null Animal cruelty doesn't stop for coronavirus - so neither did we! What we have learned from one year of lockdown

Animal cruelty doesn't stop for coronavirus - so neither did we! What we have learned from one year of lockdown

A guest blog by our press officer, Amy Ockelford.

It's been a funny old year. Life has changed dramatically for all of us, but the world continues to spin and many things stay the same, unchanged. One of those is the fact that - despite global health pandemics, national lockdowns, and major upheavals to the everyday lives of the human population - animals still need our help. And we're proud to say that we've been there for them through it all.

This time last year, none of us could have imagined where we are today but looking back on the highs and lows of the past 12 months, there are a number of things we have learned from this most challenging of years:

1. Our frontline teams are amazing in a crisis

While most of us were self-isolating, shielding or locked down in the safety of our homes - baking banana bread, spending quality time with pets, and watching every box set available on iPlayer and Netflix - for the country's dedicated and brave key workers, life continued as normal. Well, a 'new normal'.

Our dedicated frontline staff were no different. Our call handlers continued taking emergency calls, our inspectors and animal rescue officers continued investigating cruelty and rescuing animals in need, our vets continued to provide urgent treatment and care, and our centre staff continued to show the 6,000 animals in our care round-the-clock TLC.

Over the past year, we answered almost one million calls from the public into our hotline and our officers dealt with more than 250,000 urgent incidents. We also took more than 23,000 animals into our care and secured 498 convictions in court.

We had to adapt - quickly - to the ever-changing Government guidance and restrictions, so we were able to adhere to the rules, protect the public and our staff, as well as continue to be a lifeline for the animals who needed us most. It's been imperative that we continued to function during the pandemic; we couldn't just lock the doors and go home to wait for this all to blow over. We've adapted, changed and adjusted - sometimes on a weekly basis - so we could continue to help the animals. Sadly, animal cruelty doesn't stop for coronavirus.

2. And so are our supporters!

Our incredible supporters rallied together to help us during this difficult time. With normal fundraising efforts paused and events cancelled, we turned to new ways of raising funds to help the animals in our care. We received an outpouring of support from our wonderful donors and from the general public. Children drew pictures and sent cards to our staff, animal-lovers sent us messages of thanks and gratitude online, and many donated to our emergency fundraising appeal, helping to raise more than £1.8 million for needy animals over the course of the year!

With vital events postponed, we turned to a new event to raise funds and, on 26 April 2020 (in place of the London Marathon), the 2.6 challenge kicked off across the nation. Our incredible staff, volunteers, celebrity ambassadors and supporters raised more than £20,000 by hosting live work-outs, running a treadmill marathon, and even listening to Who Let The Dogs Out for 26.2 hours during this time.

Our annual One Fun Day was also shelved last year so our innovative events team decided to instead host a virtual event with animal-themed online sessions and the worlds' first-ever live Zoom pet show. We wouldn't have raised the money we did for animals in need without you all. From the animals and from us, thank you to you all!

3. We all pulled together when it really mattered

One of the upsides of this awful year has been reading the heartwarming stories of individuals and communities pulling together to help each other and the RSPCA community is no different. Our staff have gone above and beyond to help each other, animals and the public. They've picked up extra shifts to cover for shielding colleagues, moved out of their family homes so they could continue working, and responded to emergencies like Storm Christoph to rescue pets and their owners from flooded homes.

Our hard-working team has also done all they can to support pet owners including taking elderly owners' beloved pets for vital vet treatment, supporting food banks and delivering pet food, ensuring pets belonging to hospitalised owners got the care they needed and transporting emergency meds for animals when needed.

Moving tales include: making sure a little long-haired terrier who desperately needed a groom got his haircut, ensuring a field of Shetland ponies were fed daily, delivering food to an elderly man with severe health difficulties who couldn't get to the shops to pick up biscuits for his beloved cats, and setting up a relay of five individuals to transport a long-stay dog 270 miles (without breaching travel rules) to his new home. Our staff, branches and volunteers have gone above and beyond to help animals and their owners in need and we're so proud of what they have accomplished.

4. The lives of animals are so closely linked with humans - and we need to act now

We launched our new strategy Together for Animal Welfare in January and some of our ambitious goals for animals have certainly been shaped by our experiences in the past year. It's become increasingly stark that the way we farm, use and live with animals has critical consequences, not just for animal welfare but for human health and the environment.

We want to bring an end to intensive farming in the UK which presents so many issues for animals living lives of suffering as well as making another pandemic, possibly even more deadly, more likely. We want to encourage people to Eat Less; Eat Better - to eat less meat, and when they do, to choose higher welfare options such as RSPCA Assured.

We want to end the global fur trade - a trade that causes unimaginable suffering to the animals who live through it. And the trade that has already been highlighted as the source of a Covid-19 variant. We want the impact on animal welfare to be considered in policy and law. This last year has shown us that this is not only vital for animals but vital for us too.

Read more: Sign our #FurFreeBritain petition to help end the cruel fur trade.

5. The importance of our pets

We all love our pets and the companionship they offer, but their support and company have been immeasurable over the last year, particularly for people who live alone and have been struggling with the lockdown. Perhaps unsurprisingly with everyone spending so much more time at home, the demand for pets during the pandemic has sky-rocketed, causing many worrying trends and issues, such as the increasing numbers of puppies being imported, as well as fears about how these pets will cope when normal life returns.

Read more: Thinking of getting a puppy while we're on lockdown?

The good news is that we've seen a huge spike in interest in fostering and adopting during lockdown. In fact, we saw 244% and 68% increases, respectively, in the number of people visiting these areas of our website. We've been blown away by the number of people who have been desperate to offer a rescued pet a new home. Now, it's important that all of us start to prepare our pets for what life and our routines will look like post lockdown in order to avoid anxiety for them.

Read more: How do I prepare my dog for life post-lockdown?

6. Home schooling is hard but there's help available!

Parents have a new-found respect for teachers after spending months trying to juggle their jobs with trigonometry and art projects. Through this, we're happy to have been able to be there to help, continually providing free online teaching resources to help keep children learning during the upheaval the school closures have created.

Our education team has reached tens of thousands of children, teenagers and young adults, including the 6,240 classes who signed up to the Compassionate Class scheme and 2,696 youngsters who took part in Wild Things, over the past year. During this time, we've provided resources for early years and primary plus secondary lesson plans, activities and crafts, and interactive games and quizzes for KS1 and KS2 children.

We've all loved spending time with our pets and getting out into nature during lockdown - in fact, it's been one of the very few positives to come out of this pandemic. And there's no need to stop enjoying the wonders of wildlife now the schools are back and we're planning our return to normal life. Schools can continue to build on the reconnection to Mother Nature, our environment and animal life through our free online resources. Why not explore our interactive wildlife garden?

Find out more about how we're working through the pandemic

Our latest coronavirus updates and pet advice.

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