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RSPCA

Concern as pets absent from Wales’ new homelessness action plan

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man in blue denim jeans sitting beside white short coat dog

The needs of animal-owning homeless people, and their pets, must be a key consideration in the Welsh Government’s strategy to end homelessness. That’s the call from RSPCA Cymru – as an action plan to end homelessness in Wales is published by Welsh Ministers.

The action plan does not presently reference animal welfare –  but, ahead of a difficult winter, the charity is urging the Welsh Government and local authorities to ensure that vulnerable individuals are not required to choose between accessing safe and secure accommodation and keeping their pets.

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Estimates suggest 10 percent of homeless people have a pet – with dogs being the most common companions.

Local authorities must also publish homelessness strategies in Wales under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 – but research from the RSPCA found none of the 22 make reference to animal welfare.

Reports have suggested only eight hostels in Wales presently operate a dog-friendly policy. The Senedd also heard in 2019 that 18 of Wales’ 22 local authorities had no dog-friendly hostels at all.

RSPCA Cymru believes the Welsh Government should work in partnership with local authorities and providers of accommodation for homeless people to ensure the fear of losing pets is not providing a barrier to vulnerable individuals accessing services.

There’s also calls for model tenancy agreements to be introduced in Wales, discouraging landlords from imposing blanket bans on pets unless there is justifiable reason to do so.

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Billie-Jade Thomas, RSPCA public affairs adviser, said: “As the Welsh Government unveils its plan to combat homelessness in Wales, it is vital the needs of those with pets, and the animals themselves, are considered.

“We’re worried that too many people are having to choose between accessing services and their pets – and that’s incredibly tragic and unacceptable.

“While local authorities must already publish homelessness strategies, unfortunately our research has found that none currently mention animal welfare.

“As the Welsh Government takes forward its new action plan, work with local authorities and providers of accommodation will be key to ensure pet ownership is not proving a barrier to people accessing lifelines of support.

“It’s also vital the whole housing sector in Wales is better equipped at welcoming pets – and that’s why we think model tenancy agreements for the rented sector will be crucial; allowing pets as the default position. Across the UK, 7% of private landlords advertise pet-friendly properties – a situation likely to improve in England with the new model tenancy agreements there; and it’s vital Wales doesn’t fall behind.”

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RSPCA Cymru was one of the six charities who previously worked with Jack Sargeant MS on the creation of a Pet Friendly ‘Paw-licy’ for Wales.

The report made a host of recommendations to tackle issues relevant to Wales’ homeless animal owners – including facilitating the provision of pet friendly accommodation, training staff on understanding the benefits of pet ownership for homeless people and highlighting the benefits of positive pet policies for tenants to social housing providers and the private rented sector.

Jack Sargeant MS, who represents Alyn and Deeside, added: “My involvement in this was inspired by a conversation with a homeless man about his pet. His story about not being able to access accommodation and keep his dog, really struck a chord with me. As a dog lover myself I strongly feel no one should be faced with this heart-breaking decision.

“I completely agree with RSPCA Cymru and I hope the Welsh Government will consider pet welfare in their plans to end homelessness and take onboard the recommendations set out in the pet friendly policy.”

(Lead image: MART PRODUCTION / Pexels.com)

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Pets

Blind rescue dog finds his new human ‘guide’

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An elderly blind dog who came into rescue in Wales at the age of 11 has got a bright future ahead of him after his “cheeky personality” won over his foster carer who decided to permanently adopt him.

Golden oldie Tiny Tim, described as “young at heart,” was in a very poor condition when he arrived at the RSPCA’s Llys Nini Animal Centre in March after his elderly owner was no longer able to care for him.

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As well as sight loss, the little Westie was suffering from a range of health issues including an ear infection, sore skin and a severely matted coat, which had to be shaved in places to make him more comfortable. His teeth, however, were in remarkably good shape for a dog of his age.

Now, three months later, Tiny Tim is thriving with his fosterer Sally Humphries, who has become so attached to the cheeky dog – whose antics include stealing food from the fridge when she isn’t looking – that she’s decided to adopt him permanently.

He is even being taught clicker training by Sally – a type of reward based training where a clicker is used to tell a dog that they have done the right thing – and responds to his name and to instructions such as, ‘sit’, ‘lie,’ ‘step up’ and ‘step down’.

“When I first got Tim home I set up a camera to monitor how he was coping and we started by keeping him on a lead and doing laps around different rooms to help familiarise him with the space,” said Sally, who is also the kennel team leader at Llys Nini Animal Centre. “I put different textures in certain places, for example, a rug in front of the sofa and a towel under his water bowl to get him used to his surroundings.

“Despite his advancing years and the fact that we were advised he would probably need palliative care, he’s got a real zest for life. He’s definitely young at heart and I’ve had to be quite fit to keep up with him! When we go out and about I’m his eyes, so that means doing things like making sure other dogs do not approach him too quickly. He loves being taken for a walk and sniffing out new smells and he’ll climb up on things if you’re not looking, so his blindness isn’t holding him back.

Sally added: “Although I didn’t initially plan to adopt Tim, he’s completely won me and my dad over with his cheeky personality. He’s settled in so well and really enjoys the company of my other rescue dog, Lady.

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“As time went on, I felt it would be unfair to expect him to start all over again with someone new and strange surroundings, particularly at his age, and more so because he’s blind.

“He’s wonderful company and a great example of how an older dog with a disability has so much to give and get out of life.”

Blind dogs are no different to sighted dogs in terms of their ability and desire to learn. Training, using positive, reward based methods is an excellent way to strengthen the bond between a dog and their owner and help the pet learn important life skills and behaviours.

As well as supporting him with his sight loss, Tiny Tim’s skin will also need to be closely monitored by Sally for the rest of his life and his ears bathed daily.

Blind Westie, Tiny Tim has settled into his new forever home (Video RSPCA)

(Lead image: RSPCA)

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Motoring

Pet owners warned not to leave animals in hot vehicles as temperatures set to soar

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short coated dog inside a car

With temperatures set to rise across Wales in the coming days, people are being reminded to protect their pets and not leave them in hot vehicles.

Every year animals are harmed or die by being left alone in cars and vans during warmer weather, even for a very short while.

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Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths is reminding people to protect their pets as temperatures hit higher figures.

The Minister said: “Although many of us enjoy the hotter weather, it cannot always be said for our pets who we cherish.

“Some people believe leaving their pet in a vehicle in the shade or with the windows down will be fine, but it is simply not the case.

“Vehicles can get hot very quickly and leaving animals alone in these higher temperatures is very dangerous.

“We love our pets and I encourage everyone to take the steps needed to ensure they are protected and comfortable during warmer weather. If you are out and about with your pet, plan your day carefully making sure they are never left in a vehicle for any amount of time.”

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If a pet is seen to be in distress in a vehicle during the warmer weather, it is important to dial 999 immediately and ask for assistance.

Further information on what steps can be taken to protect animals can be found on the RSPCA website.

RSPCA companion animal welfare expert, Dr Samantha Gaines said: “With more warm weather expected across Wales, it’s so important people make a plan to keep their pets safe – and we’d urge pet owners to check out the advice on the RSPCA website. 

“Walks are great for our dogs – but when temperatures get very warm, exercise may be too much for them and some dogs, such as those bred for flat faces, are particularly at risk. When it’s really hot, any dog can be affected – so early morning or late evening walks can be much safer at this time of year, as it’s cooler.

“With Covid restrictions at an end, it’s great people are planning trips again and getting out and about – but when it is scorching outside, or if an event isn’t appropriate, owners may wish to consider leaving dogs at home. Busy, loud environments can be very distressing; and dogs need constant access to water and shade.

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“It’s also so important to never leave a dog in a car during warm weather. Even if it doesn’t feel very warm outside, dogs can quickly suffer if shut inside a car – and the consequences, sadly, can be fatal. Put simply, dogs die in hot cars.

“It’s also vital pet owners know the signs of heat-related illnesses in dogs. Excessive panting, difficulty breathing, unusual tiredness and a reluctance to play could all be signs something is wrong – so keeping a close eye on our animals is key.”

Wales Rural & Wildlife Crime Coordinator, Rob Taylor said: “Leaving your dog, for only a short time in your car, will result in them overheating with the consequence of death.

“It’s simple, either leave your dog at your home or please do not leave them in your car as your pet will suffer and you could also be prosecuted for your actions.”

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Police and Crime

Campaign urging people to be responsible around coastal wildlife launched by RSPCA and police in Wales

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A campaign to stop people behaving irresponsibly near marine animals such as seals, dolphins and nesting birds is being rolled out in Wales.

Operation Seabird is a joint campaign between the RSPCA, all four Wales police forces – North Wales Police, South Wales Police, Gwent Police and Dyfed Powys Police – and other partner organisations such as Natural Resources Wales.

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The first action day on 14 April saw RSPCA officers patrolling areas in Colwyn Bay/Angel Bay and Abersoch with North Wales Police, and aimed to raise awareness and educate people about how vital it is not to disturb the mammals and birds of Britain’s coastal areas and to enjoy watching them from afar.

RSPCA animal rescue officer and wildlife officer Ellie West took part in the first action day with Dyfed Powys Police in Pembrokeshire.

The RSPCA say that sadly, common disturbances to wildlife include speedboats, kayaks and paddleboards deliberately getting too close to seals, dolphins and cetaceans. This often causes stress to the animals and can result in the females suffering spontaneous abortions or babies being abandoned by their mothers.

The animal charity say that other issues include dogs off leads disturbing nesting birds or seals, litter including plastic rings severely injuring seals, wild camping beach barbecues and camp fires causing significant damage on the beach, and quad bikes or 4x4s vehicles riding over nesting areas.

There have even been incidents where beachgoers have got too close to wild animals for the sake of a selfie. Users of boats and other watercraft can also cause severe injury to some marine mammals if they collide with them while trying to watch them.

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Sergeant Matthew Langley of Dyfed Powys Police’s Rural Crime Team said: “The aim of Op Seabird is not that of enforcement but of engagement and education with the public to ensure they enjoy our beautiful coastline safely and responsibly.

“Last year we saw a large increase in disturbance offences mainly due to a certain celebrity walrus who came to holiday in Tenby! It is important for the public to also be aware that by disturbing wildlife they may be committing offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.”

RSPCA inspector Andy Broadbent said: “We want people to enjoy watching our marine wildlife but this should be done at a safe and sensible distance without disturbing the animals.

“Every year, the RSPCA’s wildlife centres have to treat and rehabilitate a wide range of wildlife – including seals and seabirds – which have been injured or orphaned due to human disturbance.

“While last year, we may remember Wally the Walrus who visited Pembrokeshire for a long period of time. It was really concerning when we had reports of some people trying to get close to him by using jet skis or paddle and surf boards. It wasn’t in his best interest and we always urge people to act responsibly when they see any marine animal.

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“If people have concerns about an animal, they should keep their distance and contact the RSPCA helpline on 0300 1234 999 (daily 7am-10pm).”

Operation Seabird is urging people visiting Britain’s coastline to maintain a significant distance from wildlife, both at sea and around the coast; never get close enough to touch animals or take selfies; read signs and stick to paths; and keep dogs on leads where instructed to do so and keep dogs under control at all times.

As the holiday season begins, high visibility patrols by the RSPCA, local police forces and wildlife groups will target coastal areas where people and animals interact, such as beaches with seal colonies, dolphins swimming offshore or sites with nesting seabirds.

Sergeant Liam Jones of the North Wales Police Rural Crime Team said: “Op Seabird Cymru seeks to engage key partners to work with the police throughout Wales to educate those people who use our coastal areas and seas and to enable them to enjoy our wildlife safely and without disturbance.

“Over the years we have seen an increase in people using our coastal areas and being unaware of the effect that they can have on coastal birds and mammals if they act irresponsibly. A disturbance can have a devastating effect on certain species and their habitats and with simple education and engagement we can help prevent it from happening.”

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Dog attacks can kill seals, as well as posing a risk to the dogs themselves from bites that can become infected from the bacteria that live inside a seal’s mouth. Seal pups disturbed by curious people will move off into the sea, using valuable energy which they need to survive and grow. Birds such as little terns travel thousands of miles to breed in very specific UK coastal points.

They have one annual chance to nest and produce young, but if disturbed this opportunity is lost, and due to their ground nesting habit they are particularly vulnerable to dogs, and careless feet.

Andy added: “While our beautiful beach and coastal areas are great to have fun in, they are natural habitats and breeding grounds for many native and migratory animals, including several species on the endangered list. We humans share this space, and we can easily and unwittingly cause disturbance, fear, and distress.

“For many tourists it can be surprising and exciting to see marine mammals, including seals and their pups which will normally rest on the beach at various times of year, as well as ground nesting birds which are usually resident between March to September. But as tempting as it is to approach them, we would respectfully ask that everyone stays at a distance and keeps their dogs on leads and under control.

“Our message is to ‘Observe, Don’t Disturb’ as people visit Britain’s wonderful coastline.”

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