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Inverness will soon have the only SSPCA animal shelter in the north

By Scott Maclennan

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The Scottish SPCA centre for Caithness and Sutherland at Balmore.
The Scottish SPCA centre for Caithness and Sutherland at Balmore.

People in Caithness and Sutherland will have to visit Inverness to adopt a pet due the imminent closure of Balmore Animal Shelter – a move described as “criminal” by one local and “awful news” by another.

The SSPCA’s response to criticism has raised eyebrows because of the information that it is issuing and its efforts to stage a charm offensive since The Inverness Courier's sister paper The Groat revealed the centre would close.

The charity – which has worked tirelessly for decades to protect and rescue animals – has been responding to individual posts on social media and contacting critics of its plans to close the centre.

It defended the move by claiming that they are “actually expanding our services in the area such as Pet Aid and fostering, giving more support to local communities who need it the most.”

Ultimately it means saying goodbye to a well known focal point for animals rescues and replacing it with something more diffuse.

But some locals in Caithness and Sutherland are seeing is yet another departure of a much needed service alongside the closure of bank branches, post offices, medical services, and the lack transport options.

Long journey

The SSPCA insists that it is in the "midst of an animal welfare crisis" and "demand for services has never been greater".

But critics question whether closing the site in the north is the best thing for the animals as it could mean long journeys to be adopted.

Kirsteen Campbell said: “This is awful news. Our first dog came from Balmore. It’s needed in the area for animals in need. 100+ miles is too far for terrified animals that have been through a trauma.”

Then Rebecca Wymer, an Endometriosis Campaigner, was even more to the point and challenged the SSPCA’s view that the move was positive in a discussion online.

She wrote: “This is criminal. Balmore is essential to animal welfare in the County and to make animals travel 100+ miles in an already traumatic situation is counter-intuitive to the SSPCA's ethics. If this goes ahead it will be a dirty mark on the charity's history.

“If 135 animals were cared for in Balmore, what's the reason for the closure? Are you building a new building somewhere closer to the animals starting point?

'Expanding fostering and rehoming'

In defence of the move the SSPCA said: “Whilst we know people may be disappointed that the centre is closing, we're actually expanding our services in the area such as Pet Aid and fostering, giving more support to local communities that need it most.”

The post then suggested more can be found on their website aiming to expand services across the country by the end of 2024, including:

  • Increasing adoptions by 15 per cent
  • Tripling the number of foster families to 600
  • Doubling the number of food banks/community larders the SSPCA works with
  • Adding veterinary support to Pet Aid.

The SSPCA wrote in response to critics that: “Only 9 of the 135 animals we cared for in 2022 came from the local area, and we want to minimise how far animals travel. The centre has mainly cared for animals from outside the area. We are expanding fostering and rehoming in Caithness too.

“The animals came from a variety of locations. We want to offer services which better meet local needs, given low levels of local arrivals. We aim to add 400 fostering homes nationally over the next, which will help provide extra capacity for animals in care.

“Every animal has their own rehab plan, and that may be in a rescue centre or a foster home. Being in a home is often better than a kennel. Our overall capacity across centres and fostering will rise. We’ve fostered over 370 animals in just over a year and see space to grow that.”

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