STAFF at Derry’s animal shelter charity are receiving up to six calls every day from pet owners looking to get rid of their dogs or cats.
The Rainbow Rehoming Centre have expressed alarm at the ‘dramatic increase’ in calls and have warned that animals should never be used as a disposable accessory.
Anna Hyndman from the Rainbow Centre also warned that pet owners should neuter them to avoid being landed with litters of unwanted kittens or pups.
“We have noticed a dramatic increase in pet owned dogs and cats looking to be rehomed for very careless reasons, reasons that were not valid reasons really. People think they are disposable. There is people ringing in saying they are pregnant and need to get rid of their dog. That is not a valid reason.”
Ms Hyndman said that on one day alone- March 16th this year- the Rainbow Centre received nine calls about unwanted pet-owned dogs along with calls about stray dogs.
“On average every day we receive five or six calls about unwanted pets and three to four about stray dogs.
“We only have room for 16 dogs and we have four foster homes, All these spaces are always full. There is never an empty space.
Some of the phone calls are very demanding and we would like to maker the public aware to respect our staff.”
Speaking as the feline breeding season begins, Ms Hyndman said the number of feral cats in the Claudy and Feeny areas has resulted in it being branded a ‘blackspot’ for the local team tasked with catching and neutering them.
Complaint levels about the same problem in the Limavady area has also been on the rise.
Ms Hyndman said a large part of the cat population growth seemed to have been brought under control in the previous hotspot area of Strathfoyle.
She said: “We have literally neutered thousands of cats over the years. Last year there were 352 cats neutered under the wild, feral cats Trap, Neuter and Release Scheme. There was one year when there was 600.
“It is not Derry city that is the problem with cats, it’s the rural area around Claudy and Feeny. It is horrendous, it’s just a blackspot to us.
“We are coming into Spring now and one of the main problems we noticed at the centre is with people who feed cats but don’t look further than that. If I was feeding a cat x amount of weeks and it was never leaving my house, the next thing for me to do would be to think, ‘this cat might have kittens, I better get it neutered’. But people don’t think like that and then they find themselves confronted with a littler of kittens.
“If you are feeding a cat on an ongoing daily basis and you are finding it around your home more and more you need to take action.
“Cats are ready to breed at six months and can have up to three litters a year and they can have on average four to five kittens per litter. It used to be three to four so it has moved up.
“In some cases there can be 11 kittens in one batch. And even while a mother is feeding her newborn she can get pregnant again. I have lifted a cat with six week old kittens and she is pregnant again.
“This is breeding time now and we need to act now. Last year we had kittens right up to Christmas and we have already had our first litter of this year now. It’s beyond a joke.”
She said that in case were someone who fed a cat could not approach it because it was wild, feral or just very timid, they should contact their local animal rescue shelter, most of whom like rainbow have registered trappers, who can then go and trap, neuter and release the cats.”
A number of special schemes are currently operating across Derry aimed at encouraging people to neuter and microchip their pets.
The Cats Protection League are currently offering to neuter pets for people on means-tested benefits at the reduced price of £5.
The Dogs Trust meanwhile are currently offering a free joint micro-chipping and neutering service to local people.
The special offer has been up and running since February and will continue to run up until the end of April.
To access either service contact your local veterinary surgeon.
For those who find a stray dog can take it to their local vets or pet shop for it to be scanned for a microchip, which can be used to locate its owner.