognise the potential catastrophe the UK faces if these rescues, which are here for dogs and cats with nowhere else to go, are forced to close. This, combined with the looming economic crisis and the fact so many puppies and kittens were bought on impulse during lockdown by people who may later struggle to care for them, could create a perfect storm.”

At Battersea we are always here for struggling owners, and with the help of public support we will continue to keep our doors open for as long as we are needed. People who can no longer care for their animals should always be able to make the responsible choice to bring them to a rescue rather than selling them online or abandoning them, and we will keep fighting to make sure this is possible right across the UK.

To find out more about our research, read our Battersea report, ‘The Impact of Covid-19 on Animal Welfare.’

Download the report

Battersea's COVID-19 report

Our report highlights the drastic impact that COVID-19 has had on animals in the UK.

Download our report