Five Things We’ve Learned About COVID-19 and Rescues

19 FEBRUARY 2021

In January 2021, Battersea partnered with the Association of Dogs and Cat Homes (ADCH) to survey 107 rescue organisations. The aim of the survey was to understand the impact of the ongoing pandemic, and the results revealed a sector learning to cope with the pandemic but in need of targeted support.

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Here are five things we learned from the survey:

1. COVID-19 has hit rescue centres hard

COVID-19 has changed the way in which rescue centres operate. 41% of those who responded to the survey had had to close their doors to all but emergency intake which has also impacted staffing levels, with 46% of rescues reducing numbers of paid staff. 61% have made use of the furlough scheme, which they say has offered a vital lifeline.

Worryingly, 13% of respondents have had to reduce access to essential veterinary treatments, with an additional 37% reducing access to non-essential veterinary treatment. One offered a sobering warning, commenting,'We are seeing more and more animals that have not been neutered and vaccinated.'

2. Fundraising has been impacted

The impact of the COVID-19 on finances has been stark. Nine out of ten (87%) rescues reported a drop in income, with a third losing over half their income. Rescues have made cutbacks and have made use of reserves, but they are in dire need of support.

Lockdowns forced charity shops to close and resulted in vital fundraising events being cancelled, postponed, or moved online. This has led to 67% of respondents saying the pandemic has quite simply left them unable to fundraise.

Funds and grants have provided some much-needed relief though. Over half (54%) of respondents said they had applied for Government grants and 62% had applied for other grants such as those offered by ADCH and Battersea.

3. Fewer dogs and cats are coming to rescues – but this could change fast

We asked respondents to compare their dog and cat intake from October to December in 2020 and 2019. Intake was down 23.8% for cats and 37.6% for dogs. This echoes other observations from the survey; 63% of organisations that look after dogs reported a drop in dogs being abandoned.

While this looks to be good news, rescues are preparing for problems to emerge. There’s still high demand for animals while people crave companionship during lockdown measures, but once people start returning to workplaces the fear is many of these, and dogs especially could end up in rescue centres.

4. The public still want to rescue dogs and cats

The demand for a pet in lockdown has resulted in increased public demand on rescue services, with 79% of respondents saying they have had more people wanting to rehome animals. A further 58% have had more fostering enquiries.

It’s encouraging to see that the public is turning to rescue organisations, but while rescues cannot meet demand there are concerns people could turn to other sources, including disreputable breeders and sellers that place less emphasis on animal welfare.

5. The future is uncertain – there’s hope, but also fear

Rescues were asked to rate their future confidence on a scale of 1 to 5. The average was an encouraging 3.6, showing the upbeat and positive attitude for which rescues are so well known. This confidence was attributed to having reserves (although many said these were being swiftly depleted) and the continued need for rescue services. However, there were some notable concerns:

  • Anticipation that dogs acquired in lockdown will come into rehoming centres in large numbers once more people stop working from home, potentially with significant separation-related behavioural issues.
  • Uncertainty about how long their financial position is viable if lockdown and other restrictions continue.
  • Worry about the long-term economic horizon post-pandemic.

What does this mean?

Rescues have adapted to the challenge of COVID-19 by finding new funding sources, making changes to how they provide care, and by making use of the furlough scheme. However, many of these adjustments were painful, with paid staff losing jobs and funds being depleted to worrying levels.

More difficulties are anticipated for the future and the rescue sector is calling for help. 80% of those asked agreed that a Government support package for rescues is needed, like the support that has been provided for other sectors. The sector will continue to work, but rescues are in desperate need of support so that we can all keep helping cats and dogs during the pandemic and beyond.

Battersea's COVID-19 report

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

Download our report