Animal rescue centres across south Somerset are having their busiest time of the year as, with the economic outlook having been bleak for so long, people are finally making a decision to give up their pets, as Jenny Thomson discovered...
AT this time of year people are always warned that pets are for life not just for Christmas – but for struggling rescue centres the best gifts would be loving homes for their abandoned animals.
Over the festive season, staff at rescue centres across south Somerset are working as normal to look after the growing numbers of animals in their care.
Anna Willitt, centre manager of Heavens Gate rescue centre in West Henley, said the shelter is bursting with animals which desperately need new homes.
She said: “We are seeing an increase in animals needing care recently, it is very much up on last year.
“We know why the animals need to come in generally, but are not entirely sure as to why it is any worse than previous years.
“As many of the reasons are financial we can only think that it is because the economy has been poor for so long, people are struggling worse than ever and can't see an end to it, and so they decide giving up a pet is the only option.
Both the centre’s kennels and cattery are currently operating at capacity because rehoming has slowed down in recent months.
There are around 40 dogs and 70 cats on a waiting list but they can’t be taken in until some of the current animals are rehomed.
Although the centre was busier than ever, festivities at the National Animal Welfare Trust shelter still took place – although it is doubtful the animals understood why they were being given special treats.
Miss Willitt said: “Our routine stays exactly the same at Heavens Gate over the Christmas period, but often very kind people give extra donations of treats or toys, or they request that a Christmas cheque is to be spent on something specific for the animals at Christmas.
“We spread these treats and toys out fairly across all of the animals.
“They don't know it's a special day but they definitely appreciate people's generosity.”
There are many different reasons why people give up their pets, the most common being changes in the owner’s life such as relationship break-up, losing a job, moving home or having children.
Often owners have to move into properties where landlords will not allow pets and some people discover they simply can not afford to keep one.
Pet owners have a lot of responsibility in looking after their animals and Miss Willitt said that in tough economic times when money is tight the family pet is often the first to go.
The cold weather and recent flooding also causes problems for shelters as stray animals get into difficulty.
Miss Willitt said: “We are seeing more strays than we normally would, as some people who haven't been able to place their dog or cat in a rescue centre get desperate and leave them on the streets, in the hope they find a rescue quickly.
“Cats often come in to rescue at this time of year as people feed strays often for months, and then in the winter will worry about them as that's when they look sad and thin, and so that's the point where someone will call a rescue centre.
“Another major reason for dogs coming in to rescue centres is due to behavioural problems.
“Christmas makes this worse as either an owner becomes more stressed and less able to cope with any problems, because they are so busy, and also the dogs will pick up on a stressed owner and changes in routine as well as a busy household, and this can make their behaviour worse.”
At Heavens Gate, Hobie the nine-year-old terrier arrived at the centre just before last Christmas and he spent this year without a new family as well.
Miss Willitt said he is a sweet little dog but he is becoming increasing depressed in kennels and would love to find a new home this year.
She said: “He is a real favourite with staff and volunteers but gets overlooked by potential adopters.
“He would love a quiet home as the only pet without too many visitors, where he can settle quietly while having all the attention.”
Another often overlooked resident is 14-year-old black cat Frankie, who had to be taken in after his previous owner died, leaving him alone.
Miss Willitt said: “He is usually ignored by visitors as he spends most of his time either sleeping or hiding.
“However, we know that once he trusts people in a home he is actually very affectionate and makes a very good lap cat.
“He can live with cats or calm dogs, but may find young children scary.
“As long as he has space to sleep and to wander around in, he doesn't need access to the outside so may make a great companion for someone living in a house with no garden, or a flat.
“He is fit and healthy and looking for his forever home.”
If anyone is looking to find a new furry friend the advice is to get them from an animal rescue centre.
Staff can advise on the best companion to fit with an individual’s lifestyle and it gives an unfortunate animal a second chance at happiness.
If anyone is looking to adopt a pet this year there are shelters across South Somerset including Heavens Gate just outside High Ham, Somerset and Dorset Animal Rescue in Wincanton, Ferne Animal Sanctuary in Chard and World Horse Welfare’s Glenda Spooner in Kingsdon.