With lockdown putting extra pressure on animal welfare centres, we talk to those on the front line about how they’re handling this challenging situation
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended normal life around the world, and that includes the work of animal rescue charities. With rehoming operations and fundraising opportunities severely restricted, many organisations are facing huge challenges – while fearing that cats need their help now more than ever.
Like all rescue charities, Cats Protection has had to reduce its operations during lockdown. “Much of our activity, including face-to-face fundraising and events, has been put on hold until further notice, and at this time we are also unable to take any more cats into our care, other than in exceptional circumstances,” says the charity’s Director of Operations, Mark Beazley. The organisation is also busy providing welfare advice for cat owners – including information on cats and COVID-19.
Stories in the press about cats testing positive with the virus – including domestic cats and lions and tigers at New York’s Bronx Zoo – may be worrying for pet owners, but Beazley is happy to clarify the facts. “There is currently no evidence that cats can transmit COVID-19 to humans, so owners should not worry unnecessarily,” he says. “There have been a very small number of reports in the media suggesting transmission of COVID-19 from people to cats may be possible. Currently the evidence is limited and the number of cats involved is extremely low, implying transmission from humans to cats is extremely rare.”
As a precaution, cat owners have been advised to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and hot water before and after handling their cats. “Those infected with COVID-19 should be particularly mindful by minimising contact,” Beazley notes. Since in theory any surface – including a cat’s fur – could temporarily harbour the virus from an infected person, resist the temptation to stroke any cats you spot on your daily walks.
Lockdown pressures on pet rescues
Happily, the message that there’s no known risk of picking up the virus from cats seems to be getting out there. “I’ve only had one person phone up to ask if we could take her cat because she was worried about the virus,” says Jackie Bahooshy of New Start Cat Rescue in Gloucestershire. “Our advice was to phone a vet – and after getting the facts, she decided to keep the cat.”
However, many rescue charities are concerned about other impacts of the lockdown. “It’s a huge worry that routine veterinary services such as neutering and vaccinations have been interrupted, meaning we could see more unwanted kittens, or diseases like cat flu re-emerging,” says Steph Taylor of the Rescue Me Animal Sanctuary in Merseyside. “We’re currently caring for a kitten brought to our gate with two broken legs. Our emergency vet told us the injury was about three weeks old, so we suspect the owner couldn’t find a vet that was open during lockdown – or couldn’t afford to pay. I’m worried we’ll see more people abandoning animals because they can’t readily access a vet, or are too ashamed to go.”
If your pet shows any signs of illness or injury Petplan recommends you call your vet for advice. Most practices are happy to provide free advice over the telephone and many are now offering online consultations as well. We will cover the cost of online vet consultations the same way as we do for face to face consultations to help ensure our customers can get the advice they need.
With charities unable to carry out their normal fundraising activities, many are more dependent than ever on donations. “It’s affecting us badly, but you don’t just give up,” says Bahooshy. “I’m humbled every day by the kindness of our supporters, who’ve been donating whatever they can afford, putting items in our collection bin on their daily walks, and ordering supplies from our Amazon wishlist. It all helps.”
The good news for those thinking of getting a cat is that many rescue centres are now in the process of shifting rehoming processes online, including carrying out virtual home checks and letting you ‘meet’ the cats on video, to ease the backlog. “We’ve just rehomed our first two cats, all while observing social distancing,” says Bahooshy.
The British Veterinary Association advises against rearing kittens in lockdown, so it may be better to rehome an older cat. And be patient, urges Taylor. “Everything is changing rapidly and we’re having to figure out new protocols as we go! We’re trying our best, and we have to make sure we put the animals first.”
Thanks to the generosity of our customers, the Petplan Charitable Trust has been able to contribute vital funds to animal charities to help get them through the Covid-19 crisis. £150,000 donated to the Association of Dogs and Cats Home (ADCH) Emergency Coronavirus Appeal and another £50,000 donated to the Covid-19 Equine Rescues Emergency Fund. We work in partnership with 1,200 animal charities across the UK and know this money is desperately needed to ensure they can continue to support the animals in their care.
We understand these are challenging times for our customers. If you have any questions about how your policy may be affected by COVID-19, as well as any changes to your cover, please have a look at our FAQs for the latest updates.