As the Region team stands at the RSPCA at Weston Creek, Christmas gifts in hand, a couple of rangers come in with four very, very tiny kittens.
“Is Mum there? Oh, thank God for that,” CEO Michelle Robertson says as a second carrier comes into view with a relatively calm black and white cat who has just been extracted from a suburban chicken coop with her babies.
The alternative would be intensive fostering from a group of dedicated volunteers with no certainty the babies would survive.
Christmas can be a mixed blessing at the RSPCA.
On one hand, there are people coming in to adopt, all of them being carefully counselled that a pet is for a lifetime.
On the other hand, surrenders are at an all-time high, and there are more than 200 animals in care. Is this the pandemic pets coming back as people get busy again? Not necessarily, Michelle says.
“The trends are actually a little bit concerning because we’ve seen that adoptions have flattened, so we have a lot of really amazing animals and a variety of pets, which is quite unusual. We’ve got so many really great dogs – small dogs, big dogs, medium-type dogs – but they tend to stay a while.
“But our surrender lists are getting really high – we’ve got about 100 animals, cats and dogs on their surrender list at the moment and that really is very concerning.”
The most frequently cited cause for surrendering a pet is affordability. Michelle says it breaks her heart as cost of living increases. It’s not unusual to have people turn up at Weston Creek in tears, distraught about the financial realities their family is facing.
“The good trend, I guess, is that we still have adoptions. It might take a little bit longer to get a home for the animals, but we are an animal-loving city. We do enjoy so much support, and we’re grateful for that”, she says
Adoptions peaked during the shutdown, and Michelle says that was a worry.
“We were worried about that socialisation and a lot of that didn’t occur. The dogs weren’t socialised as well as they could have, or should have been. It takes perseverance with some animals, and some people just can’t persevere, so you see the animals coming back.
“I worry about bad judgement too – we had an incident last week where someone bought baby chickens for all their friends as a gift. Thank heavens the friends decided to do the responsible thing and bring the chicks in to surrender them.”
The risks obviously increase around this time of year. “It can be wonderful adding to your family over Christmas, but you can’t just decide to do it. It can’t be an impulse.
“You have to look at your lifestyle. You’ve got to look for the right pet for your home. Your lifestyle needs to be able to accommodate a pet, and it does cost money. And please, please don’t surprise somebody with a pet because that’s a terrible surprise. You can give somebody a pet, but they need to be involved with that process,” she says.
Michelle is hoping the many dogs at the shelter are homed this year. There are a number of older cats she’d love to find a home for, and donations are always urgently needed.
“We’ve seen this, this financial year and the previous one, animals that come in that have so much wrong with them physically and mentally. We’ve had little animals come in with bones shattered, in so much pain, when they have been through so much trauma.
“It costs money to provide that rehab and medical care to get them to the point of adoption, and that’s what the donations go for. It just helps us so much to do the work we need to do”.
Donate to the RSPCA this Christmas or find out more about their work here.