Top animal charities spend £500 million a year saving unwanted animals.

Are animal re-homing charities failing animals?

We all know that the thousands of animal “re-homing” charities in the UK and around the world are doing wonderful work in finding new homes for hundreds of thousands of animals each year, because they are quick to tell us so and we see their great work depicted on television documentaries and in the press. As donating public we revel in the glow of sad stories and happy endings of animals finding forever homes and for this reason we throw millions at these charities to enable them to continue.

The top eight UK charities spend £500,000,000 each year to support the infrastructure to “save” and “rescue” animals from us humans. In the case of the Dog’s Trust, the UK’s leading dog charity, this works out at £8,100 per dog to care for and re-home the 13,141 dogs (2017 figures).

It would seem on the surface that the animal re-homing charities are doing a really good job and making the most of the money we give to them, but should they judge their success by the number of animals they take in and re-home or by what they are accomplishing in reducing numbers in the first place.

The Humane Societies of the United States (HSUS) is constantly criticised for not giving enough of their funds to animal shelters, but they once succinctly responded by declaring that their aim was to “prevent cruelty and stop animals entering animal shelters in the first place”. It could be argued that the re-homing charities are perpetuating the problem of irresponsible pet ownership by offering a free service to accommodate and re-cycle unwanted pets, strengthening the creed that they are disposable objects.

Each year the number of unwanted and abandoned animals never seems to decrease.

Are animal shelters just re-cycling plants for irresponsible owners.

Each year the major UK animal re-homing charities take in tens of thousands of unwanted dogs, over a hundred thousand cats, thousands of horses and donkeys and hundreds of thousands of rabbits and other small animals. All these figures could probably be doubled, trebled or even quadrupled if you consider the numbers taken in by the hundreds of smaller UK charities.

Local authorities supposedly dealt with 7,000 stray, abandoned and unwanted dogs in 2017 of which over 2,000 were put to sleep although these figures seem far too low. The Cats Protection charity alone cares for nearly 50,000 cats annually.

If official figures are correct, we are supposedly getting on top of the abandoned and stray dog numbers on the streets, but half of the dogs that the Dog’s Trust accept, 6,500 (2017 figures), are strays from local authorities. Any slight decrease is more than matched by the increasing number handed into animal rescue centres by fickle owners so the status quo remains despite continuing campaigns and free neutering. This results in more facilities opening to cope with the continual flood. To make matters worse we are increasingly importing other countries’ stray and unwanted animals. We have had a cat and horse crisis for several years now and an increasing problem of unwanted exotic pets which has resulted in even more charities to rescue them.

While charities are happy to continue picking up the burden there is no incentive for the government or the law to intervene or take notice. The UK Government almost entirely washes it hands of the subject and even relies on animal charities to collate figures on the state of our animal keeping habits such as the RSPCA with their cruelty figures and the PDSA with their PAWS survey otherwise we would have no idea of the problems.

Kittens, rescue, animal rescue,, abandoned, unwanted
The number of stray and unwanted cats in the UK is incalculable.

There must be more to animal welfare than just re-homing dogs and cats.

The charities will argue that they only exist for this purpose, but surely this is a short-sighted outlook and instead of proudly proclaiming the increasing numbers they are finding homes for, they should strive to decrease the numbers becoming unwanted in the first place.  There must be more to animal welfare than just re-homing dogs and cats, but most charities seem happy to just tread water, accept the status quo and never make inroads into solving the major welfare problems. Do we just accept this as a fact of life and money well spent or should we expect more from them? Perhaps it is time for a completely new mind-set.

The need to inspect and licence small animal charities.

Alarmingly and amazingly, anyone, regardless of experience or ability, can set up an animal rescue enterprise in the UK.

Puppy, behind wire, mournful
Indiscriminate breeding of animals needs to stop.

Over the last couple of decades there has been a proliferation of smaller charities and private organisations operating rescue re-homing centres and sanctuaries all working to their own agendas, often founded by well-meaning people, disappointed by the perceived ineffectiveness of the long-established larger national charities which they accuse of squandering money on staffing and administration costs.

The problems with small animal re-homing charities and sanctuaries

Most have an ethos of accepting any animal offered to them to ‘save’ as many as possible regardless of whether they have the proper facilities, staffing or finance to look after them adequately.

Many of these charities often go under through lack of volunteers or finance and the owners fail to seek help soon enough causing horrendous suffering, starvation and death by their “saviours”. It is a common problem the world over. Recent examples include a rescue on the island of Malaga where a hundred starving dogs were found and a horse rescue in Queensland, Australia was raided by Police who found dozens of starving horses.

Horse, thin, animal cruelty, horse cruelty
It’s not just dogs and cats that can suffer in failed rescue centres, but horses and other animals as well.

In the UK, alarmingly and amazingly, anyone, regardless of experience or ability, can set up such an enterprise. They are totally unregulated with no controls, inspections or licensing involved and this can and does result in animals that are supposedly being saved from substandard care and euthanasia being kept in similar or worse conditions. 

These rescues often become overrun with animals.

They are often one-man-bands operating on a shoe-string from the backyards or premises of the founders with few volunteers and back-up. Some begin through a form of hoarding whereby a person starts by rescuing a few dogs or cats and then decides it would be fun to turn it into a rescue or sanctuary not realising the implications, cost and responsibilities involved.

These centres are often in a position of becoming overrun with breeds that are the craze of the moment and of having to find homes for them as quickly as possible. This can lead to less stringent rules and policies on the suitability of new owners and animals can sometimes be given to owners that are questionable.

When we give money and support these smaller independently run animal charities we do not seem to investigate how well operated the charity is, what its aims are, its achievements and its expertise. Unless we are a volunteer or live locally to the charity we do not even make a visit. We are normally satisfied by the cute pictures they publish and the literature they produce. If they say they are saving animals, we are happy.

Many who trumpet that all their donated money goes to the animals often struggle to survive as they have no reserves to weather periods when donations dry up and find themselves unable to provide adequately for those in their care. This is particularly so with sanctuaries which keep them for life without attempting to find them new owners. The numbers build up to a point where the premises become overloaded and out of control with the helpers unable to give suitable housing and adequate care.

The Charity Commission has no remit to concern itself with welfare.

It often reaches a state where visitors or volunteers find themselves forced to report them to the authorities, which if they are a registered charity, is the Charity Commission. Unfortunately, the Commission are neither interested or have the powers to intervene when it involves welfare issues, only in monetary and trustee contraventions. Although local authorities and the police can intervene on welfare matters, the Commission is quick to pass the buck to the RSPCA.

This is highlighted by a recent case in 2017 involving the Capricorn Animal rescue where the Commission investigation report states:

“The [Charity] Commission is aware that the charity has been the subject of concerns from members of the public relating to the welfare of animals in the charity’s care; this does not fall within the Commission’s remit and concerns on this matter should be directed to the RSPCA.”

Placing the burden on yet another charity to investigate a similar charity is not an acceptable course of action particularly when the RSPCA is constantly accused of misuse of power and involving itself in legal matters which are perceived beyond their remit.

When other charities fail it is difficult to find other facilities for the animals. This burden normally falls on the major charities who are the only ones who have the means and logistics to step in, but this obviously places a burden onto them.

The new “Lucy” Law could encourage illicit animal rescues.

The new “Lucy law” which will ban the breeding and sale of puppies and kittens except from licensed breeders and animal charities could still leave an opening for unscrupulous traders.   The clamp down may cause a ‘shortage’ of available puppies and kittens which could increase the number of imported animals from foreign lands and encourage the setting up of pseudo rescue organisations.This has happened in the USA with imported rescue dogs.

With so many animal re-homing charities springing up, the control, regulation and inspection of these premises is an issue which urgently requires Government action before it gets totally out of control. Benefactors should also take a long hard look before donating and always be extremely careful to satisfy themselves of the soundness of the organisation.