More than 1,000 people have signed a petition calling on the RSPCA to abandon plans to close three of its centres and a hospital.
The animal welfare charity announced last week that, as part of a restructure to tackle a predicted £47m income shortfall over the next three years, it planned to close its Putney Hospital and the linked Southall Cattery and Clinic, both in London, and the Lockwood Equine Centre and South Godstone Animal Centre, both in Surrey.
The RSPCA Wimbledon, Wandsworth and Sutton branch, which is run by a separate charity but works from the Putney Hospital, might also have to relocate, it said.
Laura Stokes, who set up the petition and who is a volunteer at the Southall Cattery, wrote on the petition, which is hosted on the website Change.org: “All of these sites play a huge role in supporting animals locally and are supported by a range of people locally. Shutting these will cause an unprecedented demand on other local centres.”
Stokes added that, under the proposed closures, pet owners would “lose access to the services provided to the community, such as reduced fee/free neutering and spaying, and reduced veterinary fees provided at some of these sites".
Samantha Cass, a veterinary nurse supporting the online petition, said: “We need more animal welfare services not less due to the increasing demand on animal charities. Animal welfare will suffer, which should be at the forefront of the RSPCA 10-year plan."
Another signatory, Theresa Soave, said the RSPCA should reconsider reducing the services it provides because it would cause “a strain on other centres” and “deprive people of your services”.
She added: “The services are a lifeline to locals and a lifeline to injured and sick animals.”
A statement from the RSPCA said it understood people were upset by its proposals, but they had been made in response to unprecedented financial challenges.
It said the charity was facing financial difficulties before the coronavirus outbreak, which compounded the situation.
“Without this restructure, we forecast a deficit of up to £47m over the next three years. Our costs have been oustripping our income, and continuing to run our services in this way is simply not sustainable.
“We have more sites in the south than elsewhere. We feel we can continue to care for the animals in this area through our other centres and clinics, and we will be working more closely in partnership with other organisations to do our best for animal welfare.
“These are proposals at this stage and we are actively working with other organisations to explore if they can take over some of these services.”