Blog by charity manager, Susie Hughes:

The last month has been challenging  for every person, business, charity and country, but probably less known is just how difficult it has been for animal charities. As a member of the Association of Dogs and Cats Home our branch is privileged to be part of a wider community of animal rescues. We keep in touch with one another via a closed Facebook Group and the things that we all have in common is tenacity and comradeship. We have all been feeling the strain and pain of the pandemic, maybe in different ways, but all feeling equally frustrated by the lack of financial support for our sector. There are few grants available to apply for and what ones there are tend to favour social causes. Don’t get me wrong, social care must come first and foremost, but it is narrow minded to think we don’t directly support people through helpinging them with their animals.

On Friday night we finished really late to help a National RSPCA inspector with a job. The inspector had attended a property where the people could barely afford to feed themselves and the animals were unintended victims of the circumstances. It was through ill health, and no fault of their own, that they had ended up needing help. Their dog was very poorly and sadly needed to be put to sleep. There were an additional 3 adult cats and 7 kittens in the home (the two unplanned litters were because money wasn’t available to pay for neutering). The inspector took their dog to the vets and all but one adult cat was signed over to our care. The inspector left lots of food for the cat that remained, and the offer of more food until the owner could get back on their feet. The animals were their companions and well loved.

This scenario is all too common. The National RSPCA attends to many calls where people just need help. We are not alone in helping people in need, so many rescues help in exactly the same way, offering people a vital lifeline when they need it the most. This is why the lack of financial support and grant opportunities during this crisis is so frustrating, we may be perceived as indulging ourselves ‘playing’ with fluffy animals but the reality is we are directly helping people too. On Friday night we stayed late settling in all the new arrivals and taking some to a foster home for extra tlc. They were all ravenous and got fed twice over two sittings before we left for the night. This week wasn’t calm at all; we had 20 new arrivals.

Kittens safe after emergency surgery – saving mum and babies from a terrible ending.

In total in April we admitted 49 animals (31 cats, 16 rabbits, 1 hamster and 1 guinea pig). For an average month this is about the number we usually help but all the more exceptional given the current circumstances. We’ve not had to turn down any request for help from an inspector and this is entirely thanks to the hard work of the centre staff and volunteers and the amazing support of Ashleigh Veterinary Centre. Had we not been able to access both life-saving and routine preventative veterinary health care we could not have helped these animals in need.

We called this girl Sweet Potato – she was collected by the National RSPCA in South Yorkshire stray, heavily pregnant and badly bitten.

What is equally staggering is how many animals we have managed to find homes for, so I thought I would share how we achieved this.

The following morning after lock down was announced (24th March) we started working on a rehoming plan:

1.  The first thing we did was to remove all animals for adoption from our online rehoming platforms.

2. We spent time working out which animals were our priorities to find homes for and how we could share them with potential adopters.

3. A great deal of thought was given to how we could conduct adoptions when people couldn’t meet the animals. Our animal profiles have always been thorough, but we wanted people to be able to ‘feel’ the animals so videos were our best option.

4. Consideration was given to less straightforward animals and we felt it appropriate to offer a ‘foster for adoption’ option but only if we were 95% certain it would lead to adoption because we didn’t want to cause any animal undue upheaval. N.B We already ran this scheme for adopters wanting to bond their existing piggy/bunny bonding and a number of these had been set up before lockdown and subsequently successfully bonded and contributed to the rehoming stats!

Daphne and Celeste bonding with their new friends Wanda & Fiona!

5. We also worked out how to do virtual home visits and found that they were as thorough, if not more so, than an in-person visit, due to the multiple exchange of communications via different platforms.

6. We realised early on that we would have to deliver all animals to their new homes, so with our routine trips to foster homes, taking their animals to the vets, we became well rehearsed with how to manage pickups and drops off using social distancing measures.

Before long, without advertising any animals for adoption, we started to receive offers of homes for animals who had featured in social media posts or on the blog. This meant we could rehearse our new rehoming procedures without any pressure and get homes lined up for when we could commence rehoming again.

On 17th April DEFRA gave approval to recommence rehoming under strict guidelines. It transpired that we had unknowingly conceived the exact same protocols so we were instantly ready to rehome! This meant that all the homes that we had lined up were quickly able to receive their new family members.

The other thing we did was prep lots of photos, videos and profiles for the remaining animals ready to be adopted so we were ready to release them as soon as the announcement  from Defra was made. We knew it was coming, just not when, so we got ready for action. From 18th April onwards we began to place our remaining available animals for adoption online, we were flooded with wonderful offers of homes and worked round the clock to secure the best outcomes for them all. By the 24th April every available animal in our care had the offer of a home.

Liquorice the Rex bunny settling nicely into his new home 🙂

I am both elated and exhausted to announce that in April, thanks to a mammoth team effort, 45 animals have been rehomed during lock down (a total of 34 homes). We have not compromised at all on our standards (if you think we have then you don’t know my reputation!) and in the process we have met so many amazing, genuinely lovely adopters. Things have worked out really well but only because of a lot of planning and hard work. We can already see the future of rehoming animals is going to look very different but at least we are prepared to meet those challenges for the foreseeable.

Had it not been for the support received from Ashleigh Vets we could not have rehabilitated and rehomed so many animals, furthermore we could not have admitted as many as we have. Equally had it not been for my incredible team supporting me, we could not have helped so many animals. We currently have 107 animals in our care, around 60 are cats and kittens, which is probably a record amount for us. In time we will be able to release more animals for rehoming so please keep following us on social media and keeping an eye out for new animals in need of forever homes.

Ruby Rose: ceased by Police when her owner admitted to physical assaulting her.

Fancy a date with us? This Bank Holiday Friday @ 7pm we are hosting our first ever online Pub Quiz via Zoom! It’s just £5 per team to play – we hope you can join us! More info will be available on the Facebook event page shortly 🙂