Published: 11:49, 17 February 2021
| Updated: 16:16, 17 February 2021
A North Kent mum was shocked to find a 45kg dog in her living room after her daughter adopted him for free online.
The RSPCA has urged families who are struggling to care for their pets not to rehome them online but to seek help from reputable charities and rescue centres.
Simba is currently being cared for by the RSPCA
The warning comes as charities brace for more and more families to relinquish their pets as they struggle to cope in the wake of the pandemic.
Last week, the seven-year-old Tibetan mastiff, Simba, ended up in RSPCA care after he was given away online.
RSPCA inspector Kirsten Ormerod went to collect him from a home in North Kent on February 6.
She said: "We were contacted by a woman over the weekend after she returned from work on the Friday evening to find all 45kgs of Simba in her living room.
"Simba had been advertised on Pets 4 Homes as 'free to a good home' by his previous owners when they could no longer keep him.
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"The previous owner rehomed him to a teenage girl who inquired about him without her mum's knowledge.
"He's microchipped so I managed to trace his original owners and advised them that they should have sought help from a reputable charity to ensure a good home for Simba.
"They signed him over into our care and we've now taken him into our rescue centre in Kent."
Simba had a matted coat and required a haircut and groom. He also has an abscess which he's been receiving veterinary treatment for.
The pooch is underweight (adult male Tibetan mastiffs should weigh around 65kg), so he's been put on a special diet to help him gain weight.
He'll be neutered and, once he's been given the all-clear by vets, will start the search for a new home.
"Simba is such a laid-back, gentle and sweet lad," Kirsten added.
"He really is an absolute joy to be around and it doesn't bear thinking about what could have happened to him as a result of him being offered 'free to a good home' online."
RSPCA pet welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: "We're really concerned about the possible surge in the number of dogs being rehomed over coming months as a result of coronavirus.
"We fear that families may be forced to make heartbreaking decisions due to financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic and may end up in a situation where they need to relinquish their pet to a rescue charity or may even feel they have no choice but to abandon their pet.
"We also have serious concerns about all of the 'pandemic pets' that have been bought during lockdown while families were based at home and had more time on their hands.
"We fear that as life begins to return to normal and people return to work they may feel they no longer have time for their pets or cannot cope with behavioural issues that arise out of a change in routine and we may see more animals being relinquished, abandoned or given away online.
"We understand that circumstances change and, sometimes, families are forced to make difficult decisions for their pets.
"If you need to rehome your pet we'd urge you never to advertise them 'free to a good home' online but, instead, to seek help or support from a reputable charity or rescue centre who can help guarantee that your pet finds a new home that meets their needs."
The RSPCA has advice online about what to do if you need to give up your pet.
You can also contact local vets or rescue centres for help if you need to rehome your pet. Find a reputable rescue organisation via the Association of Cats & Dogs Home.