How has COVID-19 affected the animal rescue sector?

09 DECEMBER 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak this year has shone a spotlight on how important our pets are to us. We know that dogs and cats have been a huge source of comfort for many people throughout this crisis and for millions around the country they really are an integral part of the family.

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The pandemic has profoundly impacted on everyone, and the animal rescue sector is of course no exception. In a typical year, the sector homes around 300,000 dogs and cats, provides over 3 million free or reduced-cost veterinary treatments and neuters over 200,000 cats, but this year has been anything but typical.

In order to better understand the impact of COVID-19 Battersea conducted surveys of member organisations and the wider sector through the umbrella body for the sector, the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes (ADCH) which is chaired by Battersea’s Chief Executive Claire Horton.

Battersea’s new research report on COVID-19 seeks to examine in detail the impact of the outbreak on our pets, and the organisations across the country who care for them.

The financial impact on the sector

The initial findings of the research were stark: COVID-19 has posed a huge threat to the sustainability of the UK’s and Ireland’s dog and cat rescue sector, and the pandemic has impacted on 95% of survey respondents. Furthermore, 56% of those responding suffered a drop of over half their income, while 22% reported that they did not know how long their funds would last.

Managing the crisis

To help meet this challenge, ADCH established an Emergency Fund to provide grant support to smaller rescues, alongside helping with the distribution of food supplies and working to provide a platform on Facebook for members to give advice and support to each other. Battersea has been working with them throughout to help support as many rescues as possible.

Animal welfare concerns

Beyond finances, there are also major implications for animal welfare. This year we’ve seen a surge in the demand for animals during lockdown periods. With buyers increasingly turning to online suppliers from overseas, there are significant concerns about the welfare of dogs and cats being imported into the UK by unscrupulous dealers.

Police numbers have also shown a rise in domestic violence cases and, with research demonstrating a clear link between violence against people and violence against animals, we can very sadly also expect an increase in cases of animal abuse.

With the public also taking understandable caution to minimise the risk of contracting COVID-19, pet owners have seemingly been increasingly reluctant to seek out non-emergency veterinary treatments for their animals. This not only presents a risk of a rise in diseases but may also undermine the microchipping and registration of pets, and the drop in neutering this year could lead to an increased number of unwanted litters which are given up or abandoned.

Finally, with unemployment rates on the rise and increased financial pressures facing many households, there are concerns that many of those who have taken on animals this year may subsequently find they can no longer afford to look after them.

Predicting the future

Whilst the immediate future may be uncertain, the way in which organisations have been able to respond so far suggests that there is light at the end of the tunnel. One thing is for certain – Battersea’s resolve to do the best for every dog and cat that comes through our doors and those beyond our gates remains unshaken.

For more information, take a look at our new research report on the impact of COVID-19 on the animal rescue sector.

Battersea's COVID-19 report

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

Download our report