Keeping the pandemic paw-friendly: Croydon’s dog warden recognised by RSPCA

Tara and a furry friend. Pic: Croydon Council

As special recognition for her work during the pandemic, Croydon’s dog warden Tara Boswell, recently received a PawPrint Gold award from the RSPCA.

The global pandemic saw an enormous uptake in pet ownership, with millions of people across the world turning to a furry friend for comfort during trying times.

For some dog wardens across England, the added stress and work that came with thousands of new pets in homes all at once was too much, but not for Boswell, who was one of only four people in the country to receive the accolade for keeping her services available when many others didn’t.

Boswell, who lives in Croydon, told East London Lines: “Everybody seemed to shut their doors, but I was thinking ‘animals can still go missing… we can’t just shut the doors here’, so I put things in place to ensure that it was minimal contact and that I could still offer the service safely.”

“With a job like mine, you’re always thinking of the animals. That’s why you do it, but when you get something like an award you do feel really chuffed. It’s nice to know you’re doing a good job and to get commended for that by the RSPCA, the biggest animal welfare body in the country – it’s huge.”

As of March 2021, 3.2million UK households have acquired a pet since the beginning of the pandemic, over a third of which are dogs.

Of that 3.2million, 5% of pets have already been given up and this figure is up to 11% among families.

In response to the pandemic, Boswell hopes to commit more time to educating people, particularly families, about how to ensure they are ready for a pet and how to adopt one responsibly.

She said pets should never be seen as “rentals” or part-time commitments.

“A pet isn’t just for Christmas or just for the pandemic. When you make a commitment to an animal, they need to be a part of your family for their entire life.”

“I think for the next generation of pet owners, it’s important to install those values now. Understanding animals and the responsibility of owning a pet is so important and improving the educational side of things is the only way there is ever going to be change in the future.”

Quietly going about her business as Croydon’s dog warden for 12 years, Boswell’s primary role is to retrieve stray or lost dogs and return them or, if unclaimed, find them a safe new home.

However, although much of Boswell’s work involves finding missing dogs, an enormous part of her job is preventing them from going missing in the first place.

She said: “I recently found a lost Husky which was claimed by its owners within seven days. Obviously, I returned the dog to the owners but was sure to discuss with them ways to prevent it happening again.”

“I’m not afraid to have a difficult discussion with people if I feel their dog’s welfare is at risk. The welfare of the dog is always at the forefront and owners need to be accountable for their pet’s safety.”

Currently the owner of two dogs, Hugo and Riley, Boswell said she couldn’t get through her days without the love of her puppies.

He passion for animals was discovered at a young age and has never wavered. For Boswell, there was never any doubt as to what she wanted to do for a job.

“I was six or seven-years-old and I remember having this box being made and I cut out pictures of all these endangered animals and sellotaped them onto this box and went around collecting money for them.”

“I used to be looked after by a childminder who had dogs and that’s how I think it started – she was heavily into her animals and then my parents got me a dog and it kind of went from there.”

A graduate in Applied Animal Behavioural Science and Welfare Bsc (Hons) from Hadlow College in Tonbridge, Boswell began full-time work as Croydon’s dog warden when she was only 21-years-old.

Her optimism for the job remains ever present all these years later. However, she said the naivety of her youth taught her some valuable lessons about just how valuable and important her work is.

“When you’re an animal lover it’s tough to put yourself in a situation where you see things happen that means mistreatment of animals,” she said.

“You have that passion for them and then think ‘I’m going to do something about this and make a change’.”

Beyond her day-to-day duties, Boswell engages in a significant amount of charity work. From volunteering at wildlife rescue centres, to hosting educational events aimed at improving local pet-owners knowledge of how to take care of their furry friends, Boswell is constantly going that extra mile to ensure animal safety.

“I think it’s important to do those things because the day-in-day-out of dealing with animals that are treated quite poorly… you can get quite warped with negativity. I think it’s important to be surrounded with like-minded people that love animals and want to do charity work.”

“Education really is the main priority… just trying to help as much as I can to try and keep dogs in homes.”

Boswell’s passion means she is always looking to the future and brainstorming her next big idea. Yet, despite the plans and ambitions, the joys of the day-to-day aren’t lost on her. 

“When a dog comes in skinny, poor condition, goes off to rescue… I love when I get the photo of the dog all fluffy, new collar, with his friends or with his new owner. I’m like ‘yep, that’s why I do what I do’.”

“The best part of the job is just making a difference and showing a bit of kindness to animals.”

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