Britain: still a nation of animal lovers? No, says Rachel Cunningham from pet charity Blue Cross
If you're an animal lover, then you will probably be saddened by the news that there are far too many pets in the UK and not enough good homes to go around. Too many cats and dogs are being bred and sold without any regard for their welfare, or the possibility of them not finding a home.
Many of these animals end up at charities, who are struggling to cope with the increasing demand. Many others are not so lucky and are destroyed. The number of pets born at Blue Cross centres after their pregnant mothers were abandoned or given up has nearly doubled in the last four years. And we have seen a shocking 70% rise in kittens coming into our centres in the first six months of this year alone. Despite being 'man's best friend', dogs are the most visible victims of this crisis.
Thrown away with the papers
Waffle, a puppy who endured a short, miserable life, was left wrapped in a newspaper with his young sisters and dumped on a country lane. The other puppies survived, but sadly Waffle didn't.
The increasing strain on our services has prompted us to launch the Blue Cross Big Neutering Campaign today. We aim to make neutering the norm, spread the word to the millions of animal lovers about the huge benefits of neutering their pets and call for the government to tackle the irresponsible breeding of pets.
Breeding for cash
In the current economic climate more and more people are choosing not to neuter and instead to breed from their pet for financial gain. With over 100,000 dogs being picked up as strays by local authorities and over 130,000 cats taken to rehoming organisations each year we see no reason why anyone should be breeding from their cat or dog and adding to this problem.
And under the current law anyone can breed four litters of puppies a year before they are required to register as a dog breeder with the local authority. At Blue Cross we think this is too many and we would like to see the criteria amended so that more people breeding casually from their dog have to be licensed.
A new pet is just a click away
But it's not just irresponsible breeders that are creating these welfare problems, It's also buyers.
Blue Cross always encourages people to rehome a rescue pet rather than buying one from a breeder. However buying a pet has become far too easy online. It's estimated that on one well-known website, at any one time, there are up to 50,000 pets on sale.
Just a click of the mouse and you can buy on impulse a range of animals in the same way you can purchase cheap ink cartridges for your printer or buy a new handbag. But a cat or dog is not like a handbag that can be buried at the back of a wardrobe once you're bored of it or returned if it's not what you expected.
We have seen animals being offered in exchange for white goods or mobile phones, we have seen animals being given away, with the threat of destruction if someone, anyone, doesn't come and take them. This is not a sustainable situation, and we are working with websites to draft minimum standards for pet advertising.
The hope is that if we can improve the online pet sales environment, then fewer pet owners will consider that there is a market for the puppies and kittens they are yet to breed, and will instead choose to neuter.
Teaching pet owners of the future
It would also help if school children, the future pet owners, were encouraged to think about animal welfare, and what our treatment of animals says about us as a society. Animal welfare should be a compulsory part of the national curriculum and this must include staying safe around dogs.
We also want to see the establishment of a national neutering day, supported and promoted by the government. Essentially, the over population of cats and dogs in Britain is a numbers game. One unneutered female cat can be responsible for up to 20,000 kittens during her lifetime, and there are a lot of unneutered cats around.
If we don't take some decisive action now then increasing numbers of pets will suffer as a result. And if we allow that situation to develop then I don't think we have any right to call ourselves a nation of animal lovers.
Blue Cross has been dedicated to helping sick, injured and homeless pets since 1897. Find out more about the Blue Cross Big Neutering Campaign.
Follow Rachel Cunningham on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RCunningfox