Kay Hamilton, who campaigns for animal welfare, has attacked Chancellor George Osborne’s cuts, saying they have resulted in people being unable to afford to feed and care for their pets.
The duchess – widow of Angus, 15th Duke of Hamilton, who died in 2010 – said it was “heartbreaking” so many Scots were dependent on food banks and that many people now had to give up their pets.
She said: “The cutbacks by George Osborne have made things very hard for so many people. Many are working but on minimum wages or just over. It is not, as some think, shirkers who will not work, but it is not easy to get work. Yes, they can do odd jobs but that does not pay the rent or the groceries.
“Many people just do not understand the inequality in this country and some just cannot imagine how hard it can be. Many still think there is no need for food banks in the area where they live.
“I recently dealt with an older woman from England who had to move out of her home due to the bedroom tax and ended up in Scotland but was unable to keep her Staffie.
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“She phoned me in tears, in a dreadful state. She told me she’d had the dog since he was a pup. This woman had been in the habit of going out, walking her dog and socialising by talking to other dog owners; keeping active, cooking, doing all the things older people should do. But George Osborne took away her best friend.”
The duchess, a former nurse from Aberdeen who now lives in Dirleton in East Lothian, first met her husband when she was asked to find a Staffie for him. She became his third wife in 1998 and he often accompanied her on visits to rescue dogs in need of care.
The Duke was the Premier Peer of Scotland, Keeper of the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Queen’s representative in Scotland.
His widow, who is chairwoman of Scottish Staffordshire Bull Terrier Rescue, which rehouses around 200 of the dogs a year, said numbers have been rising during the recession.
She said the charity’s busiest time was between October and January and that it currently has 20 dogs looking for homes – far more than usual.
The duchess admitted that Staffordshire bull terriers had developed an “image problem” but said this was unfair.
Mike Flynn, chief superintendent of the animal charity the SSPCA, said that while their rescue and rehoming centres regularly operated to full capacity, the recession was contributing to the problem.
He said: “The effects of the recession are still being felt by many people across the country, including pet owners.
“We always try to help owners who are in genuine difficulty and can no longer provide the care their animals require, but we must emphasise that the recession has highlighted the need for people to think seriously before taking on a pet.”
In 2014, the SSPCA took in 11,709 pets in total. This compares with 10,418 the previous year, and 9,116 in 2012.
In recent years, the duchess has also campaigned for the overhaul of Scotland’s mental health laws following the sectioning of her husband, who was suffering from dementia, in 2009.
She said it hastened his death and wants the law changed so people cannot be held on the orders of just two people.
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