Julie Currie visited the Scottish SPCA centre in Balerno as the charity prepared for its annual Rehoming Week, which runs from May 8 to May 14.
Thousands of animals have passed through the doors at the SSPCA’s rescue and rehoming centre in Balerno, Edinburgh.
But there are some for whom the centre has become a more permanent home.
And it is these animals, and many more besides, that the centre is keen to find loving new homes for during this week’s Scottish SPCA Rehoming Week.
The same is true for the SSPCA’s eight other centres the length and breadth of Scotland, each of which has its own long-stay residents.
But it’s the Balerno centre I visit, where assistant manager Kenny Sharpe happily introduced me to a few of his long-term friends.
Kenny has helped pair up thousands of pets with new owners during his 17 year tenure. And he is now keen to find loving new homes for his longest residents.
They include Hamish the cockerel who, as of Monday, May 1, has been resident at the centre for 185 days. His female counterparts are easy to home but Hamish, not so much.
Explaining why, Kenny said: “People maybe have one cockerel and a lot of hens.
“Cockerels can also be pretty noisy and not just first thing in the morning.
“He was abandoned with four other cockerels in Leven in Fife – his friends have all been rehomed but, sadly, Hamish is still with us.
“He’s a young bird, a good looking chap who is looking for a nice, big space to roam around in. He’s a bit lonely here and we feel he’d like a girlfriend (or two!) to keep him company, as well as somewhere safe and secure to sleep at night.”
Sebastian, a four to five year old short haired black and white domestic cat, was a stray picked up in Whitburn.
Kenny said: “Other similar cats have come and gone but Sebastian is still with us, after 265 days.
“He is rather timid so he’s looking for a home with no other cats or young children, where he can enjoy being fussed over but also a nice quiet cat nap area.”
The centre’s longest resident dog is Maya, a staffie cross, who arrived at the centre 368 days ago, after her owner died.
Kenny said: “She’s a nice wee dog, with a sweet nature, but can be quite hyper!
“Maya needs an enclosed garden and further training but would be happy in a home with older children.However, she’d need to be the only dog as she is not good with other dogs.
“It’s strange that she’s still here as other staffies – very similar to her – have come and gone. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.”
However, the animals with the longest pedigree at Balerno are corn snakes, Russo and Logie who have been resident for 1372 days.
Kenny said: “The previous owner came in as he couldn’t look after them any more – which isn’t that unusual.
“There are a number of reasons people bring pets to us – some move into homes where they’re not allowed to keep them; others can’t afford to look after them; often owners die and their families don’t want the responsibility.
“The bedroom tax saw a dramatic rise in the number of owners who had no option but to bring their pets to us – and the financial crisis likewise.
“Russo and Logie have lovely colouring, great temperaments, are good to handle and shed well so we don’t understand why they’ve not found homes yet.”
Rosie the rabbit has had a litter while at the centre and all her children now have new homes. But 354 days later, she’s still waiting...
But she is just one of a menagerie of animals the Balerno centre is currently home to – there are 38 dogs, 42 cats, eight horses, 38 snakes, three ferrets and four rabbits, as well as several birds.
The centre also deals with hundreds of calls every week from people who are concerned about the way animals are being treated.
Kenny said: “There are times when there is nothing wrong with the animals.
“Other times, owners are given seven days to get their animal to the vet for treatment.”
Sadly, on other occasions, SSPCA officers find horrendous cases of animal neglect and have to act immediately.
All of the horses at the centre, for example, are from homes where they were wilfully neglected.
Those looking to rehome any of the animals in the SSPCA’s care will be asked initially to fill out a questionnaire.
This helps officers establish why people want a new pet, if they already have animals and whether they have suitable accommodation.
Kenny said: “We never rehome an animal in the area where we picked them up from. So knowing where the potential owner is from is essential. We also need to know that people are willing to pick up the bill for any future vet fees.
“It would surprise you how many people expect us to continue to pay for them.
“We won’t give anyone an animal if they’re not willing or able to pay for its upkeep.
“Sometimes we also carry out home checks to ensure that the property is as described by the potential new owners and that their home is safe and secure.
“We’ve had people who have tried to lie to us spectacularly but we usually know something isn’t quite right. One example is someone saying they have a fully enclosed garden but actually live in a top floor flat with no outside space.
“We also insist on everyone in the family coming in before they get their new pet to make sure everyone is in full agreement before the animal is rehomed.”
The SSPCA has a strict rehoming policy but for those who are genuine and truly want to offer an animal a loving new home, the process is not a difficult one.
It’s simply a way for the charity to ensure that its animals are going to homes where they will be cared for properly – and won’t be returned to the centre.
Each SSPCA rescue and rehoming centre costs around £500,000 to run each year – all of which is funded from generous donations by members of the public.
All of the money donated to the charity goes right back into looking after the animals in its care.
Throughout the year, social media plays a huge role in rehoming animals with Facebook proving a vital tool for each of the charity’s rehoming centres.
But the annual Rehoming Week gives officers the chance to shine an even brighter spotlight on its work and the many animals currently waiting patiently for their loving new owners.
If you would like to help, all of the SSPCA’s nine centres across Scotland are open daily from 10am to 4pm, closing only on Tuesdays.
It is worth checking in advance, though, whether you’re preferred pet is actually available before travelling to the centre.
The Balerno facility was the first SSPCA centre to be established way back in the 1920s – when it first opened as a rest home for working horses.
It became a fully fledged welfare centre in the 1960s.
How you can help the SSPCA fund its life-saving work
In 2016, the Scottish SPCA found homes for 6189 rescued animals. Officers spoke to more than 303,600 children about their work. The SSPCA answered more than 246,900 calls to members of the public on its helpline – 03000 999 999.
Every year the Scottish SPCA rescues thousands of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.
In 2016, the charity also cared for more than 9300 wild animals – a new record.
It helps every kind of wild animal in Scotland and is the only national animal welfare charity which also rescues birds.
And it does all this without any funding from the government, relying solely on donations from the public for its work. For every pound donated to the charity, 83 pence is spent on animal welfare, 10 pence goes to fundraising and promotion and seven pence on essential administration. The SSPCA has nine rehoming and rescue centres across Scotland, all of which are open six days a week, closing only on Tuesdays.
There are centres in Ayr, Hamilton, Cardonald in Glasgow, Milton, Balerno in Edinburgh, Dundee, Banchory, Inverness and Thurso, as well as its national wildlife rescue centre at Fishcross, Clackmannanshire.
To find out more about the charity’s work or to lend a hand, visit the charity’s website at www.scottishspca.org.