Secret horrors of lockdown animal abuse as cats are skewered on barbecues and puppies are abandoned on deserted streets – The Sun

RIDDLED with fleas, stuffed in a dirty cardboard box and left in an alleyway to die at just three weeks old – this was the fate of five kittens abandoned during lockdown.

With millions of Brits bunkered down indoors, whoever left them would have known their desperate mews for help would only sound to empty streets, but they heartlessly dumped them anyway.

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Miraculously, the helpless pets were rescued by the RSPCA and are now recovering, but regular cases of shocking animal cruelty and neglect are still all too frequent in lockdown – with the majority at risk of going unnoticed.

Since the government restrictions began, RSPCA rescuers have so far dealt with 42,685 incidents of animal cruelty, neglect and suffering.

Its cruelty hotline has received 2,443 reports of abandonment – an average of 39 incidents a day.

As they're only able to currently deal with emergencies, the animal charity fears the reports they're receiving are just the tip of the iceberg, with people less likely to see or report animal abuse in the current climate.

Workers facing money troubles after being furloughed or axed from jobs have also sparked concerns pets could be abandoned as households struggle to pay the bills.

With routine operations like neutering on hold, there's likely to be an influx in unwanted litters and the number of animals in rescue care is expected to increase after lockdown.

Here, Sun Online speaks to the key workers responsible for rescuing distressed and neglected animals, and takes a closer look at the abuse happening during lockdown.

Cats barbecued and swans shot in the head

Sickeningly, in one of the worst cases since shutdown, last month a tortured cat was found skewered, burned and lying dead on a disposable barbecue in Doncaster.

The animal was so badly burned it was impossible to tell what colour its fur was.

The woman who found the remains and reported the incident to the RSPCA said: "At first, I thought it was some sort of stuffed toy, but when I got closer, I realised it wasn’t.

“It was absolutely horrific. The look on its poor little face suggested it must have been tortured and died in agony."

In another violent attack, a nesting swan was shot in the face with an air rifle – one of five shocking attacks in a ten day period leaving four swans injured and one dead.

The bird was targeted in Thatcham, Berkshire, while tending to her unhatched eggs, and needed an operation to remove the 8mm pellet.

With less park workers and members of the public around to witness such horrors, these creatures are left defenceless against vile attackers.

'We don't know what's going on behind closed doors' 

Even more worryingly, the public was recently warned to be wary about animal abuse after a spike in domestic violence during lockdown.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals highlighted the “strong link” between violence against humans and the abuse of animals in households, and urged people to get in touch if they become aware of animals in danger.

RSPCA chief inspectorate officer Dermot Murphy tells Sun Online: "There’s a recognised link between domestic violence and violence against animals… and they can be used as a tool to control vulnerable people, for example threats to hurt the dog if the [victim] says anything.

"We haven’t seen an increase in [abuse] reports so far – but this could be because it is going on behind closed doors.

"We also normally get reports when people are taking animals out on the street, or when a neighbour sees someone beating a dog in a garden. 

"Reports have tailed away but I suspect it hasn’t gone away. I think people might [turn a blind eye], and especially being home all the time, they may be more reticent about reporting a neighbour, whereas usually they would if they weren't home as much.

"There may be a feeling that they might be suspected for reporting it, and as they're stuck at home they aren't going to do it now."

'I've noticed an increase in abandoned pets – it's heartbreaking' 

Animal collection officer Cara Gibbon is responsible for rescuing sick and injured animals, currently dealing with up to 10 emergency rescues a day during lockdown.

We’re dealing with a lot of cats being abandoned in lockdown – I’ve definitely seen an increase," she says.

"Every week I'm seeing kittens being abandoned in boxes, and older cats too.

"Last week for example I rescued five kittens that had been abandoned in a box down an alleyway in Birmingham.

"A woman called in to say she’d found them and they were only three weeks old, which is way too young to be on their own. They were covered in fleas, and were so poorly, with really pale gums, they had flea anaemia."

The 27-year-old, from Birmingham, has worked for the RSPCA for ten years and insists the kittens would have died had they not been picked up.

"It’s distressing, especially when you know a human is responsible," she says. "It’s not just their mum has left them – someone has put them in a box and just dumped them knowing they might not be found and that’s heartbreaking.

“There are a lot of rumours going round about animals carrying Covid on their fur. It could be down to selling issues, or people can’t afford them."

Despite her decade of experience, Cara admits some parts of the job, like seeing an animal abandoned, never get easier.

 "When dogs have been tied up at the side of the road with a note to say they’ve come from a loving home – it really gets to me," she says.

Logistically, it's been hard for animal rescuers to continue their roles while adhering to the social distancing laws too.

“I’m not going into homes unless I absolutely have to – I had to when rescuing a pigeon stuck in a chimney so I made sure I wore a mask, overalls, shoe covers and gloves," Cara says.

“My colleagues have had people going into hospital with Covid symptoms and their animals have been left behind.

"In this instance they’ve had to suit up completely, with a breathing mask, with proper PPE, and take the animals to a rescue centre and look after them until the owner is out of hospital."

'What are we going to face after lockdown?' 

For Dermot, one of the main worries is what happens when lockdown ends, and the RSPCA has a clearer picture of the levels of neglect and abuse, as well as a potential influx of unwanted pets being abandoned. 

Since lockdown began there has been a huge demand for pets, with pet insurance providers seeing a 78% increase in people registering new animals as they look for company at home.


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“We’re trying to focus on the most serious incidents currently, but I’m more worried about what will happen when we come out of [lockdown] – about what the impact will be on animal welfare issues that we aren’t yet aware of," he explains.

"My concern is also that people take on an animal during lockdown, such as a dog, and then once it’s back to 'normal' it could be an inconvenience and they will look to abandon them as they haven’t thought through the lifelong commitment

“We’ve also seen it in the past when we’ve had periods of recession when people can’t afford food or veterinary treatment.

'The first thing they can do is find a new home for the animal, if they’re responsible, or turn them out. It's not the best time to introduce a dog to the house either."

Let's hope at the very least, most new pet owners realise a dog is for life – not just for lockdown.

To help the RSPCA keep rescuing animals and keep animal hospitals and centres running through these unprecedented times, please donate whatever you can spare at

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