The Covid-19 pandemic took the world by surprise and has changed how we all live our lives.
In the UK, a complete lockdown was enforced suddenly meaning that across the country homing centres and welfare charities were forced to cease activities almost overnight. Whilst those who work or volunteer with cats in this sector had to cope with these sudden changes, what was the impact on the cats in their care? And how did the pandemic force changes to the way some of the biggest charities function to continue their invaluable work for unowned cats?
We spoke to Victoria Murray, Volunteer Coordinator at Blue Cross Rehoming Centre in Southampton, UK, to find out how they coped with lockdown and how this impacted on the way they rehome cats.
The covid pandemic has caused huge disruption across many sectors regarding how people work. What was the initial response when lockdown was announced with regard to rehoming and admitting cats into care?
We were advised to stop all rehoming and admissions from the 24th of March other than for emergencies and pets in crisis. We began admitting again towards the end of April once we had all our new procedures in place to do so safely.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during this time?
The unknown! Not knowing how things were going to play out and affect us as a centre and charity. Having to change our ways of working dramatically and in a very short space of time whilst trying to protect and safeguard our teams yet still provide high welfare standards, care and support to all our pets and volunteers. Things are still a bit unknown even now although we are all used to the current way of doing things. We still have quite a way to go until we are functioning as normal, if that will ever be the case.
Were there any impacts (positive or negative!) on the welfare of the cats in your care?
We quickly moved as many cats as possible into foster homes and closed the centre to the public. The teams were split into two and those who could work at home were required to.
This meant that a much higher percentage of cats were in foster homes which was fantastic for both fosterers and the cats.
Those that remained at the centre were in a much quieter environment with far less people and we saw a huge turn around in some of our nervous cats due to the continuity of team members working with them and the time they were able to dedicate.
Did you see an increase in offers to foster cats during this time?
Sadly not so much for cats. Between the end of March and beginning of September we’ve had a huge increase in offers for dogs, into the hundreds, but only around 15 specifically for cats. We did have approx. 20 enquiries who didn’t specify and just said they would foster any pet.
How have you moved forward and what processes have been changed as a result of the pandemic with regard to admitting and rehoming cats?
When we were deep in lockdown, we stopped rehoming for a few weeks but then began to explore rehoming just through video footage. Our fosterers supplied this in spades, and we had some really successful rehomes just through this method. We have continued to do this along with implementing a Foster to Adopt scheme for those who felt they needed a little more time to decide.
We now admit straight to foster where possible, rather than housing a cat at the centre for a period of time. This has been much more beneficial and far better for the cat or kittens involved. Our fosterers have taken this in their stride and been so patient, accommodating and understanding.
From a personal perspective, I have been taking on foster homes through virtual means! Something I never thought I’d do! Live video calls with a potential new fosterer have been amazing and no less thorough than a home visit. I’ve had some great tours, with added commentary of course!
Do you think there have been any positive effects of the pandemic for homing centres?
Looking at alternative ways of providing help to pets and their owners. The restrictions meant that we had to explore new ways of working such as offering behaviour support with the aim to keep pets in their homes and supporting owners rather than immediately discussing rehoming. We have also done more virtual appointments and meetings which have helped keep costs down.
Fewer cats at the centre means they are less stressed, and for those in foster, we have a better understanding of the cats personality and needs, which helps to match to a more suitable owner.
Have you seen a rise in people wanting to rehome cats during lockdown? Have there been an impact on the number of cats needing to be rehomed as a result of the pandemic?
Initially we did see a small rise in the number of applications per cat, particularly when we didn’t have many on our website. Things have settled back to a more normal level now although we have seen far less kittens this year which is unusual.
Our way of admitting pets has become more streamlined, with a dedicated team looking after the requests to rehome, plus we have been working more collaboratively with other centres and charities around the country to find space for cats if a particular centre isn’t able to help due to lack of space or local lockdowns.
You can find more information about our Cat Friendly Homing programme, which looks at solutions for unowned pet cats here
And for more general information about unowned cats, visit our Cat Friendly Solutions for Unowned Cats section here