ABSTRACT: This article looks at how the RSPCA Putney Animal Hospital has had to change how it operates on a day-to-day basis locally in order to respond to a climate of financial austerity, and yet still ensure we are available to help abused and abandoned animals.

I joined the RSPCA as Clinical Manager of its Putney Animal Hospital in August 2010. At the time, the country was in recession and the hospital was starting to see an impact on its day-to-day work. In the following two-and-a-half years we have had to change how we operate on a day-to-day basis locally – as well as in a national context – in order to ensure we are available to help abused and abandoned animals.

The recession has taken its toll on all members of our society, and the biggest impact we have seen at the hospital is an increase in demand for our services. As well as being available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, we provide low-cost veterinary services for those in receipt of certain state benefits, or on a low household income.

Increase in demand

The recession brought with it redundancies, reduced employment opportunities and rising living costs – and the combination of these factors means that an increasing number of pet owners are unable to afford the cost of private veterinary services. So where do they go when their pet needs to see the vet?

If the services of private veterinary practices are out of their price range, owners must either rely on assistance from animal charities, such as ourselves, the PDSA or the Blue Cross; or face the decision as to whether or not they can afford to continue owning pets.

At the hospital, this has led to an increase in the number of patients we see on a daily basis, especially out of normal working hours. In 2010, we saw 19,635 outpatients, while in 2011 this number rose to 21,765.

We are seeing more emergency cases, often because an owner cannot afford initial or routine treatments; whilst 'saving money’ on vaccinations and neutering inevitably leads to a significant number of animals developing life- threatening diseases and conditions that cost more to treat in the long run.

We have also noted an increase in the number of referrals from private veterinary practices, especially for life- threatening conditions, such as pyometra. Typically, owners have sought veterinary assistance, but are faced with the decision as to whether or not they can afford to continue treatment. In previous years, many private practices were able to offer payment plans or direct insurance payments; however, as a result of their own financial constraints, this is no longer an option for many practices.

We are seeing an increase in the number of cases of cruelty, neglect and abandonment; in 2011, the RSPCA took 28,162 calls about abandoned animals, an increase of 31 per cent in five years. These animals are collected by our inspectors and are brought to the hospital for veterinary examination and temporary boarding whilst we try to locate their owners.

In 2010, the hospital cared for 7,280 inpatients – of which 1,334 were animals without owners. In 2011, this number rose to 1,593. Upon investigation, we often find that this situation has arisen because the owner can no longer afford the appropriate care for their pet.

Celebrity breeds irresponsibility

We have also seen an increase in breed- related conditions because, unfortunately, celebrity culture has promoted the practice of buying a pedigree dog, such as a Chihuahua or Pug, rather than adopting a homeless pet. Unscrupulous breeders do not care for the animals they are breeding and do not inform owners of the associated medical conditions many pedigree dogs face and the costs involved in treating them.

The increase in out-of-hours work in turn leads to longer waiting lists for non emergency operations, such as neutering, and longer waiting times for our outpatient clinics.

Our hospital has had to adopt a more strict eligibility and payment policy too. We are simply unable to provide veterinary services to all owners, regardless of their situation or location; we must ensure that our limited funds and resources are available for those who genuinely require them, especially those animals without an owner. As a consequence of this we have seen an increase in the number of animals being ‘signed over’ into our care, putting more pressure on our resources and those of the re-homing centres.

The apparent rise in ‘backyard’ breeders – a practice that the hospital does not support and tackles by insisting that all cats and dogs that attend our clinics are neutered – has led to an increase in the number of bull terrier breeds and bull terrier crosses. Subsequently, our re¬homing centres, and those of other associations, are full of unwanted ‘bull breed’ dogs.

They often make wonderful pets but, because of their ‘zest for life’, they can be a handful. I have a 10-month-old ‘bull breed’ myself, and 1 can attest to how wonderful they are; yet will be the first to admit that they are not always easy (Figure 1)! They are also often unsuitable to be kennelled with another dog, making the demand for kennel space even greater.

Figure 1: Rodney takes a break 


In February of this year, the RSPCA pledged to end the ‘overpopulation’ of companion animals and to tackle the related issues. In this context, ‘overpopulation’ refers to the large number of homeless domestic animals, such cats, dogs and rabbits. These unwanted and stray animals often suffer from neglect and abandonment, terrible living conditions and insufficient – or non-existent – veterinary care. As a consequence, the RSPCA sometimes has to put some re-homeable animals to sleep, simply because they cannot be found good homes.

While owners continue to breed too many animals, we shall be faced with the necessity of taking in more animals than there are willing homes and we will continue to face this dilemma.

At this hospital it has prompted an increase in the amount of education that we provide – both directly to our clients and by visiting local schools to help educate children in responsible animal care. To support this education we have introduced low-cost financial schemes to encourage owners to ensure that their pets are vaccinated, neutered and microchipped.

Effects of austerity

In March, the RSPCA announced that, despite cost-cutting measures introduced in 2011, we are currently having to undergo a major staffing review and restructuring of our organisation. Front line personnel – such as those in the inspectorate, re-homing centres and hospitals – have been protected so that we can continue to provide the care that animals need, but many administrative positions are being lost.

Working for the RSPCA, especially within one of its hospitals, is a fantastic job. I am extremely proud of the work we do, but I know that to
continue this work we will all have to strive a little bit harder, and in a more cost-effective manner, in order to survive. We rely on public donations to fund our efforts, and I am immensely grateful for each and every donation we receive; although I realise that the depth of pockets is not limidess and so I never take any donation for granted.

To support the work of the RSPCA log on to www.rspca.org.uk/donate


Sian Anderson RVN

Sian started her nursing career in 1994 and qualified in 1999. She has worked in both private and charity veterinary practice and is currently clinical manager at the RSPCA Animal Hospital in Putney – a role she took on in August 2010.

To cite this article use either

DOI: 10.1111/j.2045-0648.2012.00203.x or Veterinary Nursing Journal Vol 27 pp 307-308

• VOL 27 • August 2012 • Veterinary Nursing Journal