Dogs or cats? It’s a question that we’ve all been asked and both sides are passionate about defending their choice.
Former CEO of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Claire Horton, has revealed her preference and she certainly isn’t on the fence.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Mrs Horton said she was firmly in the TeamDogs camp: “The answer should be, ‘oh, well, I love them both equally’, but dogs, dogs for me every time”.
Mrs Horton stepped down in October 2020 after 11 years heading the charity, of which there is a branch in Windsor, where income and volunteer numbers have quadrupled.
She told host Lauren Laverne that the pandemic lockdown had resulted in a surge in people wanting to own pets, which at one stage left Battersea with no rescue animals to rehome.
“We were getting 1,500 calls almost every day and applications onto our online rehoming portal.
“And we just didn’t have those animals. I mean, you know, there were no rescue animals in rescues at that time for a number of reasons.
“One was because we had to get them all out as quickly as we could across the country, from rescues into foster homes and into new homes as well, as lockdown was coming around for the first time because nobody actually knew what that was going to mean.”
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Mrs Horton said that around 10 per cent of dogs rehomed by Battersea are later returned to the charity – including one whose new owner complained it did not match their sofa.
“Usually it will be a very genuine change in circumstances,” she said. “So it could be an illness. Someone might die. It might be a relationship breakdown, and people get divorced, and we see that a lot.”
She said the high cost of pet ownership with vet fees and insurance also meant some families struggled to keep their dogs during the pandemic after losing their jobs. But for others the reality of dog ownership is too much to cope with.
“Then we’ll get people who will bring them back because they hadn’t thought it was going to wee on the carpet or chew the bottom of their door,” she said.
“We’ve even had a dog come back once because it didn’t match the sofa!
“That’s the point of the whole Battersea premise around ‘rescue is our favourite breed’. It’s not about what breed it is, what colour it is. It’s about just being a rescue, just being an animal that you’ve given a chance to that needs a wonderful life and is begging for a fantastic home. And all it wants is love. And what you’ll get back from that is unconditional loyalty and love forever.”
Mrs Horton said while they never judge an adopter, that person is now banned from Battersea, and their unwanted dog found a more loving home.
However, a positive of the pandemic is that there were fewer animals being given up for rehoming, partly because people had more time for their pets and also that they found their animals were helping them during lockdown.
This meant that more people were buying dogs off the internet, which she described as an “industry in misery.”
“What we saw was a surge in imported animals coming into the country from abroad, puppy farmers churning out puppies left and right and often in such poor condition, taken away from their mothers too early, often very badly and under-socialised, and often very sick and more often than not dying.”
Listen to Claire Horton’s Desert Island Discs on BBC Sounds here .