Festive fun and treats are provided to all animals in the charity’s centres
While most people are opening up Christmas presents and preparing for their festive dinner, staff and volunteers at the RSPCA will give up their time on December 25 to continue to help rescued animals in their care.
Thousands of dogs, cats and small furry animals are currently being cared for by the animal welfare charity at one of their 14 national rehoming centres and 145 branches across England and Wales.
Some of the pets will have been rescued from horrendous conditions and are now being given another chance at life thanks to the RSPCA’s rescue work.
Others may have been given up by owners who, for various reasons, felt they were unable to cope with their pets’ needs – which sadly due to the cost of living crisis is becoming a continuous issue.
But now they are all safely in the hands of dedicated staff and volunteers who are providing them with love and care until they can find their much-needed forever homes.
Today (25 December), to highlight the RSPCA’s need for the public to donate to the charity’s new Christmas appeal – they are giving a behind-the-scenes look at the Chesterfield and North Derbyshire branch of the RSPCA.
Here the charity looks at some of the amazing work being done every day and how on Christmas Day they bring a bit of extra festive cheer to the animals in their care.
Staff at the centre are also on hand to welcome any new animals that may be rescued and come into their care today – because sadly cruelty to animals will not stop on Christmas Day.
The gates are opened to allow access to those staff and volunteers caring for the animals – which are located in some of the 37 dog kennels, 22 cat pods and 12 rabbit pens based at the centre in Spital Lane.
Christmas presents will have been specially delivered to the blocks for all the animals – by Santa Paws himself – but first work needs to be carried out. The most urgent task is to take all the dogs out, usually individually, so they can have a wee and walk outside in the grounds.
Animal care assistants will then prepare food ensuring each pet’s specific dietary requirements are met, for instance some dogs will have come into the charity’s care emaciated and will be required to have four smaller meals a day to help build their body mass up slowly. Others may have allergies so will need a specific brand of food. Each animal has a chart with this information so everyone knows their specific and unique needs.
Breakfast is served much to the delight of all the dogs, cats and bunnies at the centre along with fresh water refills. As it is Christmas Day, added treats will be given and Dee Harris, animal care assistant for the dogs at Chesterfield, said staff will have cooked up plenty of sausages the day before to add to today’s meal which she says always proves to be a winner
After feeding time comes the cleaning and all the kennels, cat pods and rabbit pens have to be thoroughly washed down. Blankets and bedding will be taken to the laundry, cat litter trays will be cleaned and filled and rabbits will be given fresh hay.
Once the pets are in a clean environment they will then be able to unwrap toy gifts and treats which have been donated to the centre by kind members of the public.
Dee said: “People may think that pets don’t know when it is Christmas but they certainly seem to sense the magical nature of the day – and the dogs love the sausage smell which fills the air. They all get a little gift and enjoy a little play – it is a lovely festive time for them to enjoy too.”
Meanwhile the cattery residents will enjoy fish treats and the bunnies will have fresh veg to nibble on – and all while those helping out at the centre forgo their turkey and trimmings until the following day.
The dogs are taken for walks by staff and volunteers to ensure they get some exercise and the chance to go to the toilet. Volunteer Alex Robinson (pictured) helps exercise the animals for two afternoons a week in his spare time.
He explained: “I am a firefighter and love dogs but because of my job I cannot have one of my own so I come here to help out. The dogs love their exercise time and I enjoy interacting with them – it is so rewarding.”
The cats and bunnies also enjoy some petting and social time in their dedicated areas.
During this time staff will also be in contact with the charity’s frontline team – as RSPCA inspectors and animal rescuers are on the road today to deal with any emergencies which may come their way.
Inspector Leanne Booth, who covers the South Yorkshire region, said: “Christmas Day – just like any other – can be very busy, and sometimes with many vets closed we have to find emergency treatment for some animals in need. But thankfully with our on-call network and the dedication of staff there will always be help at hand from the RSPCA.”
More cleaning takes place as the dirty dinner bowls and water dishes are washed and bedding is cleaned and dried in the laundry room ready to make up fresh beds.
The reception area normally opens for members of the public who may be interested in adopting a pet at this time – Christmas Day is the only day the centre is closed to visitors.
On normal days donations are sometimes dropped off and general maintenance worker John Stanmore delivers the food and gifts to the various buildings and re-stocks the shelves. The food bins are then also restocked.
Staff manage a quick cup of tea and a snack and then after lunch daily observations are carried out on each of the pets and health checks are made to see if veterinary attention may be needed. Some pets may also have skin infections which require special baths while others may need their medication.
Socialisation takes place and while the dogs are taken out for walks in the grounds or in the play arena the cats get to enjoy some interactive play time in their pens with staff and volunteers – often with toys donated by kind members of the public.
Another animal care assistant Thomas Knight, pictured walking Staffordshire bull terrier cross Skye, said: “I love my job – I absolutely adore dogs so this is my perfect career. I get to spend quality time with them. It is very rewarding to see them go onto their forever homes even though it is tinged with sadness because you do get attached – but you accept it is best for the dog to have a loving family life.”
While many across the UK will be settling down at home to watch the King’s Speech, at the centre, more cleaning takes place and the laundry – such as bedding and towels – is sorted out and folded away ready for the next day. Some more time is taken to give the animals a fuss and some love.
Meals are prepared individually for each animal taking into account the special amount and type of food each requires.
The animals are given their dinner around 4pm – and again as it is Christmas Day special treats are provided – before the dogs will be taken out again to go to the toilet.
Dinner dishes are washed and fresh water is provided. The kennel is cleaned ready for the evening with fresh bedding provided.
The staff and volunteers are busy finishing off for the day and settling down all the animals for the evening – then they get to go home and have a few hours to enjoy their Christmas – with most postponing their own festivities until Boxing Day when other staff members will be on duty.
Dee said: “I have worked here for 20 years and am happy to work Christmas Day – the animals need us and it is nice to see them enjoy some festive fun. I always hope that soon they will all get their real Christmas wish – which is to find their forever home. It is something Santa can’t give them but something we rely on the public to help with.”
The RSPCA rehomed an incredible 26,945 animals last year but this still marks an 8% drop compared to the previous year when 29,358 animals were rehomed.
As the cost of living crisis bites many families are postponing plans to take on a new pet while they seek financial stability, while others feel forced to rehome or give up their pets. It is putting all branches at a crisis point.
Steph McCawley, branch support manager at Chesterfield, said: “As more animals come into our care, stay for longer with us, and less people are adopting, we’re in a really worrying situation.
“We are appealing for people who want a pet to adopt not shop and they can visit Find A Pet to see all of the animals currently in RSPCA care who are looking for their paw-fect match.
“For anyone who cannot take on that commitment they can help in other ways from fostering pets to volunteering their time or even providing us with much needed donations to help us continue our vital work.”
If you believe that animals deserve love and care during this Christmas period, please take action now. Together, we can rescue suffering animals who are bearing the brunt of these terrible financial hardships – and give them the chance of a better future.
Please don’t let animals pay the price of the cost-of-living crisis this Christmas. To Join the Winter Rescue and help RSPCA rescuers be there for the animals in need, please visit the charity’s web page here