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THE UK considers itself an animal-loving nation, with estimates of 8.0 to 10.3 million cats and 8.0 to 10.5 million dogs as owned pets (Murray and others 2010, Pet Food Manufacturers' Association 2011). However, we also have an extensive network of rescue centres. This is the dark underbelly of our passion for pets. Our UK centres vary from small branches in people's houses, through to large state-of-the-art facilities. Organisations vary in policy and resource, but all are united in trying to promote animal welfare, reduce free-roaming animals and control disease spread.
The first animal welfare charity was founded in London in 1824 (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), with the first animal rescue centre, Battersea Dogs Home, becoming established in 1860 and the first cat rescue organisation, Cats Protection League, being founded in 1927. These and subsequent welfare organisations have been responsible for increasing the welfare profile of pets in the eyes of the nation. They have lobbied governments, brought cruelty offenders to court, educated the public about animal care, treated sick individual animals, run neutering programmes and rehomed and reunited relinquished pets to reduce the stray population.
When considering our ‘unowned’ pet population, we have to think about population medicine as a first approach. Rescue centres generally operate to maximum capacity. The high stocking density lends itself to disease spread, emotional stress and recrudescence of latent infection. Hygiene and socialisation policies are therefore extremely important. The difference we see on a veterinary level between pets in private practice …
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