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Plea for Scottish SPCA to rethink closure of Caithness animal rescue centre at Balmore

By John Davidson

The Scottish SPCA centre for Caithness and Sutherland at Balmore will close at the end of October, the charity said.
The Scottish SPCA centre for Caithness and Sutherland at Balmore will close at the end of October, the charity said.

A Caithness councillor is calling on an animal rescue charity to rethink its "shocking" decision to close its far north centre near Dounreay.

The Scottish SPCA announced on Tuesday that it plans to close two of its "smaller animal rescue centres" – one in Caithness and another rural one in Ayr.

The charity claims the closures – which will happen at the end of October – are part of a drive to expand services across the country and suggested the move would "focus more services in the heart of communities".

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Scottish SPCA chief executive Kirsteen Campbell said: “Animal rescue goes far beyond the walls of a rescue centre, and as more and more people turn to us for help to look after the animals in their lives, we need to adapt the way we do things to meet and get ahead of that growing demand."

She was speaking as the charity set out plans to "expand services" and rescue more animals than ever across the country.

By the end of 2024 it aims to increase its adoption rate, triple the number of foster families from 200 to 600, add veterinary support to its Pet Aid service and double the number of community partners it delivers pet supplies to.

It is also teaming up with the Citizens Advice network in Scotland to make it easier for people to get animal welfare support when they need it, in order to intervene early and prevent animal and human welfare issues from escalating.

However, Councillor Gunn questioned whether the move to close the local centre at Balmore was just another example of centralisation.

Ron Gunn said the community would miss the service.
Ron Gunn said the community would miss the service.

He said: "To be honest I think it's shocking they're closing it. I know from personal experience, as we've had a couple of cats from there, that it's well supported up here.

"The community support it and the community needs it. Is this another case of centralisation gone daft?

"I don't understand their logic. A rural area like this needs that place.

"What happens now when you find abandoned animals?"

The centre at Balmore, which has facilities for dogs, cats, rabbits and small animals as well as being used to clean oiled birds and transport injured wild animals, employs five members of staff. The Scottish SPCA says the staff will be offered new positions in its community outreach work.

Cllr Gunn, who chairs the Caithness area committee on Highland Council, questioned what that actually meant and said he would like to know more about how the charity proposes to operate in the far north without the local centre.

He added: "I would like to think it was a very difficult decision for them but like more charities they could be struggling with costs. But it's basically a service that Caithness and the north will really miss.

"It's a real worry.

"I would like to think they would have another look at it, but maybe the decision has been made. For the benefit of the people of Caithness and the north, I would like them to rethink that decision.

"I don't know what alternatives they will come up with, but it won't be the same service we are used to."

The Scottish SPCA said it was dealing with increasingly complex animal welfare cases, such as veterinary and behavioural challenges in pets.

It said these challenges were fuelled in part by the cost-of-living crisis and that its planned outreach services would grow through "collaborative partnerships" with a range of charities and other agencies.

Ms Campbell said: “We’re delivering services straight to communities where we are most needed and where we can really make an impact; building on what we already do brilliantly, forging valuable partnerships with organisations such as Citizens Advice Scotland in order to address the complex needs in our communities by getting to the heart of issues affecting animals and people.

Kirsteen Campbell, CEO of Scottish SCPA, said the charity is facing more complex challenges. Picture: Peter Devlin
Kirsteen Campbell, CEO of Scottish SCPA, said the charity is facing more complex challenges. Picture: Peter Devlin

“Improving our capacity to deliver community outreach means more people will be aware of the services and support available to them, which should reduce the chances of them ever being at serious risk of compromising an animal’s welfare.

"At the same time, improving our capacity to rehome and foster at speed will improve the experience animals have in our care, which is ultimately the best thing for their welfare.

“Our centres will always play a vital role in our approach to animal rescue and securing better animal welfare.”

The Scottish SPCA will continue to run its eight other centres across Scotland, which include its wildlife hospital in Fishcross, Clackmannanshire.

The Balmore animal rescue centre has cared for a total of 135 animals over the past year. Those which are ready for rehoming feature each week in the John O'Groat Journal's Pet of the Week segment.

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