Monday, 31 October 2011

Black Magic

Guest blogger Becky Day-Preston debunks the myths about black cats for a Halloween Special:

Did you know that black cats take three times longer to be rehomed than cats of other colours? I know, it seems totally ridiculous, and as the owner of a black cat, I take personal offence!

I have had my black moggy, Alan, for three years, and he is absolutely fantastic. He was a rescue cat, adopted from the mean streets by a lovely lady and her family, who then had to give him away because times were hard and they just couldn’t afford to keep so many pets. When I met Alan he was still practically a kitten, tiny and timid, and totally adorable. And he still is, having grown into a big, sleek, confident little git who I can’t imagine not being around. He has a white spot the size of a 5p piece on his chest, which I like to call his ‘cravat’ when he sits proudly, like a Victorian gentleman.

Imagine if I’d taken one look at Alan, and said “I don’t want him; he’s black!” I would have been denying myself the pleasure of knowing one of the best cats in the whole world, and I would have been denying a poor, shy little cat his chance at a loving forever home, all based on a superficial prejudice. In that situation, nobody wins.

But why are people so averse to a sooty moggy? The only reasons I can think of are witches and bad luck. Except that this is 2011, not 1611, and we’re pretty much over the whole witchcraft thing (seriously, read The Crucible!). And as for the idea of a black cat crossing your path being bad luck, I’d say I’m living proof that that is complete bunkum: Alan must cross my path at least 10 times a day (in fact, he sometimes careens directly into my path, and my ankles) and I consider myself a generally lucky person. Superstition is ridiculous, and completely outdated, so that leads me to think that people are rejecting black cats simply on aesthetic grounds, which is just plain ridiculous on two counts. Firstly, black cats are gorgeous, and I won’t hear anyone say otherwise. Secondly, and most importantly, it is that sort of superficial attitude that means that it’s not just black cats losing out, but also those who have been scarred and injured in their previous lives.

I could go on for hours about how awesome my Alan is, how he has adopted the footstool as his own kingsize kitty bed, how he goes nuts if he even catches sight of a ribbon, how he chases my boyfriend round the flat every morning, chirruping, and how he welcomes me with a big meow when I come home from work. If I had rejected him, I would never have gotten to know him, and the real tragedy is that if you reject a black cat (or one with a ratty tail or a gammy eye, for that matter) you could just be rejecting the best cat you ever met.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Little Fish

We have really felt the pressure this week. Demand to take in animals has absolutely rocketed and the feeling of impotence - when in one day more animals needed to come in than we have capacity for - hit an all time high (and I can tell you I went home that night feeling deeply demoralised).

There were lots of words of comfort, support and admiration, which always goes a long way to shoring us up. But when I read the RSPCA's internal magazine People Matters last night I ended up feeling deeply insignificant, which I think is a really good leveller.

The magazine essentially celebrates the work we do at the RSPCA, whether it be at local, national or international level. Story after story highlights just how dedicated (and heroic) the staff and volunteers of the organisation are. It also shares stories about the animals we help. It was this particular aspect that made me so emotional for two reasons.

Firstly, the depth and breadth of animal abuse, neglect and suffering is just so unbelievably widespread. When people complain to me about the RSPCA I always have in the back of my mind just how lucky this country is to have a charity that voluntarily dedicates itself to alleviate animal suffering. The RSPCA is not a government organisation and is under no obligation to do any of the tasks it sets itself. I also genuinely believe that the RSPCA does its best, but like anyone or any organisation we can't please everyone all of the time and we can't get it 'right' all of the time; it's what makes us human.

So many countries in this world don't have so much as an animal sanctuary let alone animal welfare laws or even 'policing'. It's when you stop and think about the enormity of this that it makes you realise just how lucky we are in this country to be so progressive and forward thinking and to have the institution that is the RSPCA.

The second reason why I became so emotional was reading the individual stories of animals that had been rescued, rehabilitated and rehomed. The parallels with some of our recent charges made me really stop and think about what we do as a branch. Let me explain.

Some of our recent admissions have endured horrible ordeals like the ones I read about last night. We never dwell on this aspect and simply get on with doing what we do. I realise this is about self preservation, because we need to see beyond the 'crime' and channel our energies into loving and caring for the animals. But let me give you a brief run down of animal stories of late:
1. Jazz and Jago kittens abandoned in a sealed box in someone's garden
2. Bonnie pup dumped in a litter bin
3. Jimmy dog approx 4 years old and kept crated all his life
4. Oscar dog badly beaten throughout his life with lumps and scars all over him and underweight
5. Benny dog left to starve and was half his weight when rescued
6. Mrs Fella cat violently assaulted with a pneumothorax and suspected broken ribs
7. Alfie cat kicked in the face, required reconstructive surgery
8. Bruce cat found stray with a flea infestation and completely shaved
9. Pebbles kitten dumped in a recycling bin
10. Banjo, Bongo and Bosco kittens dumped outside a pet shop with flea infestation and cat flu

Really, I could go on. These 10 represent less than 5% of the animals we have taken in to date this year. The stories never cease to amaze and it made me realise that even if we are limited with what we can do, it really is better than nothing. We really are doing our best with our available resources but I doubt any animal rescue charity ever feels they are doing 'enough'.

What does spur me on, and makes us all feel hope, is when we meet so many wonderful adopters/potential adopters. Today is a classic example. A gentleman is coming all the way from Nottingham to meet our Cassie (pictured above). He had been looking for some time for a new dog and had something very specific in mind and it definitely wasn't a staffie cross! But our write up just leaped out and grabbed him so he's making (or rather has now made) the long journey to see her.

Another wonderful example was the Whittaker family. Dad rang up in the week asking what cats we had that would be suitable for his family home. We had the perfect pair of cheeky 5 month olds (Jazz and Jago). It turns out they lived just metres from their foster home and within 48 hours the furbabies were settled in their new home and updates were posted on our Facebook site! Incredible.

Now this is what makes it all so worthwhile; meeting and learning about the many passionate animal lovers out there. But I confess that this week I am all of a flap. There are just 3 weeks until our fundraiser, Purrfect Party, and we have many tickets left to sell. The anxiety about selling the tickets and making it a success has well and truly set in. It's starting to really trouble me and if we can't sell them we may end up making quite a loss, and I really don't want this to happen.

The event should be so much fun and with £5 from every ticket going directly to the animals it means you can have a really good night out and feel good about it at the same time! Seriously though, £12.50 covers the catering and venue costs and all the artists have given their time for free. Where else can you get a 2 course meal with live entertainment for just £17.50? I know everyone is skint at the moment but I am so desperate to make this a success. If you haven't bought a ticket yet it's really easy to do - just get in touch.

The hard sell may be over but my anxiety will continue for the next 3 weeks!

Friday, 21 October 2011

As it's our Vintage Bazaar on Sunday I'll not be able to put my feet up, gorp at soap omnibuses and write the blog, as I usually do so I'm attempting to reenact Sunday at home today.

The elation of rehoming so many furries last week has just served to unearth dozens of animals needing to come in. This week we will have admitted 10 animals and have even more to come in next week - talk about pressure! I have no idea where we are going to put next week's animals so I'm hoping for a miracle this weekend on animal reserves.

The animals we have admitted this week have been so special that I wanted to tell you all all about them.....

Monday saw the arrival of Hippo, or at least that's what I've dubbed her cos she is a bit of an ugly-bugly! She was found in a litter bin by a member of the public and was barely a day or two old. She is being cared for round the clock by our foster mum Julia and on Sunday we are going to film her and put her on our Facebook page for everyone to see!

She is thankfully, and against all odds, thriving. What a little fighter. We think she must have been the runt of the litter and thought to be ailing so was 'dumped' like a piece of rubbish. It beggars belief really that anyone would think to put a dead or dying baby in a public litter bin, but there you go. Obviously, we are truly grateful to the person who found her for rescuing her and letting us know and we'll be in touch with them to share her progress.

Then, we took in 5 cats that were abandoned in a property when the tenant/owner moved out. It's such a common problem these days that we simply aren't coping with the phenomenon. We have 7 more from a different home but same predicament that need to come in. This time they are living outdoors and the owner is returning to feed them when she can. They have an upturned wheelie bin to shelter in and some are as young as 6-8 months old, but honestly, we just have no spaces left to put them anywhere and it is so frustrating.

We also have to find space for two cats that were adopted from us in 2004. We have the policy that we will take in animals adopted from us if the adopter can no longer care for their animal. This is an urgent admit too, so the pressure really is on to find new homes for our existing cats to create spaces for these newbies in need.

And we have also admitted two cuties - Fred and Tilly - who were dumped in a garden in a sealed box. Yes, a sealed box! They are being fostered by our Catherine, cos of lack of space, and they are adorable. They are approx 5 months old - Fred is a snuggle-cuddle whereas Tilly is a monkey. Catherine said she had to stop Tilly from getting in the bath with her on their first night, so no shortage of confidence. But after her bath she left Tilly playing with the remaining bubbles and she had a ball!

What is really lovely is the next day I went to a local primary school to meet the children at assembly as they had raised £100 for us and after telling them all about our new animals a teacher has offered Fred and Tilly a home! So, we'll see how things progress and keep you posted.

We have a new dog arrival (kind of) this week too. She's been boarded at the kennels we use for the last 3 months because her owner has been in hospital all this time and now can't take her back, so we've been asked to help. She's called Brandy and despite being in kennels so long she's doing remarkably well. Ideally I'd like to place her in a foster home because she's, erm, not much of a looker and has this weird elephant-man like skin folds on her neck and isn't a youngun so I think it will be a while before she finds a forever home and it would be kinder if she was in a home. But, as always, it isn't that easy.

We have one more furry to take in this week and she's a beautiful 5 month old black and white little girl, again abandoned. Sigh.

We need a miracle....I tell you, my idea for a super power of eyes that can neuter pets by just looking at them would come in really handy in this world! I can dream, can't i?!?!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Magic Round-A-Bout

I'm going to be bold. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this week could well prove to be one of the highlights of our year. It's been so uplifting and so rewarding that I think we have all ended the week on a high. And, I don't want the bubble bursting just yet please!

On Monday Smudge the dog went to his forever home and an update on Wednesday let us know that he had well and truly settled in and had already learnt some basic commands! This is a far cry from the nervous, rarely-before walked, matted, underweight dog that entered our care 4 weeks ago.

By Wednesday 7 out of 11 cats in the cattery were reserved (and will all be in their new homes by the end of the weekend!). We also had a kitten in foster care reserved and a viewing booked for kitties Pingu & Daisy - good times!!!

On Saturday Jimmy dog was reserved without ever being promoted for adoption; we have been so lucky to have found a very experienced rescue dog owner for him, so paws crossed for his home visit next week.

But, undoubtedly, what has caused the greatest amount of excitement was Roxy rotti travelling to her new home in North Yorkshire today. Our Catherine took her because we couldn't get a home visit sorted. This meant she had the pleasure of seeing Roxi settle into her new home this afternoon. We all got the news that within minutes of arriving she had settled right on in and was soon crashed out and snoring as if she had always lived there! This really is the stuff of magic for us and simply makes our hearts sing.

And if all that wasn't enough excitement, dogs Ronnie and Benny, who were on 'trial' in their respective potential new homes, have officially been adopted! And, bunnies Hilary and Rose, who have been with us for 11 months have been reserved. What a week for adoptions and reserves! It's so fantastic.

We opened our doors to 3 wonderful new dogs this week. Pip for sure is going to get snapped up with her infectious personality, whilst 9 year old Cassie is just so lovable; she throws herself onto your lap for cuddles. Oscar, however, is looking like he has some medical problems that we will be investigating with x-rays next week. He has been beaten by a previous owner and has scars all over his body that betray his awful past. We remain hopeful that his problems are not insurmountable but we shall just have to see.

And, in my usual style, I have lined up more new cats to admit next week than we probably have spaces for, but as always, I'll worry about it when the time comes. The first to arrive (or rather I'll be collecting on Monday) is a chunky hunk of a cat who is white and ginger with different coloured eyes - he is stunning and ever so good natured. Then we have 5 black and white cats that were abandoned at the same property when the tenant was evicted; all unneutered and unvaccinated so quite a lot of money will need to be spent on getting them ready for adoption (typically this is an average of £200 per cat). I think I've said 'yes' to others but I'm in denial, so not thinking about it!

But, perhaps my personal highlight of the week is the pending adoption of 'Big Fella'. This cat is remarkable, moreover, his foster family are remarkable. Over the last 18 months or so that they have been fostering for us they have repeatedly fallen in love with their charges, but each time they have remained strong and determined not to keep so they could continue with their good work. But, when I delivered Big Fella it became immediately apparent that he and them had an unbelievable, instant connection. He just settled right on in and they all just instantly melted.

Big Fella, or 'Junior' as I like to call him, caused us all a lot of upset and distress when we learnt about his terrible ordeal. He had been assaulted by his previous owner and thrown against a wall. He had injuries to match the harm inflicted on him yet despite his harrowing experience this cat has been consistently loving, affectionate and people-focused.

I say this all the time, but truly, animals are amazing. Their determination to live and love never fails to humble me. The human race could really do with paying closer attention to the creatures we share our planet with and learning from their extraordinary capacities. I just think animals deserve so much more respect than we give them.

I am forever indebted to everyone who helps us with our work - whether you follow our social media sites, donate items to our shops, adopt an animal or attend an event - you all are making such a huge difference to us and the animals. But for today, I would like to say a very special thank you to Emma, Tony and Shealyn for giving Big Fella the life he truly deserves. I know you won't regret this decision and he certainly won't!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

How To Measure Success

At the end of every month every RSPCA branch and HQ-run animal centre has to produce 'SAWA' stats. This stands for 'Summary of Animal Welfare Activity'. Each time, for about an hour or two after collating these figures, I run on a high, or a low, depending on the outcome and then all is forgotten until next time.

I think the reason for short-lived elation, or disappointment, is because our achievements cannot solely be judged on statistics alone. For me and the staff it is about a more intensely personal relationship that we have with our 'work' rather than a broader picture. However, it does get me thinking; how do we measure our success?

I attended a workshop recently concerning the role of a Community Fundraiser. Within this there was a discussion on how to measure 'Key Performance Indicators' (KPIs). So, having seized upon this concept I began to explore what, in theory, would be our KPIs:

Number of animals admitted
Number of animals rehomed
Number of owned animals helped
Success of events
Solvency of the branch

Whilst these are the most obvious and easiest ways of measuring success they are all more complex than they may first appear.

The number of animals admitted is dependent on available space, of which there is always a finite amount, despite what the general public seem to think. At our branch we only have eleven cattery pens and a handful of cat foster carers. We choose not to recruit more foster carers because we cannot afford the additional costs associated with taking in more animals.

To further illustrate, I visited a branch-owned animal centre in South Yorkshire recently. Their finances are so dire that they have had to close kennel and cattery blocks to keep costs down. This alone shows that measuring success on admissions is not as straightforward as it seems, especially if the ultimate goal is to manage budgets to ensure the charity can stay operational for the foreseeable future.

The number of animals rehomed is generally perceived as an accurate reflection of an animal charity's worth. In 2009 we had a record year and found homes for 333 animals. 2010 saw the recession hit us hard and only 257 animals found homes. This year, to date, we have rehomed 197 animals, an average of 22 a month. Not bad? Well, actually, when you consider that July saw the worst rehoming figures of the branch in recent memory - just 9 animals were adopted - it demonstrates how dependent our rehoming figures are on external forces. Factors that affect adoptions can include:

1. The desirability of the animals available for adoption. Recently, we have had a massive influx of black cats and have struggled to find homes for them, simply because of their common colour.
2. The economic climate and its media reportage deeply effects 'consumer confidence' and the affordability of such a luxury as a companion animal.
3. Seasonal trends. The summer and Christmas holiday periods always hit our rehomings hard, this July being a case in point.
4. Our own rehoming policies. For example; we only rehome kittens in pairs (unless there is a cat in the home already) and we insist on large enclosure sizes for rabbits. Whilst these policies are based on best practice, we seem to be quite unique in implementing them. As a result, many potential adopters choose to go elsewhere to quicker and easier fulfil their needs and desires. This may prove disappointing, but our conscience won't permit us to compromise on an animal's welfare, especially after they have been rescued by an RSPCA inspector in the first place (98% of animals we admit are from RSPCA generated sources).

The number of owned animals helped is again directly related to the financial buoyancy of the charity. Over the last few years we have been very proactive in delivering community pet health clinics, but this year we have not had the money to run them and our budget has been a mere £300 a month for such activities. We share the money between us and the local inspectorate, effectively halving this monthly allowance. From that we choose to offer a maximum of £50 a time to owners of animals with immediate needs, such as euthanasia or critical vet attention.

The success of events is also a very difficult one to assess, as we have learnt to our peril this summer. Every experienced fundraiser has felt the pain and frustration of organising an outdoor event and then watching it ruined by an uninvited and persistent raincloud. This year's summer washout has affected us to the tune of £3,000, a vast sum of money that we are desperately trying to recoup with more events.

Finally, the Solvency of the branch is particularly difficult to quantify because it depends so much on public support and legacies. We have really struggled over the last few years to juggle animal activity levels against unpredictable income. It is a challenge we continually grapple with and, if the financial situation doesn’t improve soon, we will have to face further significant cuts to our work.

So, having reviewed all the KPIs and considered all the pitfalls, how do we go about measuring our success? If I think about what motivates us as individuals it really is quite simple: a successful outcome for each individual animal.

There are just too many to highlight but dogs like Benny; a collie cross who was rescued weighing just 9kgs, now weighs over 16kgs, is receiving all the love in the world in his foster home and is receiving weekly hydrotherapy sessions to help with his muscle wastage. For us, it is outcomes like this that make us realise how worthwhile our work really is.

It does, however, mean that when we don't succeed in overturning the neglect and suffering an animal has experienced we often take it exceptionally hard. The loss this year of Sian, Bilbo and Morag are, thankfully rare, examples of animals we had to put to sleep, despite pouring all our hearts and efforts into trying to 'fix' their problems. At times like these, we can’t help but feel a sense of incredible failure and helplessness, as well as renewed distress towards the cruelty or misfortune that has conspired to put such beautiful creatures into these terrible situations. And yet, it is only through a passionate focus on each individual furry that we can truly measure our success, and that success is something that is felt deep down, beyond the graphs and statistics. I think if we did not have such compassion for each and every animal (and yes, we do pick favourites!) then we perhaps shouldn't be here at all.

With thanks to Mr D for making this happen x

Monday, 3 October 2011

Marathon Effort

This week sees the return of the Liverpool Marathon for the first time in years. Jess, a much-loved friend of the branch, is running it in aid of us! This will be Jess' first ever marathon, which makes it all the more wonderful that she has chosen to run for our furries.

I truly admire anyone who has the willpower to commit to things like diets, training, discipline - they are all things that completely evade me. So, please, join me in showing Jess how amazing her feat is and donate by either:

Text - 'PAWS11' plus your chosen amount up to £10 to 70070

or via

Thank you Jess for being so brave! And thanks to everyone who sponsors her - you know it really does make a difference to our animals' lives.