Battersea cats and dogs

Meet the people who care for abandoned animals at Battersea Dogs & Cats home

When I visited Battersea Dogs & Cats home I was overwhelmed with feelings of hope and positivity.

I’ll admit that I didn’t expect this. I was looking forward to going to the animal rescue home, already knowing that the work they do is incredibly important, but I thought it would be quite a sad place.

Of course, the concept of animals being abandoned, left alone, or even injured is horrible. But the atmosphere at the centre is so positive towards every single dog and cat who comes to them that I spent the whole visit smiling and left in awe of the people who work there for how they turn the lives of animals around completely and find loving new homes for them.

So what do the workers and volunteers at this South London rescue centre actually do day-to-day and would you want their job?

A day in the life of a Battersea worker

Battersea Dogs and Cats home was founded in 1860 by Mary Tealby. Originally established in Holloway and named the Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs, it moved a short while later in 1871 to its current site opposite Battersea Power Station. The original cattery still stands today and will soon be turned into a museum.

Nowadays, the centre cares for over 7,000 animals each year and re-homes about eight per day, but that doesn’t all happen on its own. There is an incredible team of both workers and volunteers behind this charity, which couldn’t hope to achieve everything it does without the dedication of these people.

I decided to find out exactly how they do it by shadowing one worker for the day.

Sarah Cribb is a Rehoming and Welfare Assistant at Battersea. She works just with the dogs, in what’s called the Green section of the centre.

The dog’s part of the centre is split between Green and Red. This is because the dogs that have a condition called Kennel Tail have to go in the red section to minimise risk of spreading to those who don’t have it in the green section.

On arrival

I joined Sarah Cribb, Rehoming and Welfare Assistant at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, to see what she gets up to on a typical day (Image: Grahame Larter)

Sarah began her shift at 8am, where she arrived to find one of the dogs, Poppy, with a nasty injury.

Poppy had what’s called Happy Tail which is essentially when a dog is wagging its tail lots, they hit it on something and cut or split it, but then continue wagging its tail and hitting it so the injury gets worse.

Sarah had to deal with this, strapping Poppy’s tail up, before going about her usual morning duties of cleaning out and feeding the dogs.

Each animal is made to feel as comfortable as possible and Battersea workers spend a lot of time playing with the animals in their pens. They also use things like scents and classical music to keep them calm.

Exercising the dogs

After an introduction, we went out on the first walk of the day with a gorgeous dog called Ruby, who Sarah described as being “a bit scared of new people but a wonderful, loving dog”.

It was then that she explained more about Battersea’s policy of taking in every single dog and cat.

“It’s not the case with all centres,” Sarah explained. “They don’t all take every animal, but we do. This means we take in animals who have had all manner of experiences and are in all different situations. They are all ages and all breeds. We don’t discriminate.”

As a result, rates of rehoming the animals at Battersea are completely varied.

It could happen very quickly if the animal passes all its behavioural tests and is up for rehoming quickly. It may take a bit longer if the animal needs medical treatment or if they have some difficult behavioural traits perhaps because of their past experiences.

The amazing thing about Battersea is that they take every single animal in, no matter what has happened to them, and work with them until they are ready to go to a new home.

Sarah Coppleston, a PR worker for Battersea, said: “Every single case with every single animal is different so there’s no trend when it comes to rehoming.

“Above all we want the animals who come to us to go to the right home for them and for both animal and owner to be ready when they do. That’s what we’re trying to achieve when we get the animals ready to go home.”

Behavioural tests

Battersea workers have to find out all there is to know about every animal that comes to them before they send them to new homes.

This is where behavioural tests and assessments come in, and this was how I spent the next part of my visit to the home.

Sarah took me out to watch a test, specifically one in which a larger dog was being assessed to see how it gets on with little dogs. All the tests take place in the paddocks on site, and several Battersea workers usually attend to make it as safe as possible.

Like the My South London Facebook page

To keep up-to-date with all the latest breaking news, stories and events happening across South London, give the My South London Facebook page a like.

We will provide you with the latest traffic and travel updates, including updates on train and London Underground services, in areas including Southwark, Croydon, Greenwich, Lewisham, Wandsworth, Merton, Lambeth and Brixton.

The latest breaking news will be brought straight to your news feed including updates from the police, ambulance and fire brigade. We will also bring you updates from our courts and councils, as well as more lighthearted long reads.

We also publish your pictures and videos, so do message us with your stories.

Like the My South London Facebook page here.

You can also follow us on Twitter here.

In this case a little Jack Russell was the smaller dog and the assessment did not go so well. The larger dog reacted in a too-boisterous way, and the Jack Russell was promptly put back on the lead and walked out of the paddock.

This kind of result is not meant to be negative. It just means details of how the dog cannot live with smaller dogs would need to be included on the dog’s description so potential owners know.

Receiving new animals

Jeffrey was potentially Battersea’s loudest guest despite his size! (Image: Grahame Larter)

Seven or eight new animals arrive at Battersea every day on average, and so I was lucky enough to be there to welcome a tiny Chihuahua in and even help Sarah prepare his bed. I later learned he was called Pancake and had come from the Windsor centre.

Sarah Coppleston said: “We’re so lucky because many people donate bedding and toys for the dogs. We’re completely funded by donations and so we rely on people’s kindness.”

When they arrive “every animal receives a thorough health check from Battersea’s expert veterinary team,” a spokesperson said.

“Last year alone we carried out 4,500 operations on dogs and cats.

“Whether it’s a basic vaccination or more extensive surgery, we make sure we do everything we can to ensure animals are healthy before they go on to their new homes.”

Walks in the park

Poppy was great on her walk around Battersea Park

Next on the day’s agenda was a walk in the park with Poppy, where I learned about people’s perceptions of the Battersea rescue home.

“Sometimes people turn away when they realise who we are,” Sarah explained. “Not necessarily because they don’t want to see the dogs but because they worry they will upset or anger them.

“People sometimes see our red leads and think the dogs are dangerous, because sometimes that’s the colour association.

“We’re trying to change this perception.”

A big part of taking a dog out in the park is to get them used to the outside world, including people, other dogs and unusual smells and noises.

Poppy did really well out in Battersea Park, with the only challenge coming when another dog started barking at her, when she reacted with some distress.

Going home

“When an animal is ready to go home, we take great care to match them with an owner that will suit their individual needs,” the spokesperson explained.

I was struck by the level of care Battersea workers take in finding a new home for their animals.

There is, of course, a balance between finding homes for animals as quickly as possible so they can live out their lives happily, but Battersea would never send an animal to a home without doing all it could to to ensure the animal would be safe and happy with their new family.

I learned about how each potential owner has an interview with a Rehoming expert at Battersea to check they will be a good fit. Sometimes this means ensuring the home environment will be right for the animal, the owner fully understands the commitment they are taking on, and even sending dogs to an owner who have owned their breed before.

“You do get used to waving animals off,” Sarah explained. “But sometimes it’s bittersweet, especially with animals you have dedicated a lot of time and work to. We like getting updates from owners about how their new member of the family is getting on.”

How many animals are abandoned in London?

While I wanted to find out as much as I could about day-to-day life at Battersea, I was intrigued about how animals get there in the first place.

In 2018, 28 per cent of dogs and 30 per cent of cats that came to Battersea were strays.

That’s quite a high percentage when you consider that the remainder of arrivals come from people who can’t or don’t want to look after animals they own anymore, or animals who are lost.

Battersea were able to provide an interesting statistic of the top ten London places where strays are found, both for cats and dogs.

Cats

1. London Borough of Hounslow – 22 per cent

2. Goddards Vets – 20 per cent

3. Brixton Police Station – 11 per cent

4. Warren House Vets – 11 per cent

5. Newham Council – 7 per cent

6. Animal Medical Centre – 7 per cent

7. London Borough of Tower Hamlets Council – 7 per cent

8. Islington Council – 7 per cent

9. Feline Friends London – 4 per cent

10. Wandsworth Council – 4 per cent

I can’t pretend visiting Battersea Dogs and Cats Home wasn’t the best Monday I’ve had in a while!

Dogs

1. Lewisham Council – 16 per cent

2. London Borough of Hackney – 12 per cent

3. London Borough of Hounslow – 12 per cent

4. Wandsworth Council – 10 per cent

5. Hope Rescue – 10 per cent

6. Islington Council – 10 per cent

7. Newham Council – 9 per cent

8. Enfield Council – 8 per cent

9. London Borough of Barnet Council – 7 per cent

10. Crowfoot kennels – 7 per cent

Can you own a dog or cat in London?

Milo loved playing in the paddock!

The simple answer is yes!

“Often it means people end up considering an animal or breed they’d never have thought of before,” a spokesperson said, explaining how rehoming works.

“And once you leave Battersea with your new pet, you can rest assured that we’re always on hand if you need support or advice.”

Sarah was keen to spread the message that Londoners can most definitely rescue a dog or cat from Battersea, especially because many city-dwellers will assume they can’t own an animal like this due to where they live.

Of course there may be some restrictions on the type of dog you could own and owning one at all does depend on your living situation.

Get WhatsApp news alerts to your phone

We’ve set up a new WhatsApp group so you can receive the latest London headlines straight to your phone.

To receive one message a day with the main headlines, as well as breaking news alerts, send one of the following to 07900 342671 on WhatsApp, depending on where you want to receive news from:

  • LONDON NEWS
  • CENTRAL LONDON NEWS
  • NORTH LONDON NEWS
  • EAST LONDON NEWS
  • SOUTH LONDON NEWS
  • WEST LONDON NEWS

Then add the number to your phone contacts book as ‘MyLondon’. You must do this or you will not receive the messages.

You will receive one message a day. You can reply with the word STOP at any time.

Your phone number won’t be shared with other members of the group.

Smaller dogs are usually happy living in a flat if their owners take them out for regular walks. Some cats are house cats who are totally happy living inside.

Dogs often require lots of company, but if you work for yourself or work from home, this can work really well.

Ultimately it’s about a mixture between your living environment, how much time you can dedicate and whether you’re away of the commitment it takes to own a rescue animal. For lots of love in return of course.

OgilvyOne’s campaign #LookingForYou for Battersea Cats & Dogs Home was a world first.

MAKING BATTERSEA DOGS & CATS HOME MATTER

The objective of the campaign for OgilvyOne was to highlight Battersea Dogs & Cats Home’s continued mission to rehome its dogs, using innovative technology to engage emotionally with passing shoppers. This strategy of bringing the organisation’s message to life for a wider audience was how OgilvyOne wanted to make Battersea Cats & Dogs Home matter to more people.

The idea involved using RFID technology and interconnected digital billboards to create a ‘stray’ dog that would follow our target audience around one of Europe’s biggest shopping centers.

CAN MEETS DO

Leaflets with wafer thin RFID tags embedded within them were handed out to shoppers, the RFID tags made them ‘discoverable’ by sensors around the shopping center, this then triggered Barley, an ex-Battersea dog, to appear on multiple interconnected digital screens as the target passed them.

Code was written to ensure that the correct video was served according to various factors; such as the direction the person was passing, if they’d passed it more than once and how many screens they’d passed. This was to create a truly tailored experience. The final video served pointed them back to their leaflet which drove to the – microsite and #LookingForYou Twitter feed, constantly updated with homeless dogs.

OgilvyOne’s campaign #LookingForYou for Battersea Cats & Dogs Home was a world first.

Our work won multilple awards including 3 Bronze at the Cannes Lions Festival and 5 Golds at the Creative OOH awards.

Press Releases

Date: 02.08.2010 Category: News; BBC One

Last year a third of all dogs taken in by Battersea Dogs & Cats Home were put down, BBC One’s Panorama can exclusively reveal.

In a special investigation to be aired tonight, reporter Tom Heap finds that irresponsible dog ownership is so out of hand that dog pounds and pet rescues across the UK are overflowing with strays. This crisis is being fuelled by the street fashion for aggressive looking dogs.

The problem is now so acute that the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and the Metropolitan Police in London want the Government and local governments to act.

As Battersea Dogs & Cats Home celebrates its 150th anniversary, it’s giving Panorama unprecedented access to reveal the pressures they are facing.

Taking in lost and unwanted animals cost Battersea Dogs & Cats Home £11 million in 2009. The rescue charity has an open intake policy, which means they aim to never turn a dog away. During this period the charity took in 7,866 dogs explains Scott Craddock, Director of Operations Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

He says: “Last year we reunited over 2,000 dogs to members of the public, those dogs which came in as strays. We re-homed 3,000 dogs, just over. But, sadly, over 2,800 dogs were put to sleep.”

That’s around a third of the total number of dogs Battersea Dogs & Cats Home took in last year.

Of the 2,815 that were put down, 1,931 of them were healthy but were judged to be too much of a risk to be offered to the public for re-homing because of their temperament or behaviour.

By far the biggest single group of dogs coming into Battersea Dogs & Cats Home are bull breeds and bull breed crosses – many of them Staffordshire Bull Terrier types known as “Staffies”. They account for more than half of the home’s longer term residents.

Hard-looking dogs have become a status symbol on the street. And the Staffordshire bull terrier, once highly regarded as a loyal family pet, has become a casualty of that fashion.

“In 1996 we took 396 Staffordshire bull terriers. Last year we took 3,600, so that is an 850 per cent increase over that time span and for us that’s a huge problem – we can’t actually kennel these dogs with other dogs in many cases. They have to be given an individual kennel. So that has a huge impact on kennel space at the home,” says Scott Craddock.

“Battersea is mopping up a lot of the problems that are happening outside of the home. Big society problems, to such an extent that we feel it is time to say enough is enough,” he adds.

Battersea Dogs & Cats Home takes strays from 31 different London Boroughs and also from a number of outlying local authorities. But to find out about how widespread the problem is across the UK, Panorama sent freedom of information requests to all 445 local authorities in the UK which deal with stray dogs.

It’s the law to keep the figures and respond promptly – but though given ample time, barely over half the councils answered all our questions. 82 didn’t reply at all.

Just using figures from the full responses, there were over 69,000 stray dogs across the UK last year. Just over 6,000 were destroyed. So the complete picture will be much worse.

The charity Dogs Trust published a survey in 2009 which put the number of strays at nearly 110,000, an increase of more than 10 per cent. They estimate a stray dog is put down every hour.

The UK’s biggest animal charity, the RSPCA, is also feeling the pressure says Tim Wass, the Chief Officer of the RSPCA inspectorate.

He says: “Last year, 2009, we killed 533 healthy dogs. And you’ll notice I used the word kill there, rather than put to sleep or humanely euthanize. There’s been enough euphemism, we really need to tell it how it is and we really need to start doing something to prevent it having to happen in the future.”

The RSPCA has now chosen a controversial path. Unlike Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, it no longer accepts unwanted dogs from the public.

Tim Wass says: “We’re saying to members of the public that rather than be a completely open door to every single request for the RSPCA to take an animal in we’ll stop, we’ll question and we may push back a little.

“We want to be able to make sure that the worst cases can find accommodation in our animal centres. And at the moment, on too many occasions they can’t because we’ve said yes to a member of the public who’s brought the animal in because it doesn’t match the furniture or the curtains.”

Irresponsible dog ownership is now so severe that the RSPCA, Battersea and the Metropolitan Police in London are calling on the Government to act.

Scott Craddock says: “I think the most important thing we would like to see is some kind of traceability back from the dog to someone at the other end of the lead.”

Ian McParland, Head of the London Metropolitan Police Status Dogs Unit, says: “We’ve said licensing is a way forward – to actually have an annual licence for dogs where dogs are micro-chipped and the owners are required every year to keep the details up to date.”

The Government is still considering what to do about irresponsible owners.

Lord Henley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DEFRA, says: “I am not convinced that a dog licence is the way forward but, again, I am open-minded. I will look at the evidence.

“We’ve had licences in the past and we all know what’s happened to that, a great deal of non-compliance; in fact I think by the end of the old dog licence very few people were taking them out at all. What are you going to achieve if all you’ve done is taxed the responsible owner and not caught the irresponsible owner?”

Notes to Editors

Panorama: Britain’s Unwanted Pets is broadcast on Monday 2 August 2010 at 8:30pm.

PH

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home rebrands and changes name

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home has rebranded as ‘Battersea’, created a new logo and introduced a new tagline to better reflect its work.

Working with London-based design firm Pentagram, the charity has dropped ‘Dogs and Cats Home’ from its name; introduced “watercolour illustrated characters” for its logo and launched a new tagline: “Here for every cat and dog”.

The work with Pentagram cost Battersea £75,000, according to a spokeswoman. She said the rebrand was undertaken with “input from our staff, volunteers and supporters”.

The spokeswoman said: “On 5 April Battersea launched an ambitious awareness campaign that we hope will introduce more people to the many benefits of rehoming a Battersea dog or cat. With this new campaign we’re also introducing a new look and feel for our charity which we’ve developed with input from our staff, volunteers, and supporters.
“Battersea last updated its brand in 2005 when we incorporated ‘cats’ into our name and logo. We felt it was time to review how we connect with our audiences and bring people’s understanding of Battersea up to date.
“From our own research we know that whilst many people have heard of our charity, they often have an out of date perception of us, and what we do. Like most animal rescue charities, we’re aware that the way people are finding and buying pets is changing and as increasingly people choose to go online to find their next pet we need to stand out and communicate effectively in a digital world.
“We remain fully committed to our vision and mission to improve the lives of unwanted dogs and cats and in order to achieve this we have to ensure that Battersea is easily recognisable and relevant to the widest possible audience.”

Rebrand to ‘strike out against negative connotations’

According to Pentagram, the rebrand is intended to “visualise the charity’s commitment to unconditionally care for all the animals that come through its doors”.

In a statement on its website, the agency said: “Pentagram’s approach was to strike out against some of the negative connotations associated with the language and tactics of the charity sector, which often leans into a world of shock tactics, euphemistic language, well-worn tropes and overly-sentimental language.

“Instead, the new Battersea brand deploys honest and straightforward language, expressed by a tone of voice that speaks with joy, principles, expertise and endeavour.”

The agency said dropping the word ‘Home’ from the charity name was important as it could wrongly “infer a permanent dwelling for Battersea’s animals” and “could be understood to mean one location, despite Battersea operating across three sites” by members of the public.

For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector sign up to receive the Civil Society News daily bulletin here.

21 Sep 2017 News