My passion for animal welfare has taken me on journeys to some unusual places including a sun bear sanctuary in Cambodia.  During a visit to the United Kingdom, I took the opportunity to do a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in South West London.  The Battersea Dogs and Cats Home tours are a new initiative following a popular TV series, Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs, to engage the community about adoption.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home kennel hand. Image via Battersea Dogs and Cats Home

After wandering through the dog kennels and cattery, I joined the tour which started with a brief history of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.   The Home is the oldest animal shelter in the United Kingdom and probably in the world.  It has taken in over 3 million dogs and cats since it was founded in 1860 by Mrs Mary Tealby when it was then known as The Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs.  In 1862, Charles Dickens became the first celebrity supporter by writing an article about the Home in his newspaper.

The tour moved on to the exercise yard where a well socialised Border Collie, Jack, was brought out to meet us. The exercise yard has the dramatic backdrop of the Battersea power station.  Jack had been surrendered because his owners had separated and unfortunately no one could look after him.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home tour highlight

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home

Former resident Cocker Spaniel, Oakley.

Next was the highlight of the tour! There was a dog agility demonstration by Oakley, a delightful Cocker Spaniel and former resident of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.   Oakley is a great example of what shelter dogs can do.

During the tour, we learned that 7,000 dogs and 3,000 cats a year are cared for by the Home.  At any one time it has around 450 dogs and 150 cats across its three sites, and there is a waiting list as the kennels and cattery are usually full.  There is no time limit for the animals.

Currently, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is the most common breed surrendered to Battersea. Sadly more Staffordshire Bull Terriers are being purchased by youths as status dogs without the knowledge of how to handle and care for the animal.  Battersea has launched the “Staffies, they’re softer than you think” campaign to educate the community and encourage the adoption of these dogs.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home has seen a 40 percent increase in the number of ‘handbag’ dogs coming through its doors in 2012, with many suffering from behavioural issues after being mollycoddled by their owners.

Because the Home is not selective about the dogs they take in, they often see animals with deep-rooted behavioural issues and serious medical problems.  In certain cases, these animals are euthanised.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home was the first animal welfare organisation in the United Kingdom to establish a dedicated Behaviour Unit and a Behaviour Advice Line to help pet owners.  Battersea receives nearly 7,000 reports every year to its Lost Dogs & Cats Line.

More about Battersea.