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50 years of… Rescue Pets!

Today we are very familiar with the idea of the ‘rescue’ pet, however it hasn’t always been that way and as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary, we look back at how attitudes have changed towards rescue.

Fifty years ago, pets were likely brought to the family home from a neighbour, work, or school friend, whose pet had had a litter of puppies or kittens, or alternatively they were bought from the local pet shop (many a school-child growing up in the 70s has spent time standing outside a pet shop, lovingly gazing in at the puppies/kittens/guinea pigs in the window.)

Then, it’s likely there wouldn’t have been a difference seen between animals bought from a shop or rehomed from unwanted litters, and unless an animal was needed to do a job (for example, a working animal for a farm), its lineage or where it came from wasn’t likely to be of too much interest. 

Although many other animal welfare charities had been set up in the 19th century (RSCPA, Battersea, National Canine Defence League aka Dogs Trust today) the National Animal Welfare Trust was born 50 years ago out of the anti-vivisection movement. Sidney Hicks, the General Secretary of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, established the charity in 1971 as a way of helping animals destined to be subjected to laboratory testing.

The NAWT purchased Hendon & Aldenham Boarding Kennels in 1981 as its first rescue and rehoming centre. Prior to this, most of our rescue and rehoming work had been carried out by volunteers and through renting space in commercial boarding kennels. Groups such as our Thurrock supporter group, who helped us expand to other pets like stray cats, primarily from the neighbourhood schemes they ran.

As the years went on, the popularity of owning a pet increased, in the main propelled by a new understanding of them as sentient beings in the media and celebrities. From Andrex puppies to Blue Peter stalwarts, right up to more recent trends such as Dire wolves in Game of Thrones; the media we consume influences trends.

There’s always been the fascination with celebrities too and when people see their favourite stars in photos or videos with their beloved pets, they want to emulate and we see spikes in demand for certain breeds – think Paris Hilton and her Chihuahua!

Today, it’s not unusual for pets to become celebrities in their own right, having their own social media channels such as Grumpy Cat and Jiffpom; we can’t get enough of pets.

This trend has led to more and more people buying pets and then finding themselves, for whatever reason unable to care for them. Hence why rescue centres have grown in need and in specialism to which animals they care for (remember the potbellied pig craze?).

There is however, sometimes a perception that animals in rescue centres are there due to behavioural difficulties. At the NAWT, we recognise that there are plenty of animals that come in needing little in the way of rehabilitation, but of course some do need more help. We are always heart-warmed by the many rehoming updates that we get that tell us just how well the rescue pets are settling into their new homes, and many small behavioural issues quickly disappear once in a loving home environment.

Through the years, pure-breeds have also been prized, meaning individuals could often lavish money on buying the exact size, colour, and breed to emulate their chosen celebrity’s pet. Plus with a rise in animal-related allergies in their human owners, we have seen a rise in breeds that shed less hair etc to help humans and pets live together more harmoniously.

That hasn’t stopped rescue becoming many peoples’ favourite breed! A US charity, LCA (Last Chance for Animals) coined the phrase ‘Adopt don’t Shop’ to protest pet stores that sold puppies from Puppy Mills. These factory-like mills would often see the puppies kept in terrible conditions in small cages. Awareness campaigns like this around overbreeding have also highlighted the benefits of adopting from an animal rescue centre. If you’re thinking of getting a puppy yourself, we encourage you to read our Puppy Buyer’s checklist. 

The media has also helped change people’s attitudes towards rescue pets, with programmes like The Dog House, For the Love of Dogs and Animal Rescue, showing the rewards of adopting a rescue pet.  Nowadays, many celebrities also use their fame to become great advocates for rescue. For example, actor Peter Egan has campaigned for various changes in the law regarding pets, and we’ve even seen rescue pets living at 10 Downing Street.

In this, the 50th Year of NAWT, please help us to achieve our mission ‘to promote responsible pet ownership’ by making a donation to support our work – both for now, and equally as importantly, for those animals and owners who will need help and support over the next 50 years.