Nearly 7,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the Charity Commission and the RSPCA to investigate concerns about how Animal Lifeline, a dog rescue and rehoming charity, is being run.
The charity says the campaign has been orchestrated by an individual who was disappointed to have been told that they could not provide a suitable home for a dog.
Animal Lifeline is based in Staffordshire. It has capacity for around 100 dogs and says that in 2018 it rehomed 153 dogs. Last year its income was around £250,000.
A petition on Change.org and an open letter circulating on Facebook claim that people have been unfairly turned down to rehome animals from the centre.
They add: “There are also many reports where people who have a great deal of experience with dogs – behaviourists/experts of a particular breed, people who have experience with that breed for years, who work with breed-specific organisations – who have been eventually vetted by Mrs Lawton, and deemed unsuitable.”
Campaigners are concerned that this means “dogs will suffer stress and anxiety when caged and in a kennels environment for long periods of time”.
The petition also says: “A large number of people have reported on the occasions Mrs Lawton has carried out a home visit, this has been late at night and they have found her, unannounced, rummaging around their gardens – this cannot be right.”
The Charity Commission has given Animal Lifeline advice and the RSPCA said it has not received a formal report about animal welfare concerns.
‘We have a responsible rehoming policy’
Animal Lifeline insists that it’s rehoming policy is appropriate, that the charity is being run properly and that the majority of people who engage with the centre have a positive experience.
Pat Lawton, trustee at the charity, told Civil Society News that she stands by the policy, that the welfare of the dogs is the priority and that the charity has a vet on call.
She added that she feels it is important for dogs to have a secure garden so that they have “a secure area so they can potter in and out”.
At the centre there is a large paddock where dogs are able run around.
She said that when people are turned down, “I make it clear to them that their lifestyle isn’t right for them [the dog they’ve chosen]”.
She also said it was important for there to be a delay between expressing an interest in rehoming a dog, being assessed and taking it home, to give people time to think about the decision properly, and that many people are grateful for this.
She has been running the charity for 39 years and handles the vetting process for potential new owners. There are two other trustees, some paid staff and volunteers.
She said about 20 years’ ago the charity received a £25,000 legacy from someone who had researched the charity and thought it deserved the funding.This enabled it to expand and and place it on a sustainable footing.
She believes that some of the people signing the petition have not had direct engagement with the charity.
“I’ve never turned downed 6,000 other people,” she said, noting that it looked like “somebody in Canada” had signed it.
Lawton said that she has been in contact with the Charity Commission and that her solicitor wrote them a letter explaining the circumstances.
A Commission spokesperson said: “We are aware of concern about Animal Lifeline. We engaged with the charity in October last year, and issued the charity with formal regulatory advice around governance issues.
“While we do not have authority to investigate animal welfare matters, we expect the trustees to be mindful of public expectations in how they communicate with their supporters. We are clear that how a charity goes about its work is as important as what it does.”
Meanwhile the RSPCA, the body with the power to investigate concerns about animal welfare, said it had no record of any concerns being reported to it.
This article has been updated with additional background about the charity.