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.