Opinion Former Article

Mayhew Animal Home: How can we stem this canine crisis?

by Caroline Yates, CEO, Mayhew Animal Home

A release of statistics last week revealed there has been a 130% rise in the number of stray dogs on Britain’s streets. The Mayhew Animal Home gives their perspective on what needs to be done to stem this canine crisis.

When animal lovers travel to some parts of the world they are often shocked by the number of stray dogs roaming the streets of major towns and cities across the globe. But many people here could be excused for not realising the problem is equally as grave in our own UK capital as charities struggle to cope with the escalating numbers of unwanted dogs.

The Mayhew works with one of our local councils, the London Borough of Brent, as the first port of call to admit stray dogs that the Council is called upon to handle. The Mayhew takes in, on average, 150 stray dogs per year, with less than a third being returned to their owners. The vast majority are not microchipped, or are micro-chipped but the details registered are no longer valid, nor do many dogs on admittance to us have any other form of identification, so it is extremely difficult and well nigh impossible to return them to an owner if one exists. Following the statutory seven days for an owner to come forward, these dogs fall under ownership of The Mayhew and we then work hard to find them a loving, forever home.

That may sound simple, but that is far from the reality.

Every day our reception desk is inundated with calls from people who, for a myriad of reasons are no longer willing or able to care for their pets. Our Dog Adoption Officer will deal with over 150 “unwanted” forms per month, and this is on top of the strays, trying to find a solution for each of the callers, as The Mayhew alone, is simply not in a position to take in all the unwanted dogs. Our Dog Adoption Officer says ‘I spend a great deal of time telephoning every one of the people who have left their details on one of our unwanted forms and it is heartbreaking not to be able to take in and help every dog. However, ultimately this is not the solution as there simply too many dogs and not enough homes out there for them, even if we could admit them all . It is simply too easy to obtain an animal in this country and, sadly too easy to give them up. I cannot stress enough how great the responsibility of taking a dog on really is and, how so few people seem to spend more than five minutes weighing up all the considerations of bringing a dog into your life.’

As we are a relatively small centre for holding animals on site we are not always able to take in the dogs. So what happens when The Mayhew is too full to help? We will try to give assistance, giving details of other shelters that might be able to help, providing advice if it is a behavioural issue, which if addressed, will mean the animal remains in the home environment, helping with neutering, sending our Animal Welfare Officers around to assess the circumstances. But the situation is critical, the number of strays and abandoned animals is simply escalating in the current climate and there needs to be some radical steps taken to stop the pressure on animal welfare organisations bearing the brunt of our throwaway society. It is a sad fact, that if stray, abandoned or unwanted animals are not admitted to centres such as ours, where they will be given a second chance, many of them are euthanised following the seven day period, regardless of their state of health or temperament - such a senseless waste of life.

What can be done to stop this?

It is an extremely challenging area. Charities will not able to continue picking up these pieces. If welfare organisations admitting strays in London closed their doors, the very real problem of overpopulation and irresponsible ownership would become much more of a reality for all Londoners. There is not necessarily any quick fix or any one solution to the problem. Yes, compulsory micro-chipping is a great idea. Yes, control orders can deal with some issues, but individually they will not address the root causes. They can be more seen as a plaster administered to staunch a major arterial bleed. It is dealing with the problem once it has occurred, rather than preventing the problem happening in the first place. The Mayhew believes a more comprehensive package is a better option. This package would comprise much more regulated legislation and a curb on the breeding of animals; after all if the animals were not being born, they would not have to be needlessly euthanized, a registration system for animal owners, which would involved a fee, but this to be nominal for neutered animals and a significant amount for non-neutered animals, an annual check to ensure the animal is well-cared for, from both a medical and environmental point of view. This, together with national and local government support for the promotion of adoption of animals from shelters, encouragement of neutering with subsidies available and more education on what constitutes responsible pet ownership is the way forward. Government support is crucial as animal welfare issues cannot be disassociated from social welfare issues and attention to animal welfare will also mean attention to social welfare issues for the benefit of animals and people alike.

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