The RSPCA is consulting on what it calls a "very difficult proposal" to close Putney Animal Hospital and three clinics in London as part of a plan to streamline its front-line services.
Fifty-four jobs are at risk of redundancy, but the animal charity says it hopes to redeploy most of the staff working at the four sites to other locations.
The decision to consult on the plans was taken in December at a meeting of the RSPCA’s council – its board of trustees – and the charity has begun a 45-day consultation with staff affected by the proposals.
A spokeswoman for the charity said: "The RSPCA has to target those animals most in need of our help and streamline our front-line services. Evidence-based work has been done on redirecting our services to the animals most in need of our help – those picked up and rescued by our inspectors.
"Most of the animals treated at Putney Animal Hospital have owners. The charity proposes to concentrate its work on those areas of London where it can have greater impact on those animals that do not have owners.
"The very difficult proposal to close Putney Animal Hospital and three London clinics is part of an overall restructure, which would also see veterinary services offered at nearby clinics and centres strengthened."
The spokeswoman said that of 100 jobs at the four sites, 54 were at risk of redundancy, although the charity proposed to create 37 new posts in similar areas.
She said that increasing demands and fluctuating income – "mainly due to the volatility of legacy income" – were also a factor in the plans. The RSPCA’s income of £121.2m in 2013 was down from £132.8m in 2012, but higher than the 2011 figure of £116.2m.
The clinics in Ealing & Hanwell in west London, Kilburn in north-west London and Camberwell in south London are the other sites earmarked for closure.
The charity proposes making the Harmsworth Animal Hospital in Finsbury Park, north London, into an overall veterinary hub for London.
A London-based volunteer at the charity told Third Sector he was advised of the consultation in an email sent last week. "The RSPCA is in difficult times and we support them, but we don’t support the closure of front-line services," he said.
The volunteer said it was unworkable to ask people in south London to take their animals all the way to north London. He also criticised the dispassionate tone of the email he was sent by the charity. "In that email, there was very little concern for the hundreds of animals that go to those hospitals every day," he said.