Animals could suffer as welfare charities impacted by Covid-19

Animal welfare charities are facing “significant” financial problems in the Covid-19 crisis due to falling donations, the closure of charity shops to protect volunteers, and the cancellation of fund raising events.

They say that some services could be cut with the potential for animals to suffer – and have called on the general public to continue supporting them.

Charities expressing concern include the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) whose 21 charity shops in Scotland have been closed since the lockdown was introduced.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said it had lost nearly £60,000 in rehoming fees already. Dogs and cats inside its rescue centres are currently unable to be re-homed.

There has already been a rise in cancellations of charity donations by direct debit across the UK. The majority were stopped in the last two weeks of March, correlating with the UK lockdown.

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In Scotland, the PDSA said that with all of its shops closed, and fundraising events cancelled for the foreseeable future, it was expecting to see a “significant drop in donations” from March onwards.

The charity has 48 pet hospitals across the UK including five in Scotland and provides two and half million treatments annually.

Olivia Anderson-Nathan, a PDSA vet at Glasgow Shamrock Street Pet Hospital, told The Ferret that the charity took an early decision to close its shops, in order to keep volunteers safe.

She said: “We have less people making donations to us and less buying from our shops, which will most likely impact the cash flow of our charity. It’s a difficult time for everyone and we appreciate that. But I think animal charities, and charities in general, are going to really need people’s support when we come out of this.”

To protect PDSA staff and volunteers from Covid-19, face to face appointments have been suspended unless there is an emergency situation, Anderson-Nathan added. Vets would only give emergency appointments if they felt there was a life threatening condition for an animal, she said.

“We can’t offer non-essential services at the moment. But one way we’re trying to mitigate that is by having vets or a nurse call people who are worried about their pets’ condition, or medication, over the phone,” she added.

“The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons is our regulatory body and they have done a lot to help with that flexibility because usually you can’t prescribe medication without seeing an animal. But with the exceptional circumstances we are finding ourselves in, they’ve been able to relax some of their rules a little bit.

“On a normal day I think we would see over 100 people through our doors. We are doing our best to do as much as we can, and keep everyone safe.”

There is a fear that due to the financial pressures on donors and supporters generally that levels may fall further over the coming weeks and months. This may impact on our ability to deliver all of our services. David Webster, Scottish SPCA

The Scottish SPCA said it was already feeling the financial impact of Covid-19 through “reduced levels of donations, falling re-homing income and fundraising events and challenges having to be cancelled”.

The charity requests a fee for all the pets it re-homes. This helps to cover the costs of caring for the animal including neutering, food, microchipping and other veterinary fees.

Last year re-homing income raised £32,479 in March and £27,133 in April. Due to the lockdown this year, the Scottish SPCA has effectively lost that level of income over the same two month period, whilst still caring for hundreds of animals.

The charity fears that income levels will fall further in coming months putting some services at risk, if the economy goes into recession as predicted.

Scottish SPCA’s finance director, David Webster, said: “There is a fear that due to the financial pressures on donors and supporters generally that levels may fall further over the coming weeks and months. This may impact on our ability to deliver all of our services.

He continued: “In the current climate, we are being responsive – focusing on the absolute core purpose of our role and at how we deliver it. We’re looking at how we make best use of our funds and finding innovative new ways to offer our services, whether that’s education resources online or introducing fostering programmes.”

Webster added that the SSPCA is committed to continue delivering all of its front line services “as best we can with the funding available to us”.

“What hasn’t changed is that the Scottish SPCA is still out there, in every community, doing our job. We are Scotland’s emergency service for animals and we are still providing support and advice to the concerned public.”

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According to the direct debit manager, Rapidata, the Covid-19 pandemic has already seen a rise in cancellations of charity donations by direct debit, from 2.16 per cent in February to 3.09 per cent in March.

The cancellation rate for March 2020 was 41 per cent higher than March 2019 with new donor numbers also falling sharply, the report said.

The number of new donors for the month of March was almost a quarter lower (24.11 per cent) than the same month last year, accelerating during the last two weeks of the month at 58.17 per cent lower than the same period in 2019.

The Edinburgh based charity OneKind said it is concerned that legislation it has been working on for many years – such as reform of fox hunting and anti-cruelty laws – is being “stalled for an unknown period”.

“We’re also very concerned for independent sanctuaries that depend on constant fundraising to provide food, safety and necessary veterinary care for their residents. Like us, they are having to cancel events planned for the summer which would normally contribute a major part of their income,” said OneKind’s Eve Massie.

She added that the licensing and registration of sanctuaries is another issue due to be addressed by legislation, arguing that “delay and uncertainty can set back the welfare agenda”.

Massie continued: “Because there is no official register of sanctuaries in Scotland, it’s impossible to know how many people running very small rescues from home are struggling to provide good standards. It’s not about regulation for regulation’s sake, it’s about knowing who is providing these vital services and might need help in these difficult times.”

Photo thanks to iStock/frantic00.

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