Tuesday, 28 June 2011

I'm staying at home with the bunnies

I have returned from the annual mud fest that is Glastonbury Festival - a national treasure in my eyes. It is probably more special than ever to me now because we are facilitated in enjoying the event by being able to use a campsite designated for folks with disabilities. The campsite is an absolute godsend and testament to how committed the festival and individual organisers are to enabling everyone to participate. They all have my greatest of admiration, as do all the attendees who are so determined to enjoy life to the full despite pain and/or bodily malfunctions/compromises. I find it reassuring, to be honest.

Having checked out what I'm walking back into work to tomorrow I'm also reassured that it is safe to return! No major catastrophes except the very sad health diagnosis of a little dog called Charlie, who has since been put to sleep. She had a health problem that should have been rectified years ago and is now too insurmountable for us to overcome. So sad, and yet so unnecessary.

'Consequences' was one of two themes I took away from this year's festival outing. It struck me more than ever that people (at the festival) act before thinking through what effect their action might have. I don't know why this was such a revelation to me but it just seemed that everywhere I looked there were people doing things to satisfy their immediate need without thinking about the impact of it.

This concept resonates even further into the wider community when I think of what we do and dogs like Charlie, and when I look at the wider world and the two news stories I first encountered when I got home last night.

The first was from my local paper (warning, this is shocking). There was an article about a man who had tortured a baby rabbit in a pub after no-one would buy it off him. Allegedly the man waved the rabbit around by its ears, forced a lit cigarette down its mouth, slammed its head against a hard surface, set its fur alight and then broke its neck.


All the way through reading this article just one thing stood out - why had no-one intervened?

The next article, which has likely received far greater publicity, was of the two police dogs who were left in a locked car in soaring heat. I understand they both later died at the vets.

What stood out for me on this was how? How can two dogs be forgotten?

I am in no way attempting to draw parallels between the two incidents but what did strike me was how one got far more attention than the other, and why? Is it because a dog's life is perceived to be of greater value than a rabbit's? Well, probably partially, but if we are honest it is more about who the perpetrator of the crime is, isn't it?

I could go on, but I think it is far more productive to focus on the positive news I learned from Mr Steven Patrick Morrissey at around 9pm on Friday night. I think I was a solitary whoop in the crowd, but who cares, because he told me that the ban on wild animals in circuses had been passed. News I've been waiting to hear for very many years and a triumph of good over evil (ahem). I can't tell you how incredible this news is to so many of us, in particular the good folks at CAPS. It proves to me once more, that as a nation we do value animals lives and have some of the best laws in the world.

The other highlight I have to share is the fabulous picture above that was waiting for me in my inbox. This is Monty and Jerry, adopted from us at least 2 years ago. Their story is sadly an all too familiar one now - from an animal hoarder's home, dogs stacked up in cages, breeds unrecognisable due to their degree of neglect. These two in particular had suffered, more than anything psychologically. Had they not been taken on by the folks who adopted them there would not have been a happy ending for them, such was there depth of disturbance. One is still troubled to this day but they are with deeply committed and experienced dog lovers and proves yet again how great humans really can be.

I've learnt something else whilst away this weekend. It was eloquently articulated by the wonderful Jeremy Hardy. During his comedy set he explained that he is often accused of 'hating people'' (something that you'll often find muttered around our office) but what is actually the case is that he hates what people do.

I frequently hold out such faith and hope in humanity but all too often (in our field) they do things I absolutely despise and despair of. I'm not quite sure how you ever really separate the action from the person (and that was essentially Mr Hardy's cheeky point) but as a whole I so desperately want to believe that as a species we are fundamentally good. Let's hope there's plenty of proof of it this week or else I'm staying at home with the bunnies (oh, if only!).

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Elvis is in the paddock

What a week!

Every cat in the cattery has cat flu, we have no foster homes left and we even have a poorly cat in our office because we've nowhere else for him to go. We've got kitten-lickens everywhere and we've run out of donated kitten food and our new dog Charlie has been diagnosed with a problem knee cap that keeps popping out of place and we are likely looking at an op costing in the region of £500 to rectify - money which we simply do not have. And, to make things just that bit more cheery, we haven't rehomed an animal in nearly 10 days!

I could go on but you get the gist - a bit of a murky, miserable week (like the weather) with plenty to do, as usual.

As obvious as it sounds, we need homes, food and money - such a metaphor for life, hey.

On the plus side we've received some wonderful updates on rehomed animals, including Zak the dog, Dexter the bunny and Bailey the dog. And it has been really heartening to have so many supporters rallying around to help us get donations for our new shop.

On that front, work began yesterday to fit the shop out for 'retail use' and you can already see just how great it is going to be. When I return from hols in a week or so time the pressure is really going to be on to get it set up in 3 weeks, as well as organising the summer fair! But, I'm chuffed to bits that we have enough volunteers for the fair this year and chuffed to bits that I've had the offer of help from a local firm offering staff on 'volunteering work days' to help us set up the shop. I can't tell you how much of a relief this all is and I actually feel I can go away and relax for the week.

If I stop and think about it, we really do have a very busy summer ahead of us with lots of fundraising and welfare events - which can only be a good thing for the animals. And what's even better is knowing that there is such a fabulous team of staff and volunteers behind us.

I'll leave you for a week or so with what is undoubtedly my favourite image of the week - it is Sam the dog, who has just gone up for adoption. The comical look on his face just makes me smile every time I see it because he is such a sweetheart and it is such an in-congruent image to his personality. It makes me think he is doing an Elvis impersonation - "I'm all shook up. Uh-huh-huh." Sorry, I know, cheesey.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Innocent creatures

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly things change in this line of work. I use the term 'work' loosely cos it's a labour of love. Simple. Within a matter of hours of posting the last blog things went from euphoric to hideous. The mood has not lifted much throughout the week and we have rattled along in a haze of astonishment. Whilst I have no intention of rattling off a catalogue of low points, I do feel the need to skirt around a phone call I took this week.

It was undoubtedly the most shocking call I have ever taken. Catherine came into the office shortly afterwards and found me sat there staring into space. I couldn't share it with anyone, it was that bad. Thankfully, the situation is being taken very seriously by various authorities, I know because I fielded more calls about it that day.

When I got home I ended up sharing the content of the call with my husband, just because I couldn't hold it in my head. I hope to goodness that the severity of the crime is fully recognised and addressed and I hope to goodness that the perpetrators are helped before it's too late for them. I hope to goodness I never get a call like that again, and it did make me consider properly, and perhaps for the first time, just how bad it must be doing the job of taking cruelty complaint calls on the national helpline.

We lost Bilbo this week. And it was a real loss. I don't think there was a single person who didn't adore him. For those of you who aren't aware of Bilbo he has been with us since the beginning of February. We had been trying in earnest to 'undo' the neglect he had endured after being abandoned and left to live stray for several years. Despite the best efforts of everyone we had to give up this week when he very suddenly and dramatically lost his balance and co-ordination. He was in a state and the chances of making any form of sufficient recovery was next to nothing, so we ended what was very clear and evident suffering.

Bilbo will undoubtedly remain our favourite cat of 2011 just because of who he was and how very special he was to us all. He was such a cheeky, happy cat, despite being in the cattery for several months. Actually, he was probably so happy because he was in the cattery - being loved and groomed and regularly fed and kept safe and warm. Bilbo looked like a really scruffy old cloth cat, just like Bagpuss and we loved him all the more for it!

It has been an incredibly busy week with cats and kittens and we are now bursting at the seams with them and there is seriously 'no room at the inn'. To make matters worse it looks like cat flu is brewing in the cattery again, so you know what's coming - closure and a stand still on rehomings if it does break out. This truly is the last thing we need in the height of kitten season and on Friday I spent much of the day fielding very sad calls from people whose loved ones had died leaving animals behind, and it was just so frustrating not being able to help. I do loathe kitten season, but not as much as the ignorance that perpetuates about cat neutering.

Of all the low points of the week the most conflicting of all was the resignation of our wonderful Animal Welfare Assistant Mel. For those of you who don't know there is only 1 full time and 1 part time animal staff plus me (though my job isn't just animal side, it's charity shops and running the charity on a day-to-day basis). So, we are an incredibly small team who are very committed and close to one another and to loose Mel is like loosing a limb. But at the same time her decision to leave is based on personal circumstances for which I cannot feel anything but complete support and admiration.

We've had our moments this week of holding back the tears, and there will no doubt be more, but for now I'm going to enjoy every last minute we have left with her and Mel will no doubt enjoy every minute she has with the mum cat and her 2 iddy biddy kitties she started fostering this week. They are pictured above. The kitties are only just beginning to open their eyes and Mel has named them Bubble and Squeak!

It is a priveledge to care for such beautiful, innocent creatures. I just wish many more people understood this principle too.

Thank goodness Glastonbury is beckoning me...........

Friday, 3 June 2011

Our Branch Has Got Talent!

What an incredible 7 days we have just had. We have rehomed and admitted an astonishing number of animals (well, for our branch that is) and we are on a high. I'm really not quite sure where to start with all the news there's just so much to share....

Cats and kittens - well, wow! Over the bank holiday weekend we had 9 adult cats reserved and rehomed (that's out of 11 cattery pens) plus 2 kittens were reserved and rehomed, which meant by Tuesday we had lots of spaces to fill, so we did, but not before finding one fantastic new home for 3 little kitten boys. They had come into our care at separate times but become best friends whilst in the same foster home. Pictured above is Wilf, he is 1 of 3 boys, and we are so chuffed they are going together.

This week we have admitted lots of new cats and kittens and it is so apparent that kitten season is in full swing. The last admission of the week arrived at 3.30pm today and were a group of 3 little girls, about 3-4 weeks old, who had been found by builders constructing the new metrolink line by Manchester airport. Mum was nowhere to be seen but must have been returning to them as they are in good, chunky health! They will now join Poppy (who you may have seen on Facebook) and be hand-reared by our foster parents Carmen and Rick. Rick is doing the night-time feeds so Carmen and I chuckled at the prospect of him having to cope with 4 hungry, demanding mouths at silly o'clock. We are, however, very grateful to you, we are just grateful it's not us!

We also admitted more adults than I can actually remember, another 2 kittens found in a play house in their garden, and we have another 6 kittens to come in yet and 1 adult cat! They are at the RSPCA vets and we are waiting for them to be given the 'all clear' along with a gorgeous fluffy boy cat too.

On the rabbit front, oh, dear - yes, well, I was weak and said 'yes' when I should have said 'no' because we are still very much over capacity on the rabbit front. But I kinda thought that with Isaac Big Boy going to his new home tomorrow I'd get away with it. So, we said 'hello' to Margot.

Margot was found roaming stray and was successfully captured (albeit reluctantly) by members of the public. The next day an RSPCA officer collected her and brought her to us, and boy is she stunning. She looks kind of hare-like, but pretty with it, and has such a striking, confident personality. I'm so glad I said yes and I would have got away with it if it hadn't been for those damn pesky kids.

The Scooby-Doo villain was right this time, again! I had my worst lapse since last year when I heard an inspector utter the words: 'baby bunnies', 'you look after them so well' and 'lop eared'. I caved. Readily.

See what a bit of flattery and fluffy bunnyness can do to me! So, currently in my spare room are 3 picture-postcard cute, lop-eared babies. Squeeeeeeaaaalllll!

And last, but in no way least - Bruno. As I type I am imagining Bruno laid out in his new home watching Britain's Got Talent with his new family. If ever a dog deserved a forever home, Bruno is the one. I am hoping with all my heart that he has really found his home for life this time. He is a wonderful, special dog who deserves the moon on a stick after everything he has encountered in life.

Bruno was adopted as a puppy from another branch, and returned a few months later to the branch of origin through no fault of his own. Nearly a year on, he was still in that branch's care and still waiting for his happy ending. So, when we found ourselves with a few empty kennels a few weeks ago we went knocking on their door and offered to take him in, hoping that a new area would make all the difference......

Bruno wasn't an obvious 'looker' and whilst we could see him for who he was we figured that this was the main reason why he had been overlooked. After we had completed our assessments of him we placed him in foster care to learn more about him. And wow, what a difference that made! What leapt out within just a few short hours was one of the most wonderfully loving and good natured dogs.

It is with great satisfaction that within less than 2 weeks of putting him up for adoption Bruno found the home he'd been waiting for all along. It is entirely thanks to his foster mum for inviting him into her home, that we have what I can only describe as a potentially fairy tale ending. (I try not to get too excited until they've been in their new home without any major mishaps for a week or two). But, nonetheless, it sends goosebumps up my arms just thinking of what we have hopefully achieved for this beautiful lad. I'm hoping with all my heart he has found third time lucky forever.

We are going try our hand at helping another dog in a similar predicament next week, but for now the newbie dogs of the week are 2 Lurcher types who's owner was unable to give them the care and attention they needed. Following complaints from people in the neighbourhood of abandonment, one of our inspectors investigated and the dogs were signed over to our care.

What it means with all this activity is that we only have 1 dog up for adoption, but keep your paws crossed because he has a viewing tomorrow!

So, I'm sure you'll agree this has been a very eventful 7 days. I am about to embark on my first proper weekend off in over 2 months - yes, that's right, our Catherine is back! And what a pleasure, relief and delight it is to have her back.

All's well ........... for now.

National Vegetarian Week Feast for a Fiver

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Rabbit & Guinea Pig Roadshow 2011 Report

The branch has been successfully running rabbit welfare promotional events since 2008. In 2010 the branch created the ‘Rabbit and Guinea Pig Roadshow’ in recognition of the fact that guinea pigs are as a much a misunderstood species as the rabbit, and that unfortunately there is still the misguided conception that the two species can be kept together.

The branch took the decision to hold this year’s roadshows during Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW), in support of the national RSPCA participation/collaboration with this annual campaign.

This year’s roadshows took place on Saturday 21st and 28th May 2011 and were only made possible thanks to the unfaltering support the branch received from its team of volunteers.
What We Hoped to Achieve
The aim of the event, as always, was to educate pet owners on how best to meet the welfare needs of their animals. This year we strived to generate new and more accessible ways in which to get the key messages across.

How We Achieved It
Each year we review the way we try to deliver information and in the past we have tried out surveys, quizzes, seated advisory areas and interactive displays in attempt to develop greater awareness of these species’ needs.

Following a review of previous approaches we decided this year to take a more informal approach to information sharing. To achieve this, each animal owner was given their own ‘advisor’ who shadowed them during the veterinary consultation to pick up on support needs.

The animals were each health and dental checked by exotic vet specialists. The owners were in turn given the opportunity to ask any questions they had relating to their pets and veterinary care. During the consultation owners were also given a ‘health record’ booklet for each of their pets (supplied by RAW) and completed by the vet.

After the consultation the advisor then directed the owner to a ‘station’ containing displays of key welfare messages alongside displays of suitable vegetables, daily dried food allowance and samples of good quality hay.

The stations offered visual illustrations to support the advisors knowledge sharing, which proved to be a particularly powerful method of communication. There was also supportive literature on hand from both the Rabbit Welfare Fund and the branch.

Each owner was then given a goody bag that contained: a welfare booklet from RAW, a sample of dried food labelled and measured out as representative of one week’s worth of dried food for an average sized furry, a loo roll stuffed with hay to demonstrate how to enrich an animal’s life cheaply and easily, plus other food samples.

The branch also sold a wide range of toys and natural treats that were marked up only fractionally in order to encourage people to consider purchasing additional enrichment opportunities for their pets.

At each event we had:
Two exotic vet specialists
A team of 12 dedicated volunteers
Branch Manager for RSPCA Manchester & Salford
Across the two events we saw a total of 121 animals in 8 hours.
This broke down as: 66 rabbits and 55 guinea pigs, of which 8 rabbits were microchipped and 11 neutering vouchers were issued.

This year it really was a game of two halves! At the first event we saw lots of returning animal owners who proudly explained how they had taken on board our advice from the previous year(s) and changed their animals’ lives for the better. This was hugely reassuring and motivating to hear because it meant that we had previously succeeded in spreading the word about rabbit and guinea pig welfare.

The second event, however, was very different in tone and arguably more successful because the animals that attended really did need our help. It also demonstrated that we still have a long way to go in educating people about contemporary rabbit and guinea pig welfare practices.

At the second event we saw and treated quite a large number of animals with cheyletiella mites (also known as ‘walking dandruff’), we identified a number of animals in the early stages of developing dental issues (which hopefully will be able to be addressed with appropriate changes to diet) and we also saw a surprising number of unplanned pregnancies and a frustrating amount of animals at risk of unwanted pregnancy.

Perhaps one of the most shocking cases was a guinea pig whose owner had brought him along to the last roadshow in March 2010 and whose claws had not been clipped in 14 months – they were in a shocking state.

Whilst the second event may have highlighted more welfare issues than the first, it nonetheless created a strong sense of achievement because it meant that we helping animals in need.

The Future
Whilst the branch fully supports RAW and will do so again in the future, the attendance figures for the 2011 roadshow were a disappointing 121 (compared to last year’s attendance figures of 199 - down 78.)

It was felt that attendance was likely down due to the number of other similar free events running at the same time, which whilst fantastic for small furries, it is not so fantastic for a small charity like ours that has to be as cost effective as possible. As such, in order to maximise the effectiveness of the roadshows in the future, which cost in excess of £1300 to run, we will reinstate the event to Spring in 2012.

The roadshow would not happen each year without the passion and enthusiasm of our dedicated team of volunteers. They never cease to amaze us with their unfaltering passion to improving animals’ lives. We feel honoured and privileged to work alongside such compassionate and caring people and thank them all for being there for us and the 301 rabbits and 168 guinea pigs the branch has assisted at these events since 2008.

We would also like to say a special thank you to Pollie from Cavy Cosies for raising the money to enable us to offer neutering assistance to many of the attending animals and for tirelessly promoting cavy enrichment.

Lastly, we would like to express immense gratitude to vet specialists Sarah Pellet and Molly Varga alongside Supreme Pet Foods for supporting our events and for their commitment to improving the welfare of small furries.