180 animals spend Xmas at Battersea

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Published: Thursday 25th December 2014 by The News Editor

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On the night before Christmas, there was one British home where plenty of creatures were stirring.

More than 180 animals are currently being cared for at the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home’s flagship centre in south west London, in what is the UK’s oldest and arguably best-known animal rescue centre.

Each year, a handful of workers postpone their turkey dinners to tend to the animals residing here and at other shelters across the country.

Ros Davies will be one of those manning the Battersea home today.

She is a rehomer in the cattery, helping to find new homes for cats that have been lost, abandoned or surrendered by their previous owners.

On Christmas Day, though, when the home is closed to prospective pet owners, she will be playing Saint Nick instead.

“We’re full at the moment. There’s 83 pens in the cattery and they’ve all got at least one cat in them,” Ms Davies said.

“A lot of people very kindly donated toys and treats for the cats, so we’ve got a big pile of presents to give out to them … We dish ’em all out so that there’s enough for every cat, and some left over.”

The cats got into the Christmas spirit early this year, she said, with stockings outside each pen: “The cattery is beautifully decorated. Much better decorated than the dogs.”

Over in the kennels, canine welfare trainer Nathalie Ingham has been playing carols to keep her charges from fretting.

“We’ve got nice calm Christmas songs going at the moment,” she said.

“Silent Night, stuff like that.”

She was hoping for a white Christmas this year.

“It’s really nice to see how they respond to things like snow – some dogs are just mesmerised by it and don’t quite understand what they’re walking on, and others just go crazy for snow and have loads of fun charging around. It’s a nice time of year to be here, lots of different things, and everyone’s a bit more laid-back,” she said.

These holidays she is spending December 25 with family, but is planning to bring in a doggy bag on Boxing Day.

“I might be bringing in a few leftovers for some of the special ones, yeah,” she laughed.

Rehomer Laura Cushway has one Christmas present in mind.

She has her fingers crossed that one of the “long-stays” will find a home these holidays – like Lola, who spends her nights in foster care but has been waiting patiently for a permanent home for more than two months.

But Lola has nothing on Biscuit, in the home’s Old Windsor branch in Berkshire, who has now spent more than half his life waiting for a home.

The two-year-old mongrel arrived as a stray in February 2013 and has watched on as nearly 5,000 other dogs have found new homes.

Making a last-ditch pre-Christmas plea this week, the Old Windsor centre’s manager Kaye Mughal said: “It’s unbelievable Biscuit still hasn’t found a home when he’s such a beautiful and fun-loving dog who would fit in perfectly with a family.

“Every day we hope someone will call us wanting to meet him, but poor Biscuit is constantly rejected and hasn’t had any interest. We really thought he’d find a home before Christmas.”

There is no time limit on how long a dog or cat can spend looking for a new home at Battersea, but anything more than a few months is unusual.

“We used to have dogs who stayed for a year,” Ms Cushway said.

“Now, three or four months is a long stay for us.”

Intake co-ordinator Woody Woodford-Price said he would be having “more or less” his first Christmas off since he joined Battersea 14 years ago.

When a family decides they can no longer keep a pet at home, Mr Woodford-Price is their first contact at the home.

He deals with at least 1,300 calls a month and says they run the gamut from the heartbreaking to the slightly perplexing.

“(There have been cases) where dogs haven’t matched the sofa, things like that, they’ve been different colours. That does happen as well. Or it just doesn’t fit in with their lifestyle. People do buy these things as fashion accessories, and it’s not, of course,” he said.

“For this time of year, some people are looking to rehome their animals because they’re going away for Christmas – they’ve got parties planned and they want to bring their animals in to the home.”

Come January or February, he will be bracing for another wave of puppies and kittens that were given as ill-advised gifts. “People don’t realise how much it’s actually going to cost to feed an animal, the time that’s involved … Like children, they have to be fed, kept clean, with fresh water and food and of course medical treatment as well,” he said.

But he is also expecting a surge of people to make the post-holiday decision to open their homes.

Cat rehomer Ms Davies said she is expecting up to 40 cats to be snapped up this weekend alone.

“Most of our cats will fly out of here,” she said.

Published: Thursday 25th December 2014 by The News Editor

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