The death of a malnourished dog found in a Carlisle park has prompted a call for struggling pet owners to seek help - amid rising numbers needing help to feed their pets since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Caroline Johnson, general manager of Oak Tree Animals' Charity based in Wetheral, just outside Carlisle, has urged pet owners to get in touch if they are unable to feed their pet.

Mrs Johnson said the charity has seen a four-fold increase in people seeking assistance in feeding their pets since the Covid-19 lockdown began.

Her call came following the news that an RSPCA investigation had yesterday been launched after vets were forced to put down a severely malnourished female lurcher that had been found collapsed in Heysham Park.

The emaciated dog had been found on November 17 by a member of the public, and rushed to a local vet by RSPCA inspector Chris Towler once the organisation had been alerted.

“The dog was collapsed and was extremely emaciated, she was skeletal," Mr Towler explained.

"She couldn’t stand and was clearly in need of urgent veterinary attention so I rushed her to a local vet where she was placed on a drip and wrapped in bubble wrap to help increase her body temperature.

“She was completely listless, withdrawn and made no attempt to respond or move during the veterinary examination.

"It was a pitiful and heartbreaking sight.”

The dog was wearing a dark brown leather collar, but it carried no indication of any owner's identity. She was also not microchipped.

“The prognosis didn’t look good for her,” Mr Towler explained.

“She weighed just 12.65kg and was completely malnourished. She showed some signs of improvement overnight and I was hopeful she would pull through, especially when she finally found an ounce of strength to lift her head."

Despite initial hopes her condition would improve, her health declined, and vets yesterday made the decision to put her to sleep.

“I’m now investigating whatever callous person could have left her in this state, in a park, to die," Mr Towler said.

“I’d like to hear from anyone who recognises her or saw anything suspicious in the park on Tuesday [November 17] who may be able to assist with our enquiries.

“It’s completely unacceptable to allow a dog to get into this state and, even more so, to cruelly abandon them in their time of need.”

Anyone with information that could help the RSPCA investigation should call 0300 123 8018.

Describing the news as "absolutely heartbreaking", Mrs Johnson stressed that there is support available for those struggling to feed their pets.

"There is no need for an animal to be in this situation," she said. "It's tragic that this has happened.

"The owner did not seek help, and left that poor dog to die."

In partnership with local organisations, Oak Tree can provide a one-off food parcel to pet owners in crisis.

Mrs Johnson added that the charity can provide advice and support for those struggling to care for their pet, and that fear of being judged should not stop anyone from getting in touch.

"If people start to feel they are struggling, they should seek help. You will not be judged," she said.

"We can give you advice on the best way forward for you, which may be rehoming - there are various options.

"The decision needs to have the pet's welfare at its heart."

She added that to give up a pet is something few people want to do - "it's one of the most heartbreaking things in the world to give up your pet", she said.

"That companionship is so important to so many people. But that's why the most responsible thing to do is to seek help."

Mrs Johnson said that the charity does encounter examples where the owners of undernourished animals are embarrassed to seek help.

But she hoped to allay such fears that coming forward would lead to being judged.

"Our approach is simply: if you are seeking help we will do our very best to help you," she said.

"Please, don't avoid coming forward for fear of being judged. We will do our best to help you, regardless of the situation."

Oak Tree Animals' Charity has seen a "huge increase in demand" for pet food parcels in the Carlisle area since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mrs Johnson estimates that since March, roughly four times as many people have sought help from the charity to feed their pets.

"The longer the effects of the pandemic continue, the longer we expect this increased demand to continue," she said.

"But our key message is that the support is there - please don't let your animal go hungry.

"We often see the heartbreaking situation where people are giving their own food parcel to their pet.

"If you're in that situation, we would urge you to get in touch to get the right food for your pet.

"We want to make sure that where we can, no animal will go hungry."

A separate issue, but one which also may lead to pressure on animal charities in the coming months, is the spike in pet ownership seen across 2020.

Mrs Johnson said this is something the charity has also experienced.

With Covid-19 confining people to their homes for months on end, the increased desire for animal companionship is understandable, Mrs Johnson said.

"The human-owner relationship is amazing," said Mrs Johnson.

"It's a great support for people who are lonely, who are facing isolation.

"Having a pet can really benefit someone's mental health."

But Mrs Johnson said she expected that with the sudden rise in people owning pets, there is likely to also soon be an increase in people looking to reverse that decision.

"Before making a pet decision, consider your lifestyle, and remember that this is a long-term relationship", she said. "Make sure it's something you can sustain."

If you are a pet owner facing financial crisis, call 01228 560082, extension 230 to speak to the Oak Tree team, or email