Covid pushes Black Country animal rescue centre to brink

A pet rescue centre is facing crisis point with a lack of funding and an influx of abandoned cats and kittens as people have lost jobs or become furloughed since the start of the pandemic.

Sophie Pepper says the plight of abandoned cats and kittens have been forgotten about during the pandemic
Sophie Pepper says the plight of abandoned cats and kittens have been forgotten about during the pandemic

Sophie Pepper, a 34-year-old former nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, founded Pepper's Pet Rescue at her home, on the Lodgehill Park Estate in Halesowen, in August 2018 as a distraction while her son, Toby, now six, underwent brain surgery.

Since then her workload with the rescue centre has grown and she has now launched an appeal for donations and for people to have their pets neutered.

Mother-of-two Sophie said: "We started taking in just a few cats but at the moment have 40 cats and kittens, three rabbits and one guinea pig.

"The influx of unwanted cats and kittens has increased by at least 50 per cent and during the pandemic veterinary surgeons were only doing emergency work and unfortunately this meant there were a lot of abandoned pregnant cats and kittens.

"We had cats signed over because of people being furloughed or losing their jobs through the pandemic.

"The PDSA is only doing emergency work and although most vets are doing routine work now people have to pay between £60 to £80 for a female to be neutered and between £40 and £50 for a male cat.

"People should neuter their animals or keep them indoors until they can be taken to the vets.

"The problem also contributes to the spread of SIV, the cat version of HIV, which can be spread through mating or male cats fighting."

Sophie with fosterer Amanda Tibbitts

Sophie and her husband, Andrew, a 45-year-old nurse, initially funded the rescue centre out of their own pockets.

Now it is funded through donations but as demand has grown so have the bills.

Sophie said: "Each month we pay between £5,000 and £6,000 to veterinary care and £1,000-a-month on food, litter and cleaning materials.

"The pandemic meant that a lot of our fundraising stopped and we could not do car boot sales, plant and cake sales and fundraising events.

"We are currently reaching crisis point in funding and need community support due to the overwhelming amount of cats being abandoned to roam as strays.

"Because of Covid and people not neutering their pets this has resulted in an explosion of kittens being born on the streets.

"Our latest fundraiser is a Cutest Pet Photo competition where we invite people to pay £2 to enter and to send in a photograph of their pet.

"The winner and runners-up will all be featured in next year's calendar.

"We have also set up a gofundme page as demand has risen but our resources have fallen.

"I have waiting lists for cats to come into the rescue and am kept busy doing the administrative side with home-checking, veterinary appointments and everything else.

"We have a team of foster families and volunteers who clean the pens but need the donations to pay the bills.

"At the rescue we ensure that no animal leaves us until it is 13 weeks old and has been neutered, vaccinated and micro-chipped."

As well as running the rescue centre, Sophie copes with a busy family life and numbers five dogs, four cats, three snakes, three giant African snails, two ferrets, a tortoise, a hamster, a gerbil and two fish tanks as part of the household.

Now Sophie, who takes no money from the centre and which is run on donations, has started Pepper's and Richards Pet Services offering pet-sitting and dog-walking.

She said: "Many families ask if we do boarding and although we do not do this I decided I could offer them this service which many people prefer as some pets do not like being boarded out."

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