700 rescued animals waiting for space in 'full to bursting' RSPCA centres

700 rescued animals waiting for space in 'full to bursting' RSPCA centres

The RSPCA urgently needs more foster carers to help free up spaces in its animal centres - as shocking new statistics reveal 700 rescued animals are waiting for a space. 

The charity estimates its spending an eye-watering £26,000 a week on private boarders for the temporary care for hundreds of rescued animals - including dogs, cats, rabbits, small furry animals, exotic pets, birds and farm animals - as its 59 rehoming centres are "full to bursting". 

In response, the RSPCA has launched an urgent new drive to recruit more fosterers to care for animals temporarily in their own homes, while supported by the RSPCA - to help ease the pressure.

The shocking new statistics come as the RSPCA's annual rehoming campaign - Adoptober - continues to shine a light on the work of the charity's animal centres, and the rescue pets looking for a second chance of happiness.  

Brian Reeves, RSPCA's head of volunteering:

We're struggling. Our centres are full to bursting at the moment which means we're having to use vital charity funds to pay for animals to be cared for with private boarders and have a long waiting list of animals waiting to come into our centres where they can start their search for a new home. 

We're in the middle of an animal crisis and we can only see it getting worse over the winter months as the cost of living crisis bites. It's absolutely vital that we free up as much space in RSPCA centres now, so we've got room for animal victims of neglect and cruelty we rescued in the coming weeks and months - and more fosterers are going to be crucial in achieving that. 

Getting pets into loving foster homes - especially ahead of the winter months - will be a lifeline to our frontline officers and the animals in danger we need to rescue.

In total, 691 animals are currently being boarded in temporary care with private boards due to a lack of space at centres - including 120 dogs, 144 cats, 112 rabbits, eight small furry animals, 38 exotic birds, 35 birds and 102 farm animals, because there is not enough room in "jam-packed centres".

Capacity problems at RSPCA centres are being exacerbated by an increase in calls to the RSPCA post-pandemic, a slowdown in rehoming, and a surge in the number of animals coming into the charity's care - as cost of living pressures continue to bite.

The animal welfare charity has 14 national rehoming centres across England and Wales, with a further 45 centres run by RSPCA branches, which are separate charities in their own right. Collectively, the centres rehomed an incredible 26,945 animals last year, however:

  • The number of animals rehomed is down - by 8% compared to 2020, and by a whopping 31% compared to 2019.
  • As rehoming slows, the average length of stay for an animal in RSPCA care also increased; for dogs by 9.4% - from 85 days in 2020 to 93 days in 2021 - and for rabbits - from 104 in 2020 to 117 in 2021, an increase of 12.5%.
  • More, people are seeking to rehome or give up their pets - the charity's Giving up a Pet article has seen page views surge by 42% already this year, compared to the whole of last year.

The RSPCA currently has 350 foster carers registered, with even more supporting the 145-strong network of RSPCA branches - but the charity urgently needs more, as these problems mount. 

Brian added: 

As more animals come into our care, stay for longer with us, and fewer people are adopting, we're in a really worrying situation. 

It's a real space race at the moment - with no room at so many of our jam-packed centres.

Fortunately, we have 350 incredible fosterers already - and we're so grateful to them all, but we urgently need more. These fosterers welcome rescue animals in their own homes on a temporary basis, fully supported by the RSPCA, and are invaluable to us.

Times are tough, but fostering could be a lifeline to helping us rescue more animals over the next few months. It's not only an amazing, rewarding volunteering opportunity; but could also help alleviate real pressure on our resources and help tackle this growing animal welfare crisis.

Animals in private boarding are waiting for spaces at RSPCA centres in all parts of England and Wales - but the areas with the longest waiting lists are Durham/Cleveland (120), Mid Wales (91), Cumbria (53), West Yorkshire (41) and Essex/Suffolk (40).

The RSPCA provides foster carers with all the financial, emotional and some logistical support they need in providing temporary care for the animal - including any medication the pet may be taking and funding for any ongoing veterinary treatment. 

Fostering also gives people who would normally be unable to take in an animal long-term, due to other commitments, an alternative and an opportunity to have pets in the home. 

Brian added: 

Put simply - we urgently need more people willing to open up their homes, and their hearts, to help give dogs, cats and other animals a fresh start in life.

Thankfully, it's such a great role. Fostering can be challenging work but it's also incredibly rewarding - and makes such a huge difference to the individual animal, as well as to us. It can also be hugely beneficial for the fosterer too; allowing them to have the company of a pet without the long-term or financial commitment of adopting.

Fostering is also incredibly valuable to ensure that the animals we rescue get the specialist and individual care that they need. It offers a lifeline for vulnerable animals who might really struggle in an animal centre environment, and it also means we can free up extra space in our centres to take in more animals in need if we have some placed in foster homes, where they'll continue to receive our support.

Foster mum to 200

One of the RSPCA's most prolific fosterers is 77-year-old Maureen Austin from Woking, who also volunteers at the charity's Millbrook Animal Centre. 

Maureen has been fostering pets for more than 12 years - including six dogs, and - unbelievably - more than 200 cats, including mums and kittens, orphans for hand-rearing, elderly and sick cats.

She retired from her role with a construction company in 2009 - and jumped at the chance of being able to volunteer in animal welfare as a fosterer:

I thought, what is it that I've always wanted to do? And the answer was to work with animals!

All cats are different and I really enjoy spending time with all of the different characters. Each time it's a different challenge. Sometimes I just need to give them a good home, others I need to teach them how to live in a home or get them used to being handled.

The self-confessed 'crazy cat-lady' said she feels 'lucky' to get the opportunity to help so many cats. Plus, she offers a great gig for the cats - who have a special room in her house dedicated to them, where they've their own comfy beds, scratching posts, and even a TV! 

She likes to help nervous cats build their trust and confidence, as well as get cats used to living in a normal home, and hand-rearing kittens until they're ready for rehoming. 

Maureen keeps a book with photos and information about each cat she's helped so she can look back and remember them and - while she finds it hard to say goodbye - knows there are always more cats to help.

She added: 

It can be hard saying goodbye when they go off to their new homes but there's always another cat who needs my help so that keeps me going. It's very rewarding to have updates from their new owners. I know I'm helping the cats but they also help me. I get so much out of doing this; it gives me a purpose and I feel incredibly lucky that I get to do it.

Helping with exam stress

In North Wales, Nia Ball supports the RSPCA's Bryn-Y-Maen Animal Centre, fostering rabbits while living in Caernarfon. She describes fostering as "the most rewarding process ever" - and found her volunteering with the charity beneficial as she coped with the stress of her A-Level examinations:

I've been volunteering at the RSPCA since 2009 and fostering rabbits since April 2016. I decided to foster during my A-levels, as I found exams stressful and it was difficult to find time for the hour-and-a-half round trip to volunteer at the RSPCA.

Fostering allowed me to help the RSPCA and to have interactions with animals in my own home. Fostering is the most rewarding process ever. I love volunteering, but the one-to-one attention that the rabbits get at home really helps them.

I've fostered a total of 21 rabbits, all with their own personalities and challenges. They've come to me as aggressive, territorial or just petrified of people due to their awful start in life. Within days of being with me, they're happy and they begin to trust me and this is the most rewarding part. Many of my foster rabbits had never experienced a home life. I've also fostered a deaf rabbit and had to adapt the way I communicated with him. My ultimate goal is always to get them ready for a permanent home and I really enjoy having updates from their owners once they're in those homes.

Fostering is flexible. If I go on holiday, the rabbit can go back to the centre and if I have a month at home from University I can phone the RSPCA and ask if any rabbit needs fostering. They always have someone who will benefit from the experience.

In addition, the RSPCA provides all supplies for the rabbits including litter trays, hay, food, bedding, bowls and toys. They would also cover veterinary bills if that was ever needed.

How you can get involved

If you can't foster a pet, perhaps you could help in a different way:

  • Volunteer for us - it's hugely rewarding and enjoyable!
  • Help us continue rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming by donating online or calling our donation line on 0300 123 8181.
  • Sponsor a cat pod or a dog kennel and help take care of the animals during their stay with us.
  • Support the work of your local centre or branch by becoming a volunteer or donating to them directly.