Rescue centres all over the UK and Ireland are at a breaking point; the cost of living crisis, pandemic puppy boom, and greyhound racing are all factors that are resulting in an all-time-high surge of animals being dumped on the streets or surrendered to shelters.
With rescue centres at maximum capacity, and many receiving little or no support from the government, these facilities - and the superhuman people running them - are in crisis.
So, we conducted a survey in Ireland (we hope to do a similar one in the UK in due course) to better understand the extent of this crisis and, more specifically, the impact that it's having on the humans who are holding the entire system on their shoulders.
We surveyed people who work at animal shelters of any size, in any capacity, including both paid and volunteer workers, and received 174 responses.
This survey was conducted among rescue premises located across Ireland between Janurary and February
We used Survey Monkey to create the questionnaire and distributed it online via social media and word-of-mouth.
We've distilled our analysis of the results into the following key points; if you'd like to read the full report, you can download it here.
Of those surveyed, 93% were female, and 31% worked in rescue for over 39 hours a week, yet a shocking 90% said that they do not get paid for their work.
The majority of those who volunteered, and are not in paid employment outside of their volunteer work, are either retired or stay at home parents. If rescues are hugely reliant on unpaid labour, it's clear their workforce is limited by the extent to which the public are able to commit to unpaid activities outside of paid work and family commitments.
We asked respondents what roles they performed within the rescue, which included jobs such as admin, dog walking, home-checks and accountancy. 89% ticked more than one box, indicating that the vast majority of respondents carried out multiple duties within their rescue work.
When asked what type of animals their rescue was involved with, the majority (over 80%) worked with dogs, and over half of respondents said that their rescue had over 50 animals in their care.
Most of the respondents worked with rescues that are registered charities. Of those that were not registered, some elected not to seek registration due to administrative burdens and costs. Others were awaiting decisions by the Regulator, with one application for charitable status remaining undecided after two years.
A third of respondents reported going into personal debt to assist the rescue they worked with. A further third of respondents outlined that the rescues they worked with were in debt, with the major contributor to this debt being reported as veterinary costs.
The Physical & Emotional Toll.
Almost one quarter of those surveyed said that they give up personal time to their rescue work on a daily basis, and over one third reported that they suffer from sleep problems on a daily or weekly basis as a result of this work. Even more concerning is that over 3/4 of those surveyed have suffered from anxiety over the last three months as a result of their work in rescue
Moreover, 66% reported that they had been abused or threatened by a member of the public during the course of their rescue work. Of those threats, 62 were made online, 43 face-to-face, and 35 over the phone.
62% of respondents told us that they've considered giving up their rescue work. When asked to explain why, some common themes emerged, the most frequent being the stress caused. Others included: relentless workload, public pressure, lack of support, worsening welfare issues, social media criticism and family life being affected.
Many of the respondents also expressed frustration at government and local councils regarding legislation/policies that worsen the welfare crisis - such as dog breeding legislation - and the enforcement of welfare laws.
Some of the comments made by our respondents, regarding these issues, are below.
So, we know there's a lot of big problems at play here. We know people and animals are suffering because of them. What next?
Our next step is to further research the systemic issues that we've identified in order to understand what needs to be done to change them.
Then we're gonna try and change them.
So check back soon, follow us on Instagram for regular updates, and please do drop us an email if you'd like to chat to us about any of the issues raised here. Also, an absolutely momentous thank you to everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to answer our survey and help us gather this super important info - you're the best humans in the whole world - we see you and we appreciate everything you're doing for Ireland's animals.