Doncaster animal charity fears influx of rescue dogs when furlough ends

They may be looking forward to the end of the restrictions that the coronavirus pandemic has brought.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 4:45 pm

But the workers and volunteers at the RSPCA animal rescue centre at Bawtry, Doncaster are also bracing themselves for it to bring a new type of pressure for them.

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Lockdown has brought with it a boom in the numbers of people taking on dogs – and the team at the centre fear that once the furlough scheme ends, it will bring a wave of unwanted animals to their doors, as owners suddenly find themselves struggling to take them for walks and care for them.

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Ellie Brown, Animal Care Assistant, pictured with Greyhound Tallulah. Picture: NDFP-02-03-21-RSPCA 2-NMSY

It would be the latest issue to hit the centre as a result of the pandemic, which the team have had to work through for the last year to care for the animals that are there.

It has been a time like no other in the centre’s history, dating back to the 1960s.

Centre manager Natalie Flanagan, a dog owner herself who has a rescue collie cross called Nelson, said the last 12 months have also seen the Doncaster based charity have to find new ways of raising money, with its charity shops having been closed for most of the last year.

Natalie, who used to work in retail, has been at the centre for four years. Some of the team have been there 20 years.

Greyhound Tallulah, pictured. Picture: NDFP-02-03-21-RSPCA 3-NMSY

She said: “Lockdown and the pandemic has turned everything on its head. Last year, the main thing was that everything was completely shut, and we had to work out what we could do with animal welfare people.

"We are a charity whose role is to rehabilitate and re-home animals. But last year, our fundraising events got cancelled and our shops got closed, and they account for probably 95 per cent of our income.”

The result was that supporters rallied. Many people chose to buy pet provisions from the centre. Others arranged their own sponsored events for the charity.

For instance gamer Leah Bingham organised a 24 hour gaming marathon to raise funds at the end of July. The 19-year-old from Lindholme planned to raise £100 but ended up bringing in £275 for them.

Ellie Brown, Animal Care Assistant, pictured exercising Greyhound Tallulah. Picture: NDFP-02-03-21-RSPCA 4-NMSY

One of the important functions carried out at the centre had to stop. Lockdown meant it was not possible for people to adopt animals from the centre for a period from last March. Later, they were able to start adoptions again, but the way it was done had to change.

Whereas in the past, new owners would have come to pick the animal up at the centre on Great North Road, that had to change as the public could not come into the centre. Instead. Owners could look at the dogs listed online and give details of their own circumstances.

The team then looks at the characteristics of the dogs, for instance how good they are around children, and how much exercise they need. From that information they decide which would be suitable.

The centre then takes the animal out to visit their potential new home to see how it works out and check their suitability.

Although there was a time when the animals could not be adopted, Natalie said some of the pressure was taken off the centre by a fall in wild animals being brought into the centre.

"We are always pretty much full here,” she said. “But we saw a reduction in our work as a wildlife holding centre. We would often get injured pigeons or hedgehogs brought here, but that fell off because people were not going out to find them in the wild."

By the time the second lockdown had arrived, regulations allowed for them to move animals out for adoption again, taking some pressure off.

But Natalie has some concerns for the future.

"There are times when we get animals brought to us from people whose job has changed, in a way that doesn’t fit in with keeping an animal,” she said.

"That means we expect an influx when people go back to work after furlough finishes. There have been a lot of people who have taken on puppies during lockdown while they have been on furlough. We are concerned people will decide they have not got time anymore and that they will be brought to us.

"There has been an increase in people looking for puppies, which has meant cost and demand has gone up.”

But she said there has not been a big rise in the number of dogs that the Bawtry centre had put out for adoption, because they have refused to rush their procedures which make sure animals go to a suitable home.

They are also preparing for an influx of cats in the spring.

"We are getting ready for the kitten season,” said Natalie. “Both pet cats and outdoor cats, who have been un-neutered, give birth at that time of year. Once that happens we will be looking for foster carers for kittens. We are expecting a busy year."

The cat foster carers are among many volunteers that help the centre. Others do tasks such as transporting animals, taking dogs for walks, or helping with enrichment work to keep them active mentally and physically.

Among the animals currently at the centre is Talulah, a 12-year-old greyhound. She had medical issues when she arrived and has now been there several years. She arrived with a number of other dogs, but is that last one still there.

"People think greyhounds will take a lot of looking after,” said Natalie “People think they are high energy, but that’s not the case with older ones.

"There is a misconception that animals are not here for long. But they are here as long as they need.”

Contact the centre on 01302 719790 for adoptions or donations.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.