Saturday, 24 November 2012

On the Cusp of Something Brilliant?

This week has been entirely dictated by two very significant occurrences that will, for one reason or another, go down in the history of the branch. The butterflies in my stomach just won't abate and I'm caught wondering whether we are on the cusp of something brilliant.
Approximately three months ago we, the RSPCA Manchester & Salford Branch, committed to two rather radical, risky and potentially brilliant ideas. Both are so monumental to us that I find myself sitting here, on a Saturday night, hoping it's all going to work out right.

This week  we signed the lease on a retail unit in the Northern Quarter in Manchester city centre. The shop is no doubt our biggest investment risk to date. It is a fabulous unit next door to the Manchester Craft Centre.

Manchester Craft Centre, on the left is the shop (just out of sight)

We have just a  few weeks to open on a shoe string whilst making sure we come up to the bespoke, chic standards of the neighbouring shops. We are going all out to design an interior like you've never seen before in a charity shop. It's a gamble and a worry and I hope to goodness we can pull it off because like never before we so desperately need a steady income stream and we really need this to work out.

The green shutter hides our new shop door!
For the next few weeks I'll be thrown into chaos as I try to be in three different places at once, but with the cattery struck down with another bout of cat flu and adoptions close to none existent in the run up to Christmas, I'm hoping I'll be able to fit in 8 days a week no bother! And, as always, I have a rather magnificent team behind me to make sure we get through it all together and will keep me semi-sane. But you know what, this week I have never felt so much support from the public before. We've had the most heartening response to the WISH Campaign token appeal in the Manchester Evening News that I'm going to be counting tokens in my sleep soon. And we've also had the most fantastic response to our Cat Photo Competition on Facebook (winner will be announced tomorrow!). It all adds up to making me feel like we can actually achieve what we want to, so here's hoping for a rosie future for our new chic shop!

RSPCA Adoption Centre at Pets At Home
This is the greatly anticipated new RSPCA Adoption centre at Pets at Home in Stockport.  It is the first of it's kind in the country and the idea behind the initiative is two fold: to help promote animal welfare and adoption of RSPCA rescued animals. Our branch, the Rochdale branch and the Bury & Oldham branch have assisted the national RSPCA to set the centre up; everything from devising policies and procedures to training the new staff.

On Wednesday this week we went into set up the pens for the arrival of the animals. The animals will stay for a maximum of 4 weeks and will be replaced with new furries looking for homes when their time is up. (However, we're really hoping they won't stay for the full 4 weeks and will find new homes in that time.) The bunnies will come from our branch and will always be adult pairs (neutered, vacc, chipped etc), whilst the cats will always be adults in groups or pairs (again, neutered, vacc, chipped etc). RSPCA dogs will just visit for a few hours at a time once or twice a week.

So, I thought I'd share with you a sneak preview of the centre....

The welcoming, informal reception area complete with online pet searching facilities.

Catherine and I setting up the bunny accommodation.

Rochdale Branch setting up the cat accommodation and settling in Marlon and his siblings.

Thursday and the cats are happy in their new temporary home.

Marlon and his siblings Merlin, Murphy and Marley have been in the care of the Rochdale Branch since they were 10 days old. They are now 8 months old and still homeless. Despite numerous media appeals to find them homes they have been repeatedly overlooked because they are black. It is much the same story with our bunny selection that moved in on Thursday.

Sonia and Gaynor wasted no time in settling in; very typical of these girls!
We've had Sonia and Gaynor since 28th June. They came from a very overcrowded home where breeding had got completely out of control. We've rehomed the other 8 that came from the same home but then none of them were black.They are awesome characters and I really hope that the new Adoption Centre will secure them a future of much deserved happiness.

It actually took me three hours to leave them, not because I was worried they'd be ok, it's just that we've had them so long and love them so much that it felt like I was leaving two of my own animals there. Well, I suppose I was really and it's kind of inevitable that you end up feeling like that about the longer stay animals. But the next day I got a wonderful update from Nicola (pictured above) and it was hastily shared with everyone else at the branch who was missing them.

Nicola's update: "I've just fallen through the top of the box and landed on my sister's head." Rabbits have settled in really well. They were lay full length on floor when I came in this morning.

On the two days I've visited the new centre I've heard a lot of positive feedback and support from the public. It's been great hearing people thank us for advice received and saying how helpful we've been and we've even had our first animal adoption enquiry! It feels like a very exciting venture and I really do think that with the three wonderful new RSPCA staff members running the centre - Nicola, Rachel and Michelle - we have quite a winning recipe.

On Monday morning between 7am and 9am I'm told Manchester Radio will be broadcasting live from the centre. At 2pm that afternoon we will have an official grand opening with the help of the national RSPCA's Chief Executive Gavin Grant. It will be a monumental day and our girls, along with our smashing dog Ellie, will be there to share the limelight. I hope more than anything that this venture helps our rescued animals find new adoption opportunities and we dispel any myths that might exist about adopting 'second hand' pets. And maybe, just maybe, Ellie might get a home for Christmas.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Few and Far Between

This week our attentions have turned to Christmas. I know it seems a bit early  but we have to plan ahead in the shops and on the animal side of things. Let's face it, there's no escaping, even the shops are blaring out Xmas tunes already and before you know it it will be Boxing Day and they'll have Easter eggs on the shelves.

On the shop side Christmas is quite simple: we get the decs out and all the Xmas themed stock we've saved up all year (you'd be amazed at what you can pick up from a charity shop to deck your halls with) but on the animal side of things it's all rather quite fraught. I try hard not to be anthropomorphic with the animals but when it comes to Christmas it's the one area I where I fail. My rational brain says it's just like any other day for them, but then the emotional side takes over and I feel great sadness that they won't be in a forever home enjoying plenty of 'comfort and joy'.

Last year there was a perfect example of my inability to be rational about the animals being homeless at Christmas. We had a young dog in called Heidi, she was too young to be in a kennel but sometimes this is unavoidable. We had a wonderful family come to view her the eve of Christmas Eve and they were just perfect for each other. I couldn't get the home visit done until the day after Boxing Day but I just couldn't bear the idea of Heidi staying in kennels another day longer. I did something I have never done before, and haven't done since; I let her go home with the family there and then. I knew I shouldn't but I just couldn't bear the idea of Heidi being in a kennel another day longer when there just was no need.I visited her a few days later and it was like Heidi had always lived there. We got some cracking photo updates over the following weeks and months and it was so reassuring to know that I'd made the right decision.

I think Heidi was one of the luckiest dogs alive last Christmas to have found such a fantastic forever home, but sadly they'll be many more unlucky animals this year and I already know now, out of the 80+ animals in our care, who is going to still be with us on Christmas Day. They are all animals who don't have a universal appeal, or are maybe being overlooked in favour of festive preparations. The reduction in animal adoptions in the last couple of weeks is quite dramatic and I suspect things won't pick up until Spring time now. This factor is probably what tugs on our heartstrings even more than usual at this time of year, so I need to share with you all some of the animals who won't be having a happy ending to 2012.

Harley is Debs' favourite dog by far, not least because of all he has gone through but because he is such a great dog. Harley is an energetic 8 year old leggy SBTx. He originally came into our care in 2008. He was a big, boisterous handful back then and took a year to find a new home.We did everything during that year to find him a home; I even remember distributing fliers of him all around Glastonbury Festival in the hope he would catch someon's eye. Fast forward to September 2012 and his adopters returned him following a house fire. It's genuinely devastating to see him back again. We love him to pieces and he loves human company too. He will make such a loving and loyal companion but his age, breed status and size are all going against him and it's maddening.
Harley enjoying cuddles and tummy tickles

Paris, shamelessly named after a Morrissey song.
Paris is probably both Debs and Catherine's favourite bunny at the moment. She is just the most loving and friendly bunny we've had in a while. She's demanding of your attention but in a really good natured way. She wants to be loved and wants to be with you. Bunnies like her are quite few and far between in rescue but despite having been found stray (aka abandoned) she is just such a wonderful companion. Paris will make the best house rabbit and it irks me so much that she'll be eternally overlooked all because she is black. Nothing more than just her colour is going stop her finding a home in the near future. It so upsetting because she's so adaptable and confident and would be ideal for first timers and/or a family with children too.

Ellie dog is everyone's favourite, without doubt. On paper she's the kind of dog that would ordinarily be snapped up in an instant. She's small, walks really well, she's loving, great with other dogs, has lived with cats and doesn't react to them in the cattery. She really is fantastic but, and here's the but, she's not pretty. Her personality is pretty, but photographically she is not. Sounds mean but it's the only explanation I can offer as to why this girl hasn't found a home already.

Ellie is a little lady

Jack and Johnny are trustee Sarah's favourite cats. These boys are in a cattery pen together having been rescued from a  multi-cat household. They are most likely brothers and whilst they can be rehomed together, or separately, we've not had a sniff of interest in them. The boys are not only cat friendly but also confident and happy around dogs. Cats in shelters that are good around dogs are usually in high demand, so I just can't understand why no-one wants these two. Both boys are wonderfully loving and affectionate so I can only conclude it is because of their colour. We've rehomed very few adult cats this month and of the ones we have they have been of more diverse colours. Jack and Johnny, like Carson, Cora, Sophie and Florence will most likely be with us until 2013 - they are all black or black and white.

Handsome Jack

And my favourite? Well, it will come as no surprise to learn that it's a bunny. She's not available for adoption and I've spent too much time thinking about bringing her home but so far I've resisted.

Come Christmas it will be sad to see these animals still with us but be rest assured they will all get Christmas treats: the cats and dogs will get turkey dinners and the bunnies will get sprout 'trees'.Well, we can't have them missing out now can we? And yes, I admit it, I'm guilty of anthropomorphising our animals at Christmas time, but it's hardly a crime!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Interview with our Animal Welfare Co-ordinator

Volunteer and local writer David Hartley spends some time with Animal Welfare Co-ordinator Deborah Beats, talking Rolf Harris, chocolate, and how to cope with those difficult days at the office...

Catherine (left), Tom (centre), Deborah (right) with some typical new arrivals!

Q. What attracted you to the role? Why did you want to work for the RSPCA?

Like most of us I always wanted to work for the RSPCA as a child. I used to collect the RSPCA animal hospital toys and would always be glued to the screen when Rolf Harris came on, so when the opportunity came along to work at the Manchester and Salford branch it was like a dream come true.

Q. What is your favourite part of the job?

Obviously my favourite part of my job is when an animal gets re-homed, especially when it’s one that’s been overlooked for a few months or one that’s been so badly damaged by its previous owner that we were unsure if it ever could be re-homed. I think that there is no better feeling than sitting in the office on a Friday afternoon after being bombarded with calls from people needing help to suddenly get a call from someone who has been to the cattery and reserved one of our long stay cats.

Q. What do you consider is the biggest misunderstanding about working for the RSPCA?

I think most people misunderstand exactly what a member of staff at the RSPCA Manchester and Salford branch are actually capable of doing. The majority of calls we get are from people either asking us to go out and collect an animal which we cannot do, or asking for veterinary advice which we try our best to help with but none of us are veterinary trained. It’s very difficult to explain to someone who is in distress that we are not inspectors that can go out to properties, we don’t have an inexhaustible amount of space for unwanted pets and we don’t have a nice big bank balance that we can dip into anytime someone can’t afford their vet bills.

Q. You encounter a lot of tough challenges, often on a daily basis – everything from educating people about proper animal care, to difficult decisions at the vets. How do you cope with the pressure?

There are four things that keep me sane: Susie (my boss & branch manager), Catherine (my colleague), the animals, and chocolate. Some days just seem to be full of disappointment and frustration and we’ve all had our hearts broken over an animal that has had to be put to sleep or returned by an adopter. But a good moan or cry and a massive slice of chocolate cake generally gets you through the day. Without the support from each other I think we’d find the job a lot more difficult.

Q. The Manchester & Salford branch has a strong reputation for rabbits in particular, but you come from a more cat and dog background. How did you find the experience of having to wise up on all things bunny?

Luckily I had started to get a bit more rabbit savvy before working at the RSPCA through volunteering and taking various animal courses but it was still a rather daunting prospect attempting to measure up to the branch’s standards. In the past year I have learnt so much about rabbits and more importantly how to have a happy one and I still have A LOT to learn. It’s quite scary how little people know about these amazing furries and yet how extremely complex their needs are. I am really enjoying learning about their quirky ways and always look forward to Tuesday mornings when I go and health check the buns - I’m still very proud of myself when I manage to roll a giant lop over to check its teeth!

Q. The branch is advertising for a new Animal Welfare Assistant. What advice would you give to the lucky person who gets the job?

That’s a tough one, I think that the best piece of advice I could give is that when everything seems to be getting too much the most useful thing you can do is take a step back and put things in perspective. It’s amazing how stressed you can get knowing you’re running ten minutes late for the vets whilst having a howling cat sitting next to you. I think to do this job to the best of your ability you need to be able to stop and laugh at yourself from time to time.

If Debs has inspired you to work for our branch, a new position is currently being advertised. Closing date 26th of November!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Happy Tails Tuesday: Fostering Part II

A Happy Tail for Tuesday continued - by Chris & Emma adopters of Murray, Tigger & Mitzie cats, cat cuddlers and cat fosterers!
After failing at our first attempt at fostering, a few weeks later we decided to give it another go, this time with a mum and a single kitten (Jemima and Minnie) who came from a multicat household.

We knew this would be a different challenge to Milly as Jemima was absolutely terrified when she came to us. Both were absolutely riddled with fleas, which we couldn’t treat straight away with mum’s spay wound. It was awful to see them running across little Minnie when she was so helpless.

Jemima spent the first few days in hiding, whenever we went in their room she’d be behind the sofa, or desk, she wouldn’t come out at all while we were there, and just hiss at us if we tried to go near her.

We tried sitting in with her to help her get used to us, but she just didn’t seem to progress. We were also worried she was hiding while we weren’t there and not feeding Minnie enough.
Jemima and Minnie were sadly only with us for a couple of weeks until they went to another foster home.

Another couple of weeks passed and Amber bounded in to our lives. Believed to have been in an RTA, she had a fractured pelvis, so was on strict cage rest while she was with us.

The first few nights with us Amber cried the moment we’d leave the room, so those nights I spent on her floor next to her cage, which seemed to calm her down, until, someone else took over “Amber Watch” for me, our own boy Tigger had met his perfect woman.

After then, Amber had pretty much zero privacy, Tigger was always at her side.

Amber had many vets trips while she was with us to check how her pelvis was doing, she was unfortunately quite constipated a couple of times as it would’ve hurt her to go. Despite all the trips and the prodding and poking, Amber was so patient. Tigger hated her vets trips and when she returned he’d guard her cage to the max (he hadn’t yet clicked it opened at the side!)

Amber was simply amazing. She was on so many different medications whilst with us, she’d have 2-3 different kinds in her food but would still wolf it down. Eventually, her pelvis healed and she was allowed to play out with us before heading to the cattery for adoption. I found it extremely difficult to let Amber go as I knew Tigger had bonded with her, as I had too, thankfully I have more will power than Chris (Milly!) and Amber now has a lovely home with long stay cat Earl.

During Amber’s time with us we had another brief foster, Sally, who came to us while the cattery was closed. Believed to have been kicked, Sally had her tail amputated when she came in to the care of the RSPCA, and unfortunately, she still carried the mental scars of this.
Sally was a beautiful looking girl who could be very affectionate, but due to her past, got frightened very easily, which resulted in her growling/hissing or swiping at you. It was so sad to see this mistrust in humans, I just wished there was a way to tell her she didn’t need to worry and that no-one was going to hurt her.

Sally was only with us until the cattery reopened, where she went for a couple of weeks, but didn’t take too well to her surroundings so ended up back in her original foster home. Not long after then she found herself a lovely home and is now doing much better than I could’ve ever imagined.
Again, in the crossover with having Amber, yet another bunch of fosters took over our spare room, the six P’s, Poppy, Pansy, Purr-C, Patches, Pip and Pablo, all had been abandoned.

Mum Poppy was absolutely fantastic with her kittens, during the first few weeks we didn’t really need to do anything other than feed her and clean her scratch trays. She was extremely protective over her kittens, not with us, but she could smell our other moggies, so unfortunately, to warn them off she started marking over by the door which at the time was carpeted. At first we thought she wasn’t litter trained, so again, many a night was spent sleeping in their room to move her to the litter tray every time she went by the door. After a couple of weeks of trying everything to stop her doing this, we ended up replacing the patch of carpet with laminate and that seemed to do the trick.

The kittens were roughly a week or two old when they came to us, so at first, they were a doddle, the calm before the storm. However, when they discovered they could climb out of their box and we’d walk in to the room minus a kitten or two, we realised kitten proofing the place must be done! After then, the only places we’d lose a kitten was in the bin, or on a shelf, no problems.

Once Poppy’s little ones had figured they could escape the box along came weaning and litter training them, both of which I’d never really experienced before. Weaning was much more of a challenge than I’d thought, not one of them had any interest in wet food – other than to stand/swim in it – and once Poppy had realised it was food she’d bound over and demolish it, so none left for her kittens to try even if they’d wanted to! Litter training was fun, rather than poop in the litter, the little ones wanted to eat it! Won’t eat food but will eat cat litter… Puppy pads were put down everywhere in the room just in case, but within 5 minutes they were all pulled up in to a pile in the middle of the room and pounced on like it was a new game for them!

By 6 weeks though, all but one of Poppy’s litter were weaned on to biscuits (they still wouldn’t touch wet food for some reason), little Patches just could not get her head round kitten food at all. I was really starting to worry about her and had asked another foster mum for help. Unfortunately, little Patches just preferred mum’s milk! It wasn’t until halfway through the seventh week she finally gave in and had some biscuits, she was on a roll then.

When the kits hit about 5 weeks old, another two P’s joined them, Pippa and Pepper. Both came from a multicat household, so weren’t too fond of the other P’s at first.

After barely a couple of days, these two settled right in and soon became a part of the mad family. These were already weaned and litter trained so all that was left to do was enjoy them and play with them… the kittens however, had other plans for us. The next few weeks were just a constant clean up job. Biscuit bowls knocked over, scratch trays tipped up all over the floor, water bowls fallen into and splashed everywhere, kitchen rolls (used to wipe their scratch trays) dragged down off the top shelf and torn in to a snow storm, puppy pads raided and shredded, it was just non stop.

I’d never felt so exhausted in my life, my social life became nonexistent, my gym membership was a donation, sleep was minimal, but would I change it? Not a chance!

Giving them up was so difficult and heartbreaking as we’d seen them grow from helpless blind balls of fur to these monsters with an endless amount of energy, but we knew the time would come when we had to give them up so we had to deal with it as best we could – I don’t care what anyone says, crying, does help!
Within days of the 8 P’s leaving us, we had a new mum and kits come to us, the 4 M’s (we’ve been warned, no more kittens with the same initial again!) mum Melody, with Minnie, Maddy and Mickey. They had been abandoned when the kittens were around 3-4 weeks old.

As these were slightly older, weaning wasn’t an issue with them, Mickey would take it or leave it, Maddy was just a biscuit muncher and Minnie pretty much dived head first in to food.

The challenging part with these guys was litter training, as they just wanted to go everywhere the scratch tray wasn’t. So we spent a lot of time with them catching them when they’d crouch down and popping them in the tray, it took a good few weeks of this and accidents before they caught on.

We also thought it’d be easier to cope with the three kittens after having the seven, but they managed to make just as much mess as the previous residents, so no rest for the wicked!

Unlike the 7 P’s who mostly just wanted to play and fight, Melody’s kittens were very affectionate, to the point it was a struggle to clean with them in the room as they’d just climb on you and curl up, even when you were stood up!

Melody was also an incredibly affectionate cat, you’d crouch down to stroke and she’d jump up to meet you halfway.

She was also great with her kittens, but by six weeks of age, the kittens were pretty independent so we were then introduced to her vocal side. So many nights sleep were lost with her meowing to come out of the kittens room, then after 10 minutes of being out, meowing to go back in again. Then the process was repeated right the way through the night. We couldn’t leave the kittens room open as we didn’t know how our own moggies would react to them.
Heartbreak struck again last weekend when Melody and her kittens left us to find their new homes, although we held it together much better this time, but it was still so difficult saying goodbye to them.

As much as we’d welcome a break to recover fully from Melody’s all night singing, we know another cat or kitten family out there needs us and as it so happens, we’re collecting another five kittens this evening to start the madness all over again.
As tiring, worrying, draining and as heartbreaking as fostering can be, we wouldn’t give it up easily. Seeing kittens develop and injured cats getting well, then moving on to their forever home is incredibly rewarding and makes all those sleepless nights worthwhile.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Happy Tails Tuesday: Cat fostering

A Happy Tail for Tuesday continued - by Chris & Emma adopters of Murray, Tigger & Mitzie cats, cat cuddlers and cat fosterers!

Getting more and more involved with the RSPCA Manchester & Salford branch was something that we were both desperately keen to do. We both loved volunteering at the cattery we just wanted to do more to help. Knowing that as soon as foster homes were full and the cattery was too then a lot of "No" was being said to cats needing the branches help when it should have been "Yes". As we mentioned last week the cattery unfortunately closes from time to time when one or two fluffballs get poorly, mid-March 2012 was one of those times.

After nagging Susie for the past few months she finally caved in and asked us for a huge favour, to put up a small tiny girl who was found cowering in an alleyway terrified of her surroundings. We had a spare bedroom, toys galore and enough food to feed 100 cats in the house so we said yes without hesitation. It was only going to be for a week until the cat flu had cleared up and we could pop her back into the cattery, no problems Susie we said, if you need us to look after her for longer then all you need to do is ask.
Felix as she was called then (as you can see from the picture below, complete spitting image of the Felix cat) was fairly timid to start with, she settled down a fair amount after her first sachet of food, and settled down even more when we all spent the evening in the spare bedroom playing with toys and having massive cuddles too. That night we decided that as much as she looked like the Felix cat a name change was in order. After much deliberating it was finally decided that we would call her Milly.

Milly is about 5 years old but when she first came into our care was very underweight and smaller than Mitzie who was 18 months old then. She was soon on the strict Newton-Conroy diet of all you can eat and started putting on weight and looking a lot healthier. Milly wanted all the attention she could get from us and we couldn't have been happier to give her it, she really was a bundle of joy. At the end of the week we had a phonecall that we weren't looking forward to from Susie. What we hadn't expected was that the cattery was to remain closed for another week, and if it was ok with us could we keep looking after Milly for another week? If it was too much there was space in other foster homes now for her. "Don't be silly Susie, of course we can look after her" and that was that!

Now Milly had been having some very curious visitors during the first week, no break-ins, just a lot of attention every time the door to the bedroom opened and closed. Once we knew Milly was staying for another week we decided that maybe a few introductions could be made, what's the saying about curiosity?  After a few hisses and growls (not from Milly) they all seemed to settle down very well. Mitzie seemed glad for another girl in the house, especially as she was no longer the smallest, and the boys were glad of another girl to chase around until their hearts were content! In fact they got on so well that we let Milly escape the second bedroom and roam wherever she wanted. Soon it became obvious that this girl was absolutely adorable, sleeping on the bed between us, following us round the house, coming for cuddles on the sofa. Neither of us wanted this week to end as we knew it would be almost impossible to put her back in the cattery, but with our house full and the opportunity to foster again too good a chance to pass up we would have no choice.

On Thursday 5th April, I took Emma to the airport (bear with me this is relevant) and off she went to Berlin for a long weekend. The cattery was open again and Milly had a space ready for her to go in on Saturday (Emma got back that evening). Saturday came along and I called Susie up asking what needed to be done when I dropped Milly off. Food, water, litter tray, some toys, bedding and a heatpad were what she needed then Susie said something I will never forget. "Chris, I am so so proud of you for doing this, it really is never easy giving up a foster animal" I had to hang up when it struck me that this was going to be the last hour with Milly. I was absolutely distraught and with no Emma to help, I reluctantly scooped Milly into the carrier and off to the cattery we went.

Five minutes down the road and I pulled over, Milly was crying, I was crying and I broke the only rule I had left in my life... Milly was allowed to eat some treats in the car, this settled her down a bit but didn't help me. By the time I got to the cattery I wanted to go home, I couldn't bring myself to stay longer than I absolutely had to. I popped Milly in her pen, got all the stuff she needed together and went to give everyone some quick hugs and kisses too. Phone rang again, it was Susie, letting me know again that we had both done a great job with her and that she was surprised that we had been able to take her back. The rest of the phone conversation will forever stay with Susie and me, but in short I cried like a 5 year old girl who dropped an ice-cream for the best part of half an hour. Emma fortunately was in Copenhagen waiting for a connecting flight so I managed to get a call through to her to talk things through.

Half an hour later I got home to see Murray, Tigger and Mitzie all sat in the hall looking at me as if to say "Where is our new friend Milly?" I wondered how long they had been sat there waiting for us to come home, I went back to the car to get the rest of my stuff and when I came back in all three of them were so excited. I let Milly out of the carry case and she was immediately greeted with head bumps, licks and purrs from them. Their new friend Milly was now their big sister.

Milly is still an absolute sweetheart, she regularly comes for cuddles on the bed with me and we fall asleep together. She has grown so much and is now a very healthy sized girl and has outgrown Mitzie. An absolute tinker in and around the house, she can open most of the doors even when they are closed and will regularly jump up on the side of the bath whilst it is running, she also always tries to help when changing the bed too! We still get flashbacks to what it must have been like for her before she came into our care, as our resident rascal Tigger chases her she can get very defensive and freeze up in the corner of a room or shooting evil stares with her beautiful eyes at anyone who annoys her too (usually me while I tickle her tummy or side). Naughtily we have come up with a nickname of Scar, as in the evil one in Lion King, which is used when she shoots an evil glance in our direction, but it is nothing a few treats can't solve!

Taking photos of Milly is extremely difficult mainly because she just doesn’t keep still long enough! I will leave you this week with one of our favourite photos of her, for once she wasn't racing around and it didn’t take 50 attempts to take the photo!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

One day goodbye will mean farewell

Larry, pictured left, our first ever rabbit and still going strong.
In the last 4 years and 8 months the branch has gone through incredible changes. Perhaps the worst was around 3 years ago when the branch faced financial crisis and we had  to restructure and make staff redundant; something I hope we never have to repeat. We've seen some good friends and colleagues come and go and had our hearts broken over and over again as we've said goodbye to our furry friends for all the right and wrong reasons. We've opened two charity shops in that time and welcomed to the fold a raft of wonderful new volunteers and staff. We began admitting rabbits and guinea pigs and made our name with our expertise in this area. We can boast fantastic adoption, admission and welfare work statistics. We've established ourselves on the worldwide web and we've become a familiar presence in the community. The list could go on, but needless to say I am very proud of our achievements.

There are 10 paid staff altogether: some part-time, some casual and some full-time. They mainly work on the shops side, as many of you know there are just 2 paid animal staff and me. Throughout the last 4 years and 8 months there's only one other staff member who has lived through it all, alongside me, and that's our Catherine.

Catherine with a Inca, a puppy whose owner's other dog savaged. She had to have extensive surgery and lost her eye.

Catherine started work at RSPCA Manchester and Salford Branch back in March 2008. She's gone from Animal Welfare Assistant to Animal Welfare Co-ordinator, has had some pretty tough times including life saving surgery, but finally her dream has come true - but it's bitter sweet from me as reality finally hit home this week that she's really leaving us, in January. Catherine is having her first child. The branch's first staff child! And it's all about to change for us all.....

We began recruitment for an Animal Welfare Assistant this week, and that's when I had my wobble; things are never going to be the same again. We will, of course, miss Catherine so much, but it's a journey we have to take and for all the right reasons. We're well and truly up for it and some lucky individual is going to get to join our 'family' and immerse in the wonderful world of M & S. I thought what better way to show what's on offer than to share some of my personal portraits of our life and times....

Working with all creatures great and small

Enriching our animal's lives.

Animals always come first.
Rabbit accountants counting up after collecting money in Tesco stores during RSPCA Week

Unexpected arrivals - these baby bunnies were born in transit to us.

Animals in foster care ensure you have late finishes and early starts, but they're worth it.

Best friends are made but break your heart. Cassie was diagnosed with secondary cancer and had to be put to sleep.

Never a shortage of drama. Kittens are in abundance and these two hand rears were 'saved' by another nursing queen.

Watching amazing animals like Gary get over-looked and stay with us for weeks and months on end is upsetting.

Catherine, in the middle, enduring a gruelling two hour long parade in an uncomfy costume to promote the branch.

Fostering animals like Rigby, who had a revolting degloving injury. Catherine shed tears when he left for his forever home but look at him now!

Helping to raise money for our animals. Catherine threw herself off Europe's tallest lighthouse along with 29 other people
Contending with cheeky animals that are hell-bent on getting your attention through any means possible!

Taking part in community events to raise awareness and microchip animals (Catherine on the right)

Photo shoots are a regular occurrence, especially when you least want them!
Working alongside our amazing volunteers and supporting them from the sidelines.

Having to walk the dogs in all weathers, battle ice and snow to make sure they get the attention they deserve.

Coping with returns like Harley, who was adopted 4 years ago and brought back due to a house fire.

We always have some help in the office. The pressure to take animals in is so great that they sometimes have to live in our offices. This means coming in on our days off to look after them, but they make it so worthwhile.

Of course these are just a few snap shots of life at M&S; there is very much more, but it gives you an idea of what is on offer. We may not have much money to pay but the successful applicant will be enriched in so many other ways.The plan is for Catherine to return part-time after maternity leave but none of us are convinced she'll want to leave her precious baby girl. So, we shall just have to see what the future has in store for us all, but for now I'll enjoy every minute of what we have left together and look forward to welcoming our new member of the M & S family.