Volunteers from Barkin Good Times All Animals Rescue say they assisted enforcement officers from Chesterfield Borough Council when they responded to neighbours’ concerns for animal welfare at an address in Chesterfield in June.
Both the RSPCA and the council responded to the Derbyshire Times questions about the case but were unable to discuss specific details, limiting what can be reported at this stage.
However, those who were left caring for the animals say the experience illustrates the pressure on organisations like theirs and the need for pet owners to act responsibly.
Zoiwie Shirley, who has been involved in rehoming work for several years, said: “We were contacted by neighbours who had already tried reporting nuisance barking. We went down with the council dog warden because of the description of howling and wailing.
“We were confronted with five severely underweight, starved, dehydrated dogs, all related and aged between six months and three years, none of them neutered, microchipped or vaccinated. There was also a six-month-old cat, a five-month-old snake and two rats, all in really bad condition.
“The rats sadly died while they were in emergency foster care. One of the dogs was pregnant and I had to take her to the vets to have the puppies aborted just before they were due, otherwise she could have died. They were all terrified of people and other animals and we’ve had to socialise them.
“I’ve seen all sorts of cases and had a lot of experience, but this one has been very, very hard. It’s been heart-breaking. It’s affected me as a person.”
In recent months, the RSPCA has reported a surge in cases of unwanted animals, with pressure building throughout the network of organisations which act as a safety net.
Zoiwie: “All the pets in this case are now in loving forever homes but we are overcrowded with cases of unwanted animals. We’re in a dire position as a self-funded shelter relying on volunteers and public donations, but the RSPCA and council are struggling too. We can’t keep up but if we’re not there to help then animals will end up in worse conditions.
“The council has been absolutely great supporting us this time, and Croft Vets in Bolsover too, but we’ll still have to pick up the bills. We’re looking at over £2,000. It’s a hell of a cost for a case that could have been avoided.
"We want people to know that if they’re giving pets away for free, this is the kind of outcome to expect. We are urging people to never rehome pets for free, and to always get them neutered and microchipped. It’s the law, and people are not sticking to it.”
Since 2016 it has been compulsory for dog owners to get their pet microchipped by the time it is eight weeks old, and a similar law will apply to cats from June 2024.
The implants can help track changes in ownership and means that lost pets can be returned home more quickly, easing pressure on shelters.
In what may be a systemic crisis of pets becoming unwanted after lockdown or an unaffordable expense for households hit by the spiralling cost-of-living, there are ways for responsible owners to make a difference.
She added: “There are so many dogs and other animals looking for forever homes, and shelters are often short of foster carers. We’d ask people not to look at taking in those dogs before buying puppies, for instance.
“If anyone could help in any way, such as administration, fundraising, transport of fostering, they can contact us. If anyone is ever struggling with a pet they can contact us for advice.”
With respect to the Chesterfield situation, an RSPCA spokesperson said: “Unfortunately we are unable to discuss complaints about specific people and what action may have been taken. We understand how frustrating that is for animal lovers but releasing information could prejudice a future prosecution or could lead to us being fined.
“We are so grateful to people who report suspected animal suffering to us and we would like to reassure people we will always look into and, if necessary, investigate any complaints made to us about animal welfare.”
Councillor Jean Innes, Chesterfield Borough Council’s cabinet member for housing, added: “We take animal welfare seriously and will investigate any reports we receive from concerned residents if they think that a pet may be at risk.
“Where a council tenant has a pet in their home, it is outlined in their tenancy agreement that pets must be well cared for, as well as kept under control at all times to ensure that it does not negatively other residents or members of the public."
She added: “If we have reason to believe the welfare of the animal may be at risk, we may withdraw a tenant’s permission to keep the animal at their property. Where this is the case, we will always look to rehome the pet to ensure it is safe.
“Due to the rising cost of living, we are aware that animal charities across the country are experiencing high demand with lots of dogs being handed over due to their owners change of circumstances. Taking on any pet is a big commitment and we urge residents to do their research before introducing a pet into their home.”