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After the floods: What happens to people's pets?

These two dogs and their owner look out of the window as they wait to be rescued in Carlisle. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption These two dogs and their owner look out of the window as they wait to be rescued in Carlisle

The mop-up of buildings battered by Storm Desmond continues, with many homes remaining uninhabitable. The people who occupied them have been forced to seek out alternative living arrangements but for those with pets, finding accommodation can present a host of challenges. How are they coping?

When the floods raged through the streets of Carlisle, a photographer was there to capture the moment Sophie Thornton and Chris Fairclough sailed down a flooded street in a rubber dinghy with their dog, two cats, and a chinchilla.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sophie Thornton and Chris Fairclough with their dog, two cats and a chinchilla were rescued from their flooded home

Laughing at the photo, Ms Thornton recalls the moment their home started flooding.

"We just grabbed the dog and the cat carriers, and someone from the RSPCA helped us carry out the chinchilla cage."

Missing from the picture, she says, are the two turtles they had to sell.

"We had no power in the house, so their tank was ice cold and they were going to die. So we sold them on quickly for a fraction of what they were worth."

Since the photo was taken, the pair and their pets have still found nowhere to rent, and are relying on the generosity of friends willing to host them.

"We've been around nine estate agents in the city. As soon as we say we have pets, it's an instant no," says Ms Thornton.

"It's very frustrating. We're good tenants and we've gone over the top in saying we're happy to pay an extra pet security deposit, and do a deep clean of the property before we leave. But it's always a 'no'."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The emergency services have helped rescue people and their pets using rubber dinghies to keep them dry

Facing a similar issue is Sophie Winter, who lost everything on the bottom floor of her home in Carlisle after it was flooded.

The two temporary accommodation flats Ms Winter has viewed do not accept dogs, and she has three of them.

"It's all a bit of a question mark this week when it comes to the dogs. I'm staying with my partner at his brother's, who doesn't want dogs in the house. So the dogs are staying separately at a friend's," she said.

She continued: "My dogs are like my children. I adore them. They're part of my family. But I think when you tell people you have dogs they think you're going to mess up their property."

Rob Melloy, RSPCA chief inspector for Cumbria and North West, says during the floods the charity for his patch rescued a total of eight dogs, nine cats, four rabbits, three chickens and three sheep.

Last week, the RSPCA set up a scheme offering free short-term boarding for the pets of flood victims.

Image copyright Peter Macdiarmid
Image caption An RSPCA worker evacuates a pet cat from a flooded house in Wraysbury in February 2014

"Our fear is that people will not move themselves from damp, unsuitable homes because they can't find anywhere for their pets in temporary accommodation, so we set up the scheme to help people with pets who have been displaced," said Mr Melloy.

So far, he says, the RSPCA - which is just one of several organisations that have been helping look after pets in the aftermath of the floods - is boarding four cats - a figure smaller than expected.

"I think people are more active on social media. There have been an awful lot of offers of help for animals out there, and we think a lot of animals have been sorted out that way."

Image copyright The Animals Refuge
Image caption Cumbria flood victim Mike Wilkinson is reunited with cat Magic who was placed in temporary accommodation for pets

One Facebook page, set up in the wake of the recent floods, is littered with requests for and offers of help to accommodate pets.

One woman, located in Huddersfield, says she has a spare house that is pet friendly. Another woman has posted a message requesting space for a number of reptiles. Her callout has been met with a barrage of different offers to help.

Yet while some short-term solutions may be on offer for the pets of people affected by the floods, dealing with pets in the aftermath of a flood can become harder in the longer term, says Bryony Sadler.

Mrs Sadler had to flee her home on the Somerset Levels in February 2014 after relentless floods submerged the region.

Along with her husband and two children, Mrs Sadler also had to move two dogs, two rabbits, a horse, a guinea pig and 70 chickens.

Image copyright BBC/SWNS
Image caption Bryony Sadler had to move two dogs, two rabbits, a horse, a guinea pig and 70 chickens during flooding in Somerset last year

"We only thought we'd be away for a couple of days. We didn't realise it would be nearly a year later until we could move back in to our home," she said.

The family and their animal entourage were out of their home for over nine months. During that time, Mrs Sadler says they moved around to places owned by people they knew.

"I didn't seek outside help. I knew places we could go and be safe. Other people with pets might not have that luxury and I can easily imagine how difficult it would be for them.

"It wasn't just me that had to move each time. It was a whole entourage of animals and a big family.

"Because of the weather we lost about half our breeding stock of chickens, and when we moved back home in November 2014 I lost my rabbit because they don't like being moved. It's too stressful for them."

She added: "The worst part is I lost my horse. She was the world to me. Because of everything that happened, I didn't have time to use and look after her.

"Because the flooding went on for so long I lost my bottle, I lost my nerve. The best thing for her was to give her a stable home. She will have a long life in Sussex."

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