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'?