78-year-old animal charity among those facing closure because of coronavirus

03 Apr 2020 News

An animal charity founded in 1942 has said it might have to close at the end of April after coronavirus put further strain on its finances.

Veterinary and research charity the Animal Health Trust was already facing financial issues and has now had to suspend its services.

Animal charities of all sizes have put out emergency appeals as losses of income from events, tickets and shops mean they are struggling to fund animal care.

Animal Health Trust might close at the end of April

The Animal Health Trust provides specialist veterinary and diagnostic services for cats, dogs and horses, as well as canine DNA tests. Funds raised through these channels are then reinvested into research.

With the outbreak of the pandemic, all the charity’s services have been suspended, exacerbating an already precarious financial situation.

The Trust originally said on on 22 March that it might have to close as soon as 31 March.

In a statement, the charity said: “The Animal Health Trust has been facing dire financial constraints for some time, and now with the economic implications of Covid-19, we are facing imminent closure.

“We are all experiencing uncertain times right now, and following UK government guidance, we have taken the decision to temporarily suspend all of our referral and diagnostic services until it is safe for us to re-open. This is a huge concern and will have a massive impact on the charity.”

Then, on 30 March, a second statement said that a final decision on the charity’s future will be taken at the end of April and that staff are being put on furlough.

The charity is not launching an emergency fundraising appeal because it feels that donations from the public will not solve the situation.

It said to its supporters: “At this point we need considerable sums if the charity is to continue. However, we are not asking you for a donation. We feel it would be disingenuous if we took donations from you now and the funds raised are still insufficient to save the charity, and it subsequently closes.”

Instead, the charity’s trustees and executives are looking for emergency funding and asking the public to share the story, “in the hope that a wealthy individual, corporate or person of influence sees it and can help us”.

According to the charity's latest accounts, it had an income of £15.6m in 2018 and employed more than 260 people.

RSPCA launches emergency appeal

RSPCA is among the animal charities that have launched emergency appeals. It has had to close all its centres to the public, but will continue rescuing and caring for animals, and says it is therefore facing a “funding shortfall”.

Dermot Murphy, chief inspectorate officer, said: “Our rescuers, vets and nurses have been designated key workers by the government which means we can carry on saving animals from cruelty and neglect, but we rely entirely on generous public donations to fund our vital services.

“We are facing immense challenges and huge pressures on strained resources, but our hugely dedicated teams are out there dealing with emergencies and our centres continue to deliver vital care to thousands of animals, with more expected in the coming weeks.

“We know that this is a difficult time for everyone but we must still be here for animals who are suffering, and we are appealing for animal lovers to give whatever they can to help us.”

The RSPCA’s emergency appeal has been backed by comedian Ricky Gervais. The charity manages 19 national centres and four hospitals, and as of 26 March was caring for almost 3,300 animals. 

Closed zoos appeal for public support

Zoos and conservation charities are also asking for the public’s support, as they lose all income deriving from visitors but still need to provide for their animals.

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which manages the London Zoo and the Whipsnade Zoo, is among those that have launched an emergency appeal. The London Zoo closed on 21 March for the first time since the Second World War.

The appeal said: “Covid-19 has had a huge impact on everyone, and it is with a heavy heart that we’ve had to close ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos’ doors to the public for the duration of the crisis. But inside the zoos, life goes on, as our dedicated keepers and vets feed and care for our more than 20,000 animals.

“This costs many thousands of pounds every day, so we really do need your help.”

Dominic Jermey, director general at ZSL, has published a blog explaining how zoo staff keep caring for animals at this time. Some staff are currently sleeping at the zoo’s facilities to avoid the commute.

He wrote: “Behind the scenes at ZSL London Zoo, vets have performed routine health checks on Oni the pregnant okapi, Thug the pygmy hippo has continued to receive his daily dental care and, when possible, Noemie and Ghengis, the Bactrian camels, have been taken on their regular walks around the zoo.”

Other conservation charities that have launched fundraising appeals include the Zoological Society of Hertfordshire and the Bristol Zoological Society.

Smaller charities

Many small animal charities are facing similar issues, from farms to shelters, because they rely on ticket sales, shops, cafes or fundraising events to survive.

Deen City Farm in Merton, South London, is a small animal charity that hosts about 40 animals. While it is normally free to visit, it says most of its income comes from its shop and cafe.

It put out an emergency appeal in March, which raised £21,000 in a week. In a video on the charity’s Twitter profile, manager Nick Golson said maintaining the farm costs about £32,000 a month.

He added: “We have been overwhelmed by the amazing response to our fundraising appeal. Thank you to everyone who has donated so we can go on looking after the animals.

“It has made us even more determined to make sure we can get through this difficult time and welcome everyone back to the farm as soon as we can.”

Some animal charities, like wildlife hospital Tiggywinkles, are also asking for donations of supplies, old newspapers and other items, and have compiled an Amazon Wishlist for supporters who prefer to donate this way.

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Editor's note - 14.50

The photo on this story has been updated to avoid confusion.  

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