Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Love the farm, leave no trace

My annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury Festival has left me feeling happy, content and blooming knackered and in need of a few days lying down in a darkened room where I can't get sun burnt. Whilst I brace myself for a return to work tomorrow (although I've already had a brief heads up from our Hannah so I hope I know the worst of it already) my mind turned to thinking about the parallels between the festival's campaign this year and our work.

This year the Festival asked everyone to 'Leave No Trace' and 'Take it Home'. But I kid you not, the above is a picture of how Glastonbury's camping fields look like by mid-day on the Monday. Last year the following items were abandoned on site:
9,500 roll mats
6,500 sleeping bags
5,500 tents
3,500 airbeds
2,200 chairs
400 gazebos
not to mention copious amounts of uneaten food and drink in the form of cans, pot noodles, bottles etc, and so much other sundry items that it looks like some folks just get up and go home with nothing but the clothes they are wearing.

I'm pleased to say that it did look like there was less abandonment this year, but it was still a terrific amount and testament to our society's wasteful attitude.

What I find quite staggering, and here the parallels perhaps begin, is that when festival go-ers arrive on site they are given a variety of different bags for recycling and disposing of their waste. There are also something crazy like 15,000 recycling/waste bins around the site so it is impossible NOT to recycle at Glastonbury but yet people have the wilful neglect not to.

On one day I was sat in what we call a 'dance monkey' area listening to The Orb. There were a group of lads in their 20s with different recycling bins right next to them, yet they threw stuff on the floor rather than make an effort to put it in the bin behind them. This attitude is something that we greet on a daily basis on our office line - the view that it is always someone else's problem, not their's. I also get incredulity from these same people because I dare to say " I'm sorry I can't help". They think I am so out of order for NOT doing something about their problem (or the problem they have created) and perceive the matter to be my problem and not theirs! I realise, actually, that this 'theme' transcends across so many aspects of our society but the fact that a living being gets treated just like any other unwanted commodity is what chills me to the core.

The items that are abandoned by the campers are sold so cheaply these days that a great deal of value is not levied on them and it's just the same with animals. Before I went away someone came forward to claim a rabbit. They told me, inadvertently, that in the last month they had lost two, but had replaced them each time 'for the kids' cos they only cost £15. When I said we had spent £100 kitting bunny out for adoption he said "you can keep it, I haven't got that kind of money". I never asked for the £100 but that's by the by, the point is animals are seen as commodities, than can be 'got rid of' when they don't want them any more, replaced or made money from.

I wonder when our society will start taking responsibility for its actions, when individuals will stop acting like the world owes them something, when respect and value (not of a monetary kind) will be placed on an animal, and when we will see an end to the thousand upon thousand of animals being abandoned in our country each year.

One happy parallel, or two, I can draw is this.....
Since upgrading to a campervan 5 years or so ago, it has become a guilty pleasure of mine to go 'wombling' when people have begun to leave the site and abandoned their stuff. Whilst wombling this year I met a lovely couple, a little older than me, who shared my passion for wombling and said they took home whatever they could carry rather than leave it to go into landfill. The lady, just like my hubby, didn't even drop a single fag butt on site, and cheered me up after we had groaned about peoples' selfish actions by saying 'at least WE are making a difference'. So it got me thinking... at least WE are make making difference to the lives of animals we help. Ok, so we don't always have a happy ending and sometimes animals get returned after adoption and sometimes, sadly, they have to be put to sleep, but we are making a difference and, above all, treasuring what has once been neglected, unwanted, unloved and disrespected - a life, an animals' life and I am so glad we are there for them and can show them the love and respect they deserve.

So, my first job for tomorrow? Collecting a cat from the RSPCA animal hospital that was another victim of society's 'throw away' attitude to unwanted things. But, hey, guess what? I'm ready to take up battle position again - so bring it on!


What Susie wombled from Glastonbury Festival 2010 (from just a quarter of 1 field out of approx 20 designated camping fields):

2 brand new cool boxes (for keeping veggie hotdogs frozen at RSPCA Summer Festival)
10 new freezer blocks(for keeping veggie hotdogs frozen at RSPCA Summer Festival)
1 new camping stove (for cooking said hotdogs)
5 beach wind breakers (to be used at RSPCA Summer Festival - it's Seaside themed!)
massive ground sheet (for use on allotment)
lots of tent pegs and poles (for use on allotment)
brand new camping chair
Approx 120 cans of cider, lager and ale
1 gazebo

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Truly Disappointed

Just when I thought things really couldn't get any worse, this week really hit rock bottom. Some of you may find the following hard going to read, but this is the reality of our work, and I make no apologies for it......

We've had two dogs in our care for a long time that we have not been able to rehome. In the main this has been because of their past history. One dog was condemned to live its life as a guard dog with little human interaction and deprived of such basic things as daylight, water and care. The other dog was beaten, used for breeding, and shown little respect. Without doubt their pasts having damaged them but so does the effects of kennelling. Quite simply, some dogs cope with being in kennels and others don't, and if there are pre-existing issues then this can often exacerbate their coping skills further.

Both dogs have sadly recently proven that under RSPCA policy they cannot be rehomed. The policy, which is about 'biting dogs', is in place to protect the public, staff and trustees alike and to try and avoid dogs being incarcerated in kennels long-term (because they can't find a home). And, if we are honest, would makes us no better, if we did keep them in kennels long-term, than many of the people we prosecute for keeping animals in similar ways.

Sadly the policy has proven too hard for some closely involved with the charity to cope with this week and we have seen key figures resign and opt out of decision making. It has been left to the remaining few to make the very difficult decision to accept that we simply cannot do any more to 'undo' the damage that other humans have done to them.

I want to say how much I admire those individuals who felt able to stand up for what truly was, in my opinion, in the best interest of these dogs. On Monday I will start my first lot of annual leave since last year taking two dogs to be put to sleep, but doing so in the knowledge that we are doing the right thing by them, by ending their suffering and letting them finally find some peace in this all too frequently dark world.

I also want to thank my staff, Catherine and Mel, for their unfaltering belief in what we do and their steadfast commitment to ensuring our animals live happy, healthy lives whilst in our care. I thoroughly believe that with our limited resources we do all we can to help the animals that come into our care but sometimes we fail, and I accept that failure nobly and will be the first to stand up and be counted.

I know that it is Society that has ultimately failed these dogs and I have come to accept that we can't 'win them all'. But sometimes I do despair because what hope have we got when we can't find homes for dogs that are so happy, healthy and wonderful like Nipper and Poppy above who have been with us 6 months without a spec of interest in them.

I am extremely lucky to work with such a strong and dedicated group of animal welfarists. I just hope that at some point everyone else who has struggled with this decision can come to terms with it and reconcile that sometimes we have to admit defeat and that those wavering individuals can take comfort in the fact that we successfully help hundreds of animals each year and that we are making a difference to animals' lives.

It's a cruel world and it can be a shit job but someone has to do it and I'm grateful that it's me.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Two things I don't do....

...are quit and cry, and I've done both this week. I don't think there's anything wrong with crying, it's just not something I do, but I did on Thursday because I was just so tired and at breaking point. Actually, no, to be fair that came on Friday when I quit, but Gilly and Hannah (my friends and trustees) wouldn't accept my resignation.

I'm ok now, amazing what sleep and a good night out can do for you but it really has been a toughie again this week with animals being returned, falling ill and of course euthanasia. My Gilly sent me Interflora flowers on Thursday to cheer me up, such was my depth of despair. They did the trick and they are beautiful and on my mantel away from the 18, yes, 18 rabbits in my house.

Yes, two more came home Friday, Buffy & Duffy, after falling into gut stasis too. I had a rant about the girls being returned in a previous blog and to be honest I'm pretty annoyed about it all, again, as the reason why they became ill was entirely related to the amounts of dried food they had previously been fed and resulted in poor dental health and one of them needing an emergency dental treatment on Friday. The emergency vet care they both needed will cost over £150 and that could all have been avoided if they had been fed the proper diet we had stated. Our vet bill last month was £2700, that's well over a £1k more than usual and all because of the influx of abandoned animals and new admissions in poor condition - just like Dora bunny, whose treatment cost so far run up to nearly £300. So to have another expensive vet bill this month, when we don't have the cash, is just not good and just makes me doubly annoyed and quite despairing.

So, in a bid to try and be a bit more positive I've been trying to ponder over
highlights of the week. Sadly, they are a bit few and far between, and the quota of abuse from the phone lines has been typically high because I'm not a magical wizard that can make things better, and because I haven't learnt to clone myself yet nor magic up an animal sanctuary with lots of empty pens, oh, and before you ask, no I cannot help you reunite the fledgling bird that has fallen out of it's nest with its mother - please just leave them alone and let nature take it's course. But, probably, having Douglas and Floyd living in my offices this week is the best highlight to share.

They are temporarily living there because we have run out of cattery pens and foster space due to returns, adoptions falling through and new admissions pushing us over our capacity. In fact, we are over our capacity across the board by about 15 animals, maybe more, but the bonus has been hunky cat therapy whenever I have made it into the office. Floyd is my love monster and loves his belly tickles, helping me write things on my lap top and cuddles. While Douglas, on the other hand, loves snogs and playtime and helping me write things down and organising the pens and paperwork. Both are always in your face, so whichever office I have gone into I have been made to feel very loved and wanted indeed!

Another highlight of the week was hearing from two of our dog adopters and learning what our old friends are getting up to. Sasha, pictured above has got another new mate and a few new tricks up her sleeve. This is what her mum said,

"We have found that Sash has missed her calling in life as a sniffer dog. She has the ability on nearly every walk to find the most stinky, rotting, smelly things possible. So far we have had dead sheep (illegally dumped and very rotten - yummy!), fox skin - looked like a smelly moustache- . rotting pheasant and a host of other unidentified dead things!"

The other one was Princess, now called Jess (a much better choice of name). Her mum wrote to tell me,

"I (being completely obsessed with my wonderful girl) want to give you an update regarding our Jess (Princess). She is FANTASTIC. We took her to the caravan last weekend and even got permission from one of the farmers to run her off the lead in his field cos “she is sooo cute”. She “pranced” through the very long grass with the happiest look all over her face that if we could afford it we’d buy her her own acre.

To be honest. SHE IS PERFECT. A dog we never would have chosen due to the Staff mix but one we would have certainly missed out on if you hadn’t have encouraged us to meet her. Thank you. WE ARE VERY LUCKY."

I told her mum I got a bit emotional reading this because Jess came from the most vile conditions and had a really bad time and to know that she has found true happiness makes this damn job a bit more bearable during tough times. I can feel myself getting upset now but if you'd known what she's come from you would too - she had drunk the toilet bowl dry after being left with nothing for days and the toilet bowl was covered in human faeces.

And whilst several viewings and visits have come to nothing, and rehomings have come to a virtual standstill, Roger the cat got reserved and so did Megan and Milo the kittens. But this is going to be a far cry from the predictions I got Catherine to make about rehomings before she went away. She guessed that in the 3 weeks she would be on leave 6 cats and Holly and Red the dog would find homes. Both the dogs had reserves on them but they have fallen through and the cats, well, me may just do it by the skin of our teeth! I think Catherine also predicted two rabbits would be rehomed but instead we've had to have two put to sleep - so not doing well on that front at all.

Well, next week will be my last on my own and then I'm off on my hols for a week. I just really need some time to get on with our Summer Festival and Fun Dog Show planning and to find homes for our animals! I think it's going to be a long summer with quite a shortage of adoptions, but we'll get there, I know, because we always do.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


Having the courage of your convictions can be really hard sometimes, especially when people around you don't always agree with your way of thinking.

Today was a case in point and I am still deeply troubled by it all but clinging on to the hope and belief that we made the right call.

Sophie came into our care last Summer. Tatton Park were the lucky recipients of 6 abandoned pet rabbits. They had been dumped in a box and confined altogether and as result fighting had ensued and they all had varying degrees of wounding. They were, of course, all unneutered and so you can imagine what the heady mix of male and female hormones had resulted in.

All the bunnies were stunning, some very timid and nervy and others not so bad. All but Sophie were rehomed quite quickly, in bunny terms that is, i.e. within 4 months or so. But Sophie remained.

Sophie had been introduced to other rabbits but she was so clearly traumatised by her ordeal that she simply couldn't tolerate a companion. Sophie settled for a life alone and seemed content at the boarding place we use (cos we don't have our own sanctuary) so long as she was left to her own devices and had minimal interaction with humans. She had been with us for nearly a year but in no way the longest stay rabbit that we have.

On Monday, when my colleague Mel was health checking the bunnies, she found Sophie to be unusually placid and her tummy swollen. She checked on her an hour later and found her belly had inflated even further - she had serious gas bloating and the onset of gut stasis.

We got Sophie to the vets by which time she was in gut stasis. This is probably the most serious condition a rabbit can get and when they are full of gas like Sophie was it is extremely painful too. She was admitted immediately and started on all the meds and pain relief and sub cutaneous fluids and syringe feeding she needed. But she was so swollen she looked like a beach ball, and you cannot underestimate just how painful that is for them.

The next day we found she had not urinated; it was seemingly too painful for her to do so. Xrays did not reveal the cause of the gut stasis but the sedation had relaxed her muscles enough to allow her bladder to be manipulated and emptied. Her teeth were absolutely fine, which led to the really big worry as to what was causing the gut stasis, as there is almost always an underlying cause. Sophie stayed at the vets and continued on high doses of pain relief and all the rest of the treatment as before.

When this morning has come round there had been little improvement, although she had urinated independently and she had done a few poos. It still all added up to a rabbit in a very bad way with an unknown cause fr the gut stasis. The vet said the kidneys and liver felt fine on examination so it didn't seem much point to run bloods and so the only the option would be to open her up but as with Jessica I would not allow such invasive surgery to take place.

So, Gilly and I talked at length about what to do with the poor girl as it had become apparent that we were unlikely to find the cause of the gut stasis and she was continuing to suffer. Let's face it, if she wasn't suffering as much she would have made greater improvement over two days of intensive care.

Both of us have a lot of experience with bunnies (over two decades between us in animal rehoming and fostering) and Gilly especially knew first hand how difficult it is to manage a rabbit prone to going into gut stasis without any obvious underlying cause. And the problem is, of course, is that if we we don't know what the triggers are then it becomes very hard to put a 'care strategy' in place. Moreover, because we do not care for the bunnies ourselves on a daily basis (they boarded in the equivalent of a private cattery or kennel) we did not want to risk her going through this again and causing her a whole lot of pain and even the possibility of a very miserable death, as gut stais can kill within 12-24 hours of onset.

After weighing everything up in terms of future care we could provide, her long term health and rehoming prospects we decided that the kindest thing was to let her go.
As I apologised to the vet for asking her to euthanize Sophie she told me she would give her extra cuddles first. At that point I told her how much Sophie hated human contact and the vet told me that Sophie had had lots of cuddles the day before without protest. I knew then that this really was the right decision because the Sophie we knew would never have tolerated such attention. It cemented for me just how deeply unhappy she must be because normal Sophie would have seriously protested and the fact that she was so compliant just showed how ill she really was.

I know not everyone will agree with this decision but ultimately our desire to save her the enduring pain and possibility of recurring attacks was the motivating factor. Keeping a rabbit going under these conditions is incredibly stressful for them and not something that can be maintained for long. I'm here to alleviate animal suffering and that's why I believe in what we did for Sophie today. If others do not agree with this decision then I will live with that doubt but I make no apologies for doing the best we can under very difficult circumstances.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

It's been such a long week

I'm knackered, no two ways about it. It's been a 6 day week and with little positive going on.

The bank holiday typically saw animals falling ill...so yep, you guessed it, off I had to go. Our bunny Jessica was the worse case, and in a very bad way. The old girl had decided she was going to be spectacularly ill and make it very hard to diagnose too. in the end it was narrowed to a contortion in the intestines and despite major efforts to alleviate her pain and suffering we couldn't, and on Wednesday we had to let her go. There was no way she was going to recover from this and she was in so much discomfort that I felt it really was the only option.

So, that meant 4 weeks in a row of having to have an animal put to sleep, something that is really unprecedented and very miserable to deal with.

On a happier note, my predictions for cat reserves were correct - the lovely people chose Douglas and Annie and they are now in their new home! However, I was being exceptionally greedy hoping for more reserves but we did get one later in the week and I believe we may have another this weekend too, which is a relief because we have 7 cats waiting to come in - I know, don't. I haven't a clue where we are going to squeeze them in!

I hate kitten season.

We also took in a fantastic chappie called Suggs, whose owner has lung cancer. He looks like Basil Brush and is sheer bonkers! He is a wire haired terrier, one year old, and mental. He has bags of energy and personality but needs a lot of lead training. But he's my new hunk, along with newbie Roger the cat, who has the most gorgeous coochy cheeks you've ever seen.

Roger was in an RTA and still seems uncomfy to me so I'm going to pop him to the vets Mon for a second opinion. We also took in kittens Oz and Glinda - who are crazy mentalist that batter hell out of each other - so much so that one has an infected wound on their lip that they did late last night, typical - lil beggars!!! They were dumped in a box outside the animal hospital at 3 weeks old and were thankfully hand reared by one of the nurses there.

We also had JRT pup Lily returned after 2 months of being adopted. She was originally being kept in car because the landlord wouldn't allow pets in the house. She apparently never settled in her new home and had shocking toilet habits. But I am delighted to say she has been fantastic from the moment she came back into our care on Thursday; she obviously just didn't like the other dog she was living with.
Lily is also good as gold with Mel's two labs too, so thankfully there appears to be no major issues and we will be able to get her up for adoption again by the end of next week.

We also had two rabbits returned, after nearly a year, because they didn't 'bond' with the adopter's other two rabbits, which we stressed to her from day one that it was unlikely to happen. But here they are, at 18 months old, back in our care once more. Actually, what really annoyed me more than that was that we stress not to feed dried food to rabbits and guinea pigs. The most a rabbit should ever be fed is an egg cup full each, and low and behold these two bunnies came back in with a bag of dried food and overgrown teeth. At 18 months of age there is only one culprit for that....Grrr.

And then came Friday. I felt sick for some hours afterwards but I guess it's something we are just having to face up to for the first time. Yes, you guessed it, we had to have another animal put to sleep.

You probably remember me telling you about the long-term stray cat that came in with his tail exposed to the bone? Well, it turned out that Cole had something called Feline Aesthesia Syndrome. After monitoring him in foster care for two weeks it became painfully clearly that he was deeply troubled and frightened by his tail. Amputation wasn't a solution and the only option was for him to go on anti-depressants, but this was just not realistic cos who on earth would take on a cat with psychological disturbance and pay £1.20 per tablet per day? Precisely, no one. And to be honest, seeing the degree of distress he had whenever he caught sight of his tail just reinforced how unkind it was to keep him going - he was just so troubled and getting worse too.

So, Cole became the 5th furry in 4 weeks that we had to have euthased and I just have a feeling it won't end there because we have had another cat returned this weekend after about 2 months because it looks like he has been kidney failure and so the adopters didn't want to keep him because of the expense and the heartache. So, again, who is going to take on a cat with 2-3 years left to live and pay £25 a month for his medication?

I'm tired, and fed up, and I suspect you are too after reading this so I'll end on a happy note, I promise, but before I do, my week was topped off with the biggest fundraising disaster ever...

We had our swap shop during the day on Saturday, which got a reasonable turn out and enabled me to learn never to do it again! We found that either people didn't understand that no money could be exchanged, or, they swapped absolute rubbish for something really good! So, that idea of stock regeneration has gone straight out the window; we took more stuff to the tip than we took to the shops afterwards.

And then, the piste de resistance of the week was the classical piano recital. Alessandra, the pianist, was outstanding. The acoustics were amazing. And she led us through a journey spanning 2 centuries and played the most spellbinding pieces and it was magic. And this is coming from someone who has never listened to classical music before in her life. But how many turned up? Well apart from my 4 friends and Alessandra's 5 friends/family - 2. Yes, that's right, 2 people turned up. Do I need to say anymore?

So now, let's end on a positive...little Dora the explorer bunny with the fractured leg went for a check up this week and the vets are very happy with her progress. In about 5 weeks time she will be xrayed again to see if the fracture is stable enough for the pin to be removed. But just take a look at these pictures. Animals are amazing, aren't they? Apparently she's not bothered at her pin once. My lot wouldn't be that good, they'd be a bloody nightmare, and yes, Gilly is falling in love with her.......
I hope you all have a good week and please keep your fingers crossed I don't loose all my hair or have a nervous breakdown. Yay, this job is great!