'Norfolk's Battersea Dogs Home' is full as cost of living crisis bites

RSPCA

A dog looking for a home at the RSPCA's West Norfolk rehoming centre - Credit: Chris Bishop

Owners having to give up their pets because of the cost of living crisis has forced a Norfolk animal shelter to set up a waiting list.

Some 29 cats and kittens, 22 dogs, seven rabbits and two guinea pigs are being cared for at the West Norfolk RSPCA Rehoming Centre at Eau Brink, near King's Lynn.

With no more space, it currently has a waiting list of eight owners who are also looking to hand their animals over.

Branch manager Carl Saunders said vets' bills were often the tipping point for those struggling to get by.

RSPCA

Carl Saunders with Violet, a four-year-old beagle at the RSPCA's West Norfolk Rehoming Centre - Credit: Chris Bishop

"The underlying issue is if something's got to give, it's going to be the dog or the cat," he said. "We are also seeing more and more animals being dumped now.

"We had two kittens brought in yesterday that were found dumped at the side of the road in a cardboard box on the outskirts of Lynn."

In a recent RSPCA survey of 4,000 owners, 78pc said  the cost of living would impact their animals, while 30pc were worried about being able to afford to look after their pets, with 20pc worried about the cost of feeding them.

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Emma Slawinski, director of advocacy and policy at the charity, said: “We are on the brink of an animal welfare crisis due to the rise in pet ownership during the pandemic, coupled with the cost of living pressures biting - especially those on lower incomes. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

RSPCA

A kitten in need of a home at the RSPCA rehoming centre - Credit: Chris Bishop

“We’re starting to see the knock-on effects of this as we, and other charities, predicted. Tragically we’re starting to see an increase in the abandonment of pets and growing numbers of cats and rabbits being rescued and coming into our care.

"Sadly, we are now seeing an increase in pets coming into our care, many because owners are struggling to afford to pay for behavioural support, vet care or even to feed their pets."

Mr Saunders said recent arrivals included a pregnant pug, whose owner could not afford the £1,400 bill for an emergency cesarean.

"That owner wasn't expecting a bill for £1,400," he said. "A lot of people don't have a reserve of £1,400 to fall back on."

RSPCA

A dog waiting patiently for a new owner to come and take him home - Credit: Chris Bishop

Changing work patterns forced by higher bills have been the final straw for others.

"We have a five-year-old French bulldog whose owners are having to work more hours to earn more money, so they don't have time for the dog," said Mr Saunders.

Relationship breakdowns and being forced to move to a new home or downsize to a property where pets are not allowed has also seen some owners forced to give up their animals. They include a couple with dogs aged 14, 10 and eight who had to turn to the RSPCA. 

"They'd had them all their lives," said Mr Saunders. "You can't imagine the tears, it's just awful."

Carl Saunders

Carl Saunders, manager of the RSPCA's West Norfolk Branch at Eau Brink - Credit: Chris Bishop

Others find their way to the RSPCA for different reasons, such as Violet the beagle, who did not get on with the cat in her previous home.

So-called lockdown puppies are also finding their way into the society.

"They think they're gorgeous fluffy little thing as a puppy," said Mr Saunders. "But they don't stay a gorgeous, fluffy little thing forever."

The owner of a stray dog brought in by a council dog warden was traced by its implanted chip. But when they tried to contact the owner, they found their calls blocked.

Eau Brink

Animal care assistant Helena Redfern with a kitten at Eau Brink - Credit: Chris Bishop

Mr Saunders said it cost around £275,000 a year to run the centre, most of which is raised by its three charity shops and events such as a recent sponsored dog walk at Holkham, which raised £2,000 for what the Countess of Leicester referred to as West Norfolk's Battersea Dogs Home.

Rehoming across the country has slowed. The RSPCA rehomed an average of 753 animals per week in 2019, 565 in 2020 and 518 in 2021, meaning that spaces aren’t being freed up as quickly and animals are staying in care for longer.

At Eau Brink, those looking for their forever home can be seen online at westnorfolkrspca.org.uk.