WITH their big eyes, loving nature and fluffy fur, it's hard to see why so many cats and dogs at the Mayhew Animal Home are without a good home.
But according to Sarah Dickinson, the Mayhew's communications officer, the home's catteries and kennels are now fit to bursting as they are looking after record numbers of unwanted pets.
Sometimes, pets unexpectedly carry a large litter which can put a burden on families already looking after several animals. The recession has had a huge impact too, explained Ms Dickinson.
"People just can't afford to look after their dogs or cats," she said. "Pets are a huge investment of both time and money, which people just don't have during the recession. Some people have also had to move to a smaller house or flat, where the landlord won't allow them to look after pets."
But other times, there's no explanation.
The Mayhew is currently home to two cats - the mother Lola who is one year old and her kitten Twinkle, who is just ten weeks old.
Ms Dickinson said: "They came to us at the beginning of November. They had been abandoned in the reception, with a note attached simply saying 'please look after us'."
While most of their animals are rehoused within a month to six weeks, some have taken much longer to be given a new home. The longest stayer is Gordon, a 12-year-old black cat who has been at the Mayhew since last December.
"He has a bit of arthritis but that should not be a problem for an owner," said Ms Dickinson. "Gordon came is as a stray, but has now come to be very affectionate. He's even become quite confident and likes to rule the roost a bit."
Another long stayer Mikey, a 13-month-old Jack Russell whippet cross breed dog, was brought to the home in June by his owner who could no longer look after him.
"He has not been socialised correctly," explained Ms Dickinson. "Mikey can be fine with other dogs when he's on walks, but at other time he just isn't happy and starts barking as a warning to other dogs. A lot of it is fear, because he just hasn't met enough other dogs. He needs to be in a consistent home environment."
Other dogs may seem like they need special attention or medical treatment, but in fact can be just as loving pets. Phoebe, a six-month-old Dogue de Bordeaux, was one of a litter of 16 puppies, brought to the home two weeks ago.
Of the puppies, 11 died and the mother ended up attacking the remaining five. Phoebe is now the only survivor, and she was left blind in one eye and with two of her toes ripped out after a fight with her mother.
"She has never known any good in her life," said Ms Dickinson. "She just needs a bit of love and attention."
Potential owners can visit the kennels are catteries any day, to have a chat to the home's staff.
Following an interview, staff can then match up the owners to the pets' personalities before visiting their home visit. If both parties are happy, there will be another follow-up visit after the pet has been taken home, to ensure it is being looked after correctly.
The centre relies on the vital work of volunteers to carry out most of the home visits, along with daily dog walking, kitten socialising and administration work.
Anyone thinking about adopting a pet from the Mayhew should get in quickly. The home stops the process from mid-December until January, knowing all too well how many pets often end up as unwanted Christmas presents.
"Christmas is really not the best time to start thinking about a pet," explained Ms Dickinson. "There's the noise and excitement, and everyone's a bit rushed off their feet. You need a bit of time to get to know your pet, rather than seeing it as like a toy.
"We're expecting huge numbers of animals to be brought here after Christmas and the New Year, but at the moment we just don't have the space for them."
* To give a home to a cat or dog from the Mayhew Animal Home, or for more information, call 020 8969 0178 or see www.mayhewanimalhome.org .