ANIMAL welfare campaigners have hit out at irresponsible pet owners following an “epidemic” of dumped pets across Oxfordshire.

And the RSPCA says if the number of abandoned animals continues to rise it will reach a three-year high.

Since April 1, it has received 72 reports of abandoned pets – a fifth of what it had across the whole of 2012.

Shrinking incomes and ignorance regarding caring for animals have been blamed.

An RSPCA Oxfordshire spokesman said: “We are finding increasing problems with abandoned animals and our centres are full to the brim with dumped cats, dogs and horses.

“It is certainly the case that people’s lifestyles have changed and people do have less money these days, and unfortunately that impacts on pets. They just get dumped.”

In 2012 there were 346 cases in Oxfordshire, in 2011 there were 318, and in 2010 there were 320.

Eleven discarded kittens have been saved by staff at Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary in Stadhampton in the last two weeks.

The sanctuary said pressure had not eased since last year’s summer influx.

Aaron Denton, an assistant at the sanctuary, said: “It’s an epidemic here at the moment. There are so many kittens being brought in.”

Warden at the centre Rachel Tatam added: “We call it ‘kitten season’ at this time of the year and it does seem that it is only going to get to worse.

“It is down to irresponsible owners. We need to find homes but we also need to get the message across.

“People see these smiling kittens and puppies and then when they realise they can’t look after them they chuck them out of the door.

“There is absolutely no excuse for dumping them – these kittens could easily have died.”

The owner of West Oxford Animal Rescue in Botley, Janet Butler, said she has had to look outside the county to rehouse the dogs for the first time in the charity’s history, at considerable cost.

Ms Butler said: “We’ve had about 15 new animals brought in over the last fortnight. They are coming in at a rate I can’t rehome them.

“We will have a big, big problem very soon.”

Hannah Wiltshire, of Burford Blue Cross, said: “Owners are handing over their pregnant cats and litters of kittens because they just can’t cope with them.”

Convictions for animal cruelty are also on the rise and have increased by 50 per cent in Oxfordshire in recent years. Eighteen people were successfully prosecuted by the RSPCA in 2012, a rise from 12 in 2011.

At Bursting point

Oxfordshire’s animal rescue centres, sanctuaries and charities say they are “at bursting point” with abandoned animals.
Blue Cross has 163 homeless animals in its two Oxfordshire animal centres, 105 at Burford and 58 at Lewknor.
The Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary in Stadhampton currently has 106 dogs and 140 cats.
West Oxford Animal Rescue in Botley currently has a mix of 30 animals including cats, dogs and rabbits.