Sunday, 29 August 2010


So, I may have only been back 3 days in the office but it has felt like one giant chaotic whirlwind and I'm grateful for the bank holiday weekend.

Everywhere is once again in cat crisis and because we are closed to cat flu and our foster homes are full with plenty too many ill kittens (chlamydia, skin infections, flu) we've been unable to help ease the burden and we've been turning away too many cats from the inspectors, clinic and AWOs. We then only get a call from a desperate Leeds Branch with a multiple animal case and 40 cats due to be signed over in the next week - can it get any worse? No, please don't answer that, please! I agreed to taking 4 in the hope that in a week's time we will have somewhere for them to go. (Teah, I know, but I couldn't say no.)

So, what has struck me since I've got back is a few themes going on at the moment. Our good friends at Dogsbolg contacted me this week to see if we could confirm the trend they were seeing on their site that the amount of puppies and young dogs being listed for adoption has doubled since the start of the year.

It really got me thinking and I realised that this theme of ill-thought through decisions to purchase puppies has been increasing on our advice line and so I recounted how I had been on the phone to a lady for over an hour that day about a puppy that was now 'unmanageable' and that the day before it was a call about an 8 month old cocker spaniel, the other day it was an 8 month old bichon frise and so on and so fourth. In fact, our very own Boris came in because the owners could not meet his puppy needs and it was the same with Hank and Lily and Diaz and probably few more this year too.

The other theme to our work of late has been the number of new admissions we have had in the last week who have come in having been under fed or not been fed at all. The rogues gallery above is the furries in question.

Ferg and Seb came in together both underweight and as you'll see from Seb (white one) he has a lot of weight to gain, the beautiful bunny girl was left to starve to death when her owner could no longer be bothered with her (we are having to wean her gradually off dried food to a proper rabbit diet as she had never been fed hay or veg before) and then there is Misty, the Weimaraner, whose owner went awol and the police had to break into the property to rescue her.

So all in all quite an event few days, I'm sure you'll agree, but I feel like we are back to doing what we do best - helping those animals most in need.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Upon returning....

Every time I take a break from work I end up spending quite a lot of time reflecting on what I have done at work and the work of the branch. My reflection involves scrutinising and questioning my role, the part I play and the part the branch plays in local animal welfare/rescue.

Since 2009 we have seen a massive surge in abandoned and unwanted animals. The number of enquiries we take from people who no longer want/need/can keep their pet has really escalated. Callers perceive it as our responsibility to take in their pet, to have the answer to everything, and so do the wider general public.

Each time I have to say 'no' to someone who has exhausted all options the guilt weighs heavy on my mind. The situation could be an unwanted pet, a stray cat, a stray cat having given birth outdoors, someone who can't pay a vet bill,someone who wants a lift to the vets, someone who wants me to collect an animal - the list is just exhaustive. Few understand that the resources of most animal charities are extremely limited. My role at the branch is complex but I'm basically the manager and I have a member of staff who oversees the care of the animals and a pt staff member who does the day-to-day care. That's it.

What we can achieve rarely feels even remotely adequate enough and it's only at times like learning how an adopted animal is doing in their new home that you feel there is some sense of purpose to your role.

No one goes into animal rescue & rehoming to turn animals in need away, to say 'no' to desperate pleas of help or to have to put animals to sleep is not what any of us want to be doing. But what most people do expect is for animal charities like the RSPCA (whether locally or nationally) to have the answers to everything and help every single animal in need.

Our expenditure over income is so far this year is £30k in deficit. We have about £120,000 in the bank in reserves to last us indefinitely. We don't receive any funding, we rely entirely on public support, so when the money doesn't come in, as is the case again this year, we have to make cutbacks. We started the year with half the capacity to take in animals as we had at the start of 2009. We don't have an animal rehoming centre because they cost approx £1million to purchase land and build. Instead we hire 8 kennel spaces, 11 cattery spaces and approx 15 small animal spaces from 3 different private boarding establishments. We cannot afford to have many foster carers on top of this because the rehoming cost per animal is still there: £290 per rabbit, £220 per cat, £560 per dog.

So when people tell me that "it's disgusting, the RSPCA should be helping" - internally I share their view, but externally I cannot change the facts that are laid out above.

Whilst I was away I came across a group of cats that were living on a riverbank picnic area. There were ones as young as 5 months old and the guilt of all the 'nos' suddenly hit me. I was facing the reality of what I have to say no to every day. I was in bits. I then spent the next 24 hours in virtual silence, thinking over this reality; I came into this work to help animals and to give them a voice, not to leave them, abandoned them or euthanize them. I began to think things through and began to feel like I was part of the problem when I should be part of the solution and didn't feel that I could really carry on being part of the problem.

After a day or so I talked my thoughts through with my husband. He said that in his profession, psychiatric care, it was no different and suspected it was no different in most caring professions whether that be animal or human. He said that resources are limited everywhere, there will never be an infinte amount, therefore boundaries and constraints have to be imposed so you will never be able to help everyone and/or in the way that you would ideally like to. In fact he told me a stark story about one of his patients that had been living on the ward for two years as there was no where else to move them onto, yet. This really resonated with me....

I guess it helped me to understand that there will never be enough resources to help every single animal that needs us but that isn't a reason to give up on the ones that we can help. I am sorry that we can't help every animal out there and on some levels I don't ever want to loose that sense of guilt for saying 'no' or else that would mean I'd lost my compassion. I know am impotent in so many ways but what we can do as a branch is help where we can and do the best we can.

Having travelled around northern France for two weeks a few things struck me - the French are big dog lovers and they go everywhere with their dogs, the number of stray animals I saw was limited to the picnic cats and the number of crossbreed dogs I saw was one. I found all this quite puzzling because I never saw a single castrated dog. Would an outsider see the same as me if they came to Britain? Stick 'em in my home town of Salford and they damn well wouldn't.

So, for those of you who find it hard to accept what the RSPCA says and does can I ask but one thing - help find a way so that we don't have to keep saying 'no'?

Friday, 6 August 2010

Au Revoir

I've been feeling stress in my belly this week - in fact all week. Tis a rare occurrence so I know I'm not good and the last few days has driven me to sleeping pills to get through the night. I'm off on my hols in about two hours time and I think we've concluded that it's guilt that is making me feel this way.

This job is so tough at the best of times so to dump the responsibility of it onto someone else for such a long period as I'm away for is making me feel pretty bad. Don't get me wrong, I want my holiday, but this week has been hard going, again, and in the last two hours things have just gone pear shaped beyond belief and so of course my head and my tummy are quite unhappy.

This week has seen all sorts go on: reserves on animals, new arrivals, illnesses and a huge increase in demand to take in more cats then we could ever even hope to. It has got to the point where some rescued animals will be facing euthanasia because everywhere is over capacity. When you have to say 'no' to an inspector that weighs heavy on your mind. I did, however, say yes to a situation this week when I shouldn't necessarily should have done so I thought I'd tell you all about it.

Meet Missy (above) her owner rang me on Tuesday desperate, like so many genuine pet lovers, to take in their beloved animal they could no longer care for. He told me that he had been trying for 4 weeks to find a shelter that could help, but as it is with us and everywhere else, adoptions are few and far between and demand to take in is at a high.

The owner was now at breaking point as he was homeless and could not get new accommodation with a dog in tow. He explained to me that he and his girlfriend had separated and he had nowhere to live. He had had Missy since a pup and she had never left his side in all the 6 years they'd been together. They had even holidayed together; truly never parted.

I offered other numbers of sanctuaries he had tried but he soon came back to me for more support. So, I tentatively broached the awful subject of euthanasia because he couldn't keep sleeping in his car or on friends' floors. He took the suggestion well and understood that I was raising it as a welfare option rather than to be unkind. He could see the merits of letting Missy go out on a high, having enjoyed a happy life together, rather than subject her to kennels and an unknown length of time waiting in hope for a new home to come along. We finished our conversation with much shared sadness and I my heart really went out to him because he clearly loved his dog.

A while later he called me back. As he was not registered at any vet he had had to ring around different vets; each had refused to euthanase his dog. I told him about the RSPCA clinic in Salford and what he had to do but toward the end of the conversation I caved in and said he could have our only empty kennel (that was being reserved for an inspector's rescued dog later in the week). Whilst I knew I shouldn't have done it really, it didn't feel wrong, and I've long worked on the principle of 'we'll worry about things when they happen'.

To his eternal credit he thanked me for the offer but said that he had decided it was kinder on Missy to let her go than to let her live in a kennel indefinitely. My admiration for the gentleman was immense and we spoke about how he was taking responsibility for his situation and being, well, responsible.

I thought that was that and so the rest of the day resumed as it always does.....

But later in the afternoon he called back again. He said he had been to the RSPCA clinic and seen all the owners and their dogs and just couldn't 'do it' to Missy. He asked if he could sign her over and we made arrangements for her to come in the next day. (I had of course advised him that if we assessed Missy as unsuitable for rehoming we would have to pts and he was fully understanding of this and just wanted to give her a chance.)

So the next day we met Missy and her owner. It was a tearful separation but he was so grateful and even insisted on giving a donation toward her keep and we promised to let him know what happens to her.

Missy is truly a lovely dog. She has been very well cared for and very well loved and we have high hopes that this little girl will make a lovely family dog and live happily ever after.

Hopefully by the time I return on 25th August she will have completed her assessments and be up for adoption. Au Revoir!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

I know Luka is a girl's name!

Rather inadvertently I’ve started finding the blog is like a therapist to me. Each Sunday morning, after all the animals have been fed, I sit in front of my home pc and reflect on the week that was. It is quite a cathartic experience and one that allows me to then enjoy my day off and start the next week afresh.

This Sunday I just couldn’t face the blog. It had been quite a tumultuous week and I just wanted to run away from it all so off I escaped to my allotment and spent the whole day manual labouring and get some right royal blisters in the process. It was a satisfying day and from the fruits of my labour I fed the staff team lunch today.

Tuesdays are always staff meeting days and it has become routine for me to create some wondrous dish to feed everyone and now I have the allotment veg ready for harvesting the challenge is even more enjoyable. I brought the idea of ‘communal lunch’ from my previous place of work and I really hope that the other staff that have loved and left there have it in their workplaces too. It just adds a bit of enjoyment to the week, getting together and sharing food and a conversation. But I have to say I am struggling to lift my spirits still and really feeling fed up with it all.

I think if I’m honest, the work is no different than it has been the last few months but it’s the fact that everything is relentless and there is just no respite. We are in cat meltdown once again, our finances are so stretched that we can’t take on injured animals that have been taken to vets by finders, we’ve had several viewings in a row for dogs where people haven’t turned up (meaning that yet another week goes by where we lose other potential offers of homes and the dogs stay in kennels for another week), vet bills are stacking up (again) and rehomings have slowed right down because of the summer holiday period, oh and animals are being returned through no fault of their own.

Last week started with sadness as I had to put my Uncle Joe to sleep, first thing Monday morning on the way to work. But the outstanding feature of the week was undoubtedly the arrival of the lovely cat Luka. Before I tell you about him I need to talk about yesterday.

Mondays are always loathsome in the office. The phone rings non-stop with people wanting to relinquish their animals, have you pay their vet bills and insist that everything is your problem to sort out. It’s this attitude of passing the buck and not taking responsibility that really gets to me. I had one shocking phone call yesterday that I simply can’t repeat but I ended up being very blunt and telling the owner that ‘in the eyes of the law, it does not matter whether you have any money or not, it is your responsibility to ensure your pet is not suffering and gets veterinary treatment’. If I told you what had happened you’d be horrified.

I went home feeling really miserable and then hubby made me sit and watch the Panorama programme – and let’s just say the call I have alluded to was about the same topic - irresponsible breeding. I realised from watching that programme what a privileged position our branch sits in; we can only afford 8 kennels and all our dogs come via inspectors, so we don’t have the vast influx of unwanted pets as such. But then I suppose instead we do get some of society’s most damaged animals and we then have the task to rehabilitate them, which also means we fall in love with them like they are our own.

So, back to Luka, he was abandoned by his owner. The inspector who rescued Luka had met him before as he had previously been reported as an injured stray. Thankfully his owner came forward and claimed him and so it was quite a mystery as to why he had been left behind when his owner moved out of the property.

What is so special about Luka is that he is 10 years old and his back right leg sticks out straight forward in a horizontal fashion. The owner had previously told the inspector that he had been like that since birth. We figured we best get it checked out and on examination it felt like a fracture that had healed without treatment. So today we had him x-rayed, and wait for it, this odd back leg is actually a front leg! Yep, he’s been born with 3 front legs!!!! But whilst he may be a candidate for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, it is causing him difficulties with walking and affecting his spine. So he is having his leg amputated (didn’t even dare ask how much it would cost) and he will be going into foster care for recuperation tomorrow.

What a special lad he is, and so lovely and friendly too. I just so wished people would take a leaf out the books of animals like Luka; I am just so fed up with this society’s attitude to life. Why have we become so enduringly selfish and tunnel visioned? When I die I’m coming back as a house rabbit at my house – what a charmed life they lead!

ps the piccie is of a former resident of ours, Brian. He came to us as a baby having been bought by accident at an auction for £6. He is all grown up now and with a beautiful lady friend to share his life with. Piccies came through email this week to put a little happiness in my day! xxx