Home   News   Article

SSPCA move to close Balmore animal shelter slammed as 'criminal'

By Scott Maclennan

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
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 a story in 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.

What 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.

What does “expanding services” mean in the north Highlands?

In defence of the move – including to The Groat reporters – the SSPCA wrote: “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.

Pet Aid is a particularly laudable service that helps pet owners who are struggling financially to take good care of their animals.

What the website does not say

There are some reasons for confidence in the three new roles the SSPCA have confirmed will be created in the Caithness area – two rehoming and fostering co-ordinator roles and a community engagement role.

But it becomes problematic when the society announces: “The Scottish SPCA will continue to rehome animals to the Caithness area. This will either be by visiting our centre in Inverness or, in some cases, our teams may be able to bring the animals to those rehoming.”

That makes it clear that people in Caithness and Sutherland will have to go to Inverness if they wish to adopt – yet another journey far from home, either by bus or car for something that was once offered locally.

Balmore is essential to animal welfare

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.”

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?

“What happens to animal welfare inspections and concerns? Do we have to wait for someone to visit from Inverness and become de facto forgotten about as usual in the North? I still can't understand how you plan to pluck nearly 350 foster homes out of nowhere!

“So basically, no, you're not creating extra capacity in SSPCA care, but relying on foster homes. If people could foster that many animals in the county, they would have done already. What happens to the animals with complex needs?”

Expanding fostering and rehoming

The SSPCA answered: “Hi Rebecca. 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.”

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More