05:00PM, Thursday 24 December 2020
In a history spanning 160 years, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has not faced a challenge quite like the one encountered in 2020.
Like many organisations across the country, the charity was plunged into the unknown in March following the announcement of the first national lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Switching to ‘work from home’ isn’t quite as straightforward when your workplace involves the care of dozens of rescue animals.
But the charity had to adapt and it quickly overhauled its operation with visits from prospective forever families moving online and Battersea’s legion of foster carers stepping in to help.
Karen Slavid, a team leader at the charity’s Old Windsor rescue centre, told the Express she had never experienced a challenge like it in her 16 years of service.
“Like many organisations we’ve just had to adapt as best as we can, nobody has ever really experienced this before and it all happened so suddenly,” she said.
“Luckily we’ve got a wonderful army of foster carers and before the first lockdown we managed to get huge numbers of our dogs and cats out into foster homes so they were out of the kennel blocks and being cared for in a home environment.
“It helped us comply with the lockdown rules and reduce the number of people and animals on site.”
The switch from office-based to homeworking for many in society has made the prospect of owning a pet more appealing for some.
But Karen said people need to remember having a pet is a lifetime commitment.
“The big thing for us is making sure it isn’t a rash decision and it’s something they’ve thought about,” she said.
“If they have been working from home that’s great, that’s wonderful time to spend with your animals.
“But if you expect to go back to work, and back to normal, do you have the provisions for that animal?
“It is really important that people think about it as a lifetime commitment, it isn’t just a snap decision.”
COVID-19 has forced businesses and society as a whole to move into the virtual world.
For Battersea, this has meant the traditional meet and greet between prospective owners and the centre’s animals has switched to a virtual introduction.
But Karen said this has been successful with people able to watch the animals on a live-stream.
The Government’s latest Tier 4 restrictions mean rehoming has been suspended until further notice and the centre can only take animals in on an emergency basis.
While 2020 has proven to be a challenging year, with many of the charity’s major fundraising events also cancelled, a visit from Battersea’s patron, the Duchess of Cornwall to the Priest Hill centre earlier this month provided some positive news.
Accompanied by her own rescue dog, Jack Russell Beth, Her Royal Highness opened new kennels which include a dedicated maternity area and puppy paddock.
Karen added: “The Duchess always been really supportive of the work we do and having her come over to the kennels to see the work we do was really great.”
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