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‘It’s an animal welfare crisis’: Number of people in Aberdeenshire giving up pets to Scottish SPCA has quadrupled in last year

The Scottish SPCA said the re-homing centre in Drumoak has seen an increase in the number of animals given to be re-homed due to rising costs.

If you are in need of a dose of pure joy, you only need to watch pooch Bruno bound around a garden to feel a little bit lighter.

Watching him cheerfully tug on a rope with any willing human in the vicinity in between his prancing, it is hard to believe the loveable pup is 12-years-old.

It is even harder to imagine that he has been in the care of the Scottish SPCA for nearly a year.

His owners reluctantly had to give him up due to an eye infection and subsequent vet bills.

A year on, he is still waiting for his forever home – and sadly, is just one of scores of pets that have been surrendered due to the cost-of-living crisis.

Bruno the 12-year-old dog tugging on a rope
12-year-old Bruno in the Scottish SPCA’s Drumoak Centre’s sensory garden. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Cost of living creating animal welfare crisis

Around 805 animals arrived at Scottish SPCA’s rehoming centre in Drumoak in the first six months of 2023.

This is an 61% increase from last year – much higher than the national percentage of 25%.

During a visit to the centre, chief executive Kirsteen Campbell described it as an “animal welfare crisis”.

Scottish SPCA Inspector, Fiona McKenzie and SSPCA chief executive Kirsteen Campbell
(Left) Scottish SPCA Inspector, Fiona McKenzie and SSPCA chief executive Kirsteen Campbell. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

“It’s definitely worse,” she said. “There is an animal welfare crisis in Scotland and I think it’s sometimes hiding in plain sight, not everyone sees it.

“What we’re seeing is more and more people in need of our services.

“The cost of living crisis is having a real impact. It’s things like food, choosing to feed yourself or your pet.”

In Aberdeenshire, she said one of the biggest issues appears to be vet fees and access to vet services.

She added: “We’ve seen a spike in welfare issues and arrivals coming in in Aberdeenshire and a lot of that is due to the fact that people just can’t afford their vet fees any longer.”

People going hungry and vet services overwhelmed

In 2022, owners calling the charity to give up their pets had already trebled. This has now quadrupled this year.

Fiona McKenzie is one of the charity’s inspectors and works in and around Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, and says the team get several calls daily from people struggling to cope.

“It takes a lot for these people to phone because they will feed the dogs before they feed themselves,” she said.

Dog at SSPCA Drumoaks Centre
Many animals are waiting at re-homing centres after being separated from their original owners for various reasons. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Three or four years ago she said they would have easily had space at the centre but now they can only take the “neediest” cases.

Insp McKenzie added the influx of “lockdown puppies” and more people taking on pets during the pandemic also had a massive impact.

She said: “Puppies were coming from here, there and everywhere from across Scotland. I would say have actually swamped the veterinary services.

“The pressures on the vets just now is immense and they cannot get enough vets to work either.”

People living more complex and challenging lives

Some of these lockdown dogs also can have social, behavioural or social problems which can add pressures to an already struggling household.

And they are not the only ones impacted by the pandemic.

A lot of people have also emerged with more complex mental health issues than before.

Perhaps, Insp McKenzie reflected, this mix of rising mental health issues and financial pressures is causing more pet owners to have less patience with their vets – potentially accounting for an increase in calls on cruelty and neglect.

In Aberdeenshire, the number of welfare related incidents this year have increased by 82% – the biggest increase seen in Scotland.

Picture of Laura with Shetland ponies.
SSPCA Drumoak centre staff Laura with Shetland ponies. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Trying to get ahead of the problem

Chief executive Mrs Campbell said the Scottish SCPA is trying to get ahead of the problem by supporting foodbanks with Pet Aid and making it easier for people access advice and find out more about pet fostering.

“Behind an animal in need there’s a person in need,” she said. “Where there’s a person in need, there’s an animal in need.

“People are living more challenging lives and we see that through the animals and their lives.

“We’re having to adapt our services to be able to cope with that because you have to really get ahead of the problem as well as respond to it everyday.

“So how do you help people and their pets stay together in a cost of living crisis? That human and animal bond is so strong and the last thing we want to do is break that, so people really need help before the situation gets any worse.”

The charity is also trialling a scheme in Glasgow supporting access to basic veterinary care to help address issues before they become a bigger problem.

A cat in need of re-homing at the centre in Drumoak.
Costs are also going up for the charity. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

‘We’ve never been more needed’

However, running these “lifeline” services comes at an ever increasing cost – with the Scottish SPCA’s daily cost at around £56,000.

Mrs Campbell urged people to continue supporting the charity wherever possible.

She said: “We are that lifeline and we have to keep going every single day, 365 days a year, because we’ve never been more needed than we’re needed now.

“For us our costs are going up, the demand’s going up there’s pressure on income.

“The more we’re able to get ahead of a problem, the more people and animals we’re able to help.”

To find out more about the Scottish SPCA or to find out more about adopting or fostering an animal, click here.