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NI animal charity staff’s distress after a huge rise in pets being left with them


Almost Home Animal Rescue NI currently have 167 dogs in their care

Almost Home Animal Rescue NI currently have 167 dogs in their care

Almost Home Animal Rescue NI currently have 167 dogs in their care

Staff at a Northern Ireland animal charity have been reduced to tears by a huge rise in animals left with them just before Christmas.

Almost Home Animal Rescue NI, based in Moira, Co Down, specialise in rehoming cats, dogs, rabbits and other small animals.

The charity took to Facebook to express concerns about having to deal with growing numbers of pets needing their support and rescue help from pounds, puppy farmers and people surrendering dogs.

“In the last four days we have had 37 surrender requests — it’s so emotionally draining we are all at the point of running away. Every animal, every family has their story,” they wrote in a status, which has gone viral.

The founder, Karen Matthews, said in an emotional interview: “It’s been so tough, some of our volunteers have just been sitting in tears, we currently have 167 dogs in our care.

“We do our best and we take care of them to the highest level, but we worry about the ability to give the same level of emotional care to them.”

She said she took to social media because she reached “breaking point”, and after some of Almost Home’s near 200 volunteers worked non-stop for eight days straight to care for the over 400 animals currently in their care.

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Asked why they have seen the recent levels of animals being surrendered and brought to Almost Home, Karen believes lockdown has been the main factor.

“Lockdown put humans’ lives on hold, but people forget it also put their pets' lives on hold too,” she added.

“Dogs who were used to active lifestyles and socialising were kept indoors because their owners couldn’t go out, so this caused a massive change in behaviour for some.

“We had pets given to us because their owners had died of Covid as well.

"I had a couple ring me just the other month to tell me they had lost everything because of the pandemic and were moving to rented accommodation and couldn’t take their dogs of 11-12 years with them.

"I’ve had people tell me that they had to go to food banks just so that they could feed their children, never mind feeding their pets and therefore had to give them up, it’s really heartbreaking.”

Founded in 2013, Almost Home’s Facebook plea has racked up hundreds of comments from wellwishers and supporters.

One comment read: “This is so honest, poor wee pets, I don’t think people fully understand what it takes to look after a dog, let alone a puppy.”

Another called Almost Home’s team “superheroes” and many also shared photos of their pets they had obtained via Almost Home to highlight their amazing work.

The group is also non-profit, meaning they have no paid staff and rely completely on donations and public support.

Karen added: “We have lots of volunteers off sick at the moment, we’re doing our best but we’re stretched. What was once a three-hour shift for one volunteer has turned into six or seven hours.

“People also just think it’s sitting around all day cuddling animals — it’s not, it’s hard work.

"I had a volunteer turn to me recently when leaving, and just said two words into my eyes: ‘I’m broken’.”

The charity believes the rise of puppy farms, often warehouses where ‘designer dogs’ breeds like British and French bulldogs are bred repeatedly to a dangerous level to then sell their puppies for thousands of pounds, are also to blame.

Karen added: “We had two dogs come in from a puppy farm just the other week, one had spinal damage so badly because they lived in a crate all day, one had urine burns on their legs so bad they couldn’t even stand."

Karen says both dogs are now recovering and doing well in Almost Home’s care.

They also said they have had owners turn up randomly and approach their volunteers on the grounds with dogs, which had been fully vetted for home releases, only to just hand the dogs over before literally running away.

Almost Home also said they are scared the continued levels of surrendered animals will only get worse after Christmas — as dogs are given as gifts and then given up due to the new owner’s underestimating the demands of a puppy.

“It’s 100% only going to get worse in the New Year, especially because as puppy farms who had increased their prices during lockdown have now seen less demand with people going back to work,” she added.

Karen has warned and pleaded to those thinking of giving an animal as a gift this Christmas.

She added: “Please, please think about it, especially with the rise of farms and breeders who just see their animals as stock.”

She said the often-quoted message of “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas” is more than just a bumper sticker for cars.

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