Sunday, 23 December 2012

Down but not out

It's hard to believe it but this is Catherine and mine's 5th Christmas at the branch. The branch today couldn't be any different than it was 5 years ago; not only are we bigger and better than ever before but this is the busiest Christmas we have ever known.

Traditionally, at this time of year, everything grinds down to a slow pulse and gives us the chance to breathe, catch up and take it a bit easier after a hectic year, but this time round there has been no such let up. After the busiest summer I have ever known, a relentless Autumn followed and now we are facing the nationwide sadness that so many people are facing such an unhappy Christmas due to prevailing economic hardship. It's been all over the local news this week that more charity food banks have opened up in response to need. Of course the  more people who are struggling to even feed themselves it becomes inevitable that pets become a luxury that less and less can afford. Ultimately animals are abandoned, because all the shelters are full, but the methods and means vary so much that sometimes my compassion wanes whilst at other times it couldn't be stronger. This week has seen no shortage of animals being admitted to the branch due to the financial hardships people have been facing. So, here are some of the new charges:

Peggy and Polly arrived very underweight with a severe worm burden. A result of an accidental breeding and an owner desperate for help. No wonder given that they were 2 of a litter of 8. I later heard that the inspector  later went back with neutering vouchers, food and money (the latter paid for by the inspector). The girls are in kennels because we have no foster homes and they are available for adoption now.

Another litter as a result of an accidental breed and the owner becoming overrun with animals. These poor little mites were absolutely crawling with fleas, but are now safe in a foster home for Christmas and in the New Year will be available for adoption.

Cinnamon, Clove and Nutmeg were squeezed into a small carrier and abandoned under a clothing rail in one of our shops this week. I was reeling with shock when they were discovered but then a phone call was placed, to another of our shops, from the owner. She was a in a heightened state of distress and wanted to make sure we had found them; she admitted being desperate and having to resort to desperate measures. Thankfully we had one cattery pen free.
Flower is one of 4 rabbits admitted this week, all of whom have been found 'stray' at separate times across the North West. We are now up to 25 rabbits and significantly over capacity and can't admit anymore despite requests to take an additional 5 this week - we need a rabbit miracle, again!

We've also admitted another cat who was taken to a vets after being in a RTC but never claimed; I can't help but think the owners just couldn't afford the vet bills. Next week we see the arrival of this little lad, below. He was abandoned in a box and found on 14th Dec. He was very poorly, probably suffering from exposure to the extreme temperatures. He's been recovering at the RSPCA vets and I'm hoping we can pick him up Xmas Eve and take him to his foster home.

Hopefully this little lad will be up for adoption in the New Year.

We've also had heartache this week over a dog who was abandoned by his owner but turned out to be a banned breed. Verification of his status by authorities meant that we had to comply with the law. As many of you know our branch opposes Breed Specific Law but it doesn't mean we are above the law. As much as I wanted to do a blog with pictures of this awful waste of life I feared the repercussions were too great. Instead, I mark the horrid occasion by sharing the life of an animal that deserved better than to be judged by his breed.

But as much as there has been hard work and sadness this week we have seen kindness and generosity from people too. The puppies were the first to enjoy this giant parcel of goodies donated by a customer of the Urmston shop.

The gravy bones were the most popular with the pups but Blue loved the toy penguin and the the treats! But what Lady loved more than anything was cuddles after an epic rain soaked walk on Saturday that left us stranded in a flooded field, but we made it home in the end thanks to our dog walker Chris' handy phone app and resilience. The rain was so bad that we actually couldn't see where we were going!

Lady goes to her new home on 28th December and it couldn't come fast enough for her.
And I mustn't finish this bloody without sharing a Christmas miracle we had so longed for, the adoption of Jack and Carson our long stay black cats. Within 24 hours of being reserved the home visit was done and they were settling in to their new home. This has undoubtedly been the best news of December and we are so grateful to their adopters for giving these wonderful boys the home that they deserved. It is such a crime they were overlooked for so long but what it did mean is that we selfishly got to enjoy their company week in week out. The cattery already seems odd without them but we are so thrilled they have homes for Christmas.

I hope that you have all enjoyed following our work this year through the blog. Above all I hope you have received a good sense of how dedicated we all are to our work and the animals that come into our care. Whilst I would cheerfully like to be out of job I can't see it happening any time soon, and I feel that 2013 will be just as chaotic, challenging and immense as 2012. I'm looking forward to doing it all over again with my very wonderful staff, volunteers and supporters by my side. Thank you everyone for being such a kind, caring, compassionate bunch of fabulous people. All I can say is thank goodness me and the animals have you in our lives. From all of us at RSPCA Manchester & Salford Branch we wish you a very peaceful and loving Christmas, whoever you are with and wherever you may be.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Last Christmas

When this envelope came through the post this week I knew that Christmas had arrived. It's hard to feel festive sometimes with the work that we do, but this envelope signified something very special to Catherine and I.

For the last 5 Christmas' we've been lucky enough to receive the generous support of a lovely man named Graham. He adopted a very special dog from us called Charlie, a dog that we were all very attached to. Graham's annual support shows to us that he never ceases to forget our fondness of Charlie and the work that we do. Hearing from the two of them each year does something for me that is really reassuring. It somehow makes me feel like everything will work out in the end and that everything we do really is worthwhile. It's hard to keep this perspective most of the time but the reminder that animals are living long and happy lives with their families does just that.

It has been yet another challenging week with loss, admissions, adoptions and of course the new shop. Of the 2 dogs, 5 rabbits and 7 cats that have been admitted over the last week 12 of them have been abandoned. I fear things will get worse over the next few weeks and what bothers me more than anything is that we still, in this day and age, get calls from people wanting to 'buy' animals to give as Christmas presents. It's so obvious why this is such a bad idea that is doesn't warrant commentary. It saddens me so much that people think that this acceptable and that they think an animal can cope with the expectations that will be placed on them as a result of being a gift.

Most of the animals we've admitted have been abandoned in boxes and carriers in all manner of places: doorsteps, alleys, remote areas.Walter, a new ginger and white cat, was one such victim. He's taken his ordeal hard and hasn't come out of his bed much since arriving. I know in time he'll come round but the uncertainty he is evidently experiencing is so sad to see, especially now that he is somewhere quiet, safe and warm. There really is no place like home.

Thankfully our supporters have been helping make our animals lives more comfortable this Christmas with donations from our Amazon Wish List. It has been a joy to watch the animals play with their new toys. Jack and Carson, our longest stay cats (they're black, that's all), went wild for the catnip toys yesterday and Little Bo was mesmerised by his dangle toy. Take a look at him playing with it here; it just shows what a difference you can make to animal's lives. It's also the reason why we have set up our own Ebay Pet Store so we can raise funds for the animals and offer you great products at discounted prices. We've started off with a select range to test the waters but please take a look at our site. You can buy the items for our animals if you like, just make sure you let us know when you place the order.

Whilst many of our animals won't be lucky enough to find homes for Christmas there is one thing for sure, there isn't a shortage of love and care for them from everyone, which is something I will never, ever take for granted. It's also the reason why we started running the Rescue Animal of the Year awards a couple of years ago. The idea behind it was to remember the many special animals that have touched our lives, reflect on our achievements and demonstrate just how important our work is. This year is proving as hard as ever to shortlist the animals but this coming week we'll be releasing the finalist for everyone to vote on via Facebook. There is stiff competition, but so there should be! It's hard to believe it but this year we will have rehomed a hundred more animals than in 2011. For some reason we appear to be bucking the trend with our adoption and admission figures, but you'll get no complaints from me; I'm utterly thrilled at the number of animals we will have helped; it makes all the long days and hard work all the more rewarding.

One animal that won't feature in the shortlist is Blue. If it were up to me he would be the outright winner, but we've kind of kept him under the radar for a while because of what he's been through.

To say I love Blue is an understatement; I want the moon on a stick for him. I want him to find a home that will give him everything that he needs, but finding a home may never happen. You see Blue is an American Bulldog. There's a lot of prejudice surrounding this large breed and with Blue's history I know he's got a lot going against him, but believe me when I say he's very special.

Blue's former owner was witnessed by several people to violently attack him on a number of occasions. Blue has scarring all down his back as a result, but this really is the only trace of his past life. I accidentally tripped over him the other day and he ended up getting a small kick in the process, yet he didn't even react. It just shows how trusting animals can be with you once they know you.

The last attack Blue endured was brutal. He was repeatedly hit on the head with a hammer. He was abandoned soon after on a 16 year old boy and left dazed, confused and fitting. An RSPCA inspector attended the scene and took Blue straight to the vets. The inspector has photos of Blue whilst at the vets in a bloody, swollen, pitiful mess but I don't ever want to see those photos because he deserves more than to be remembered as 'damaged goods'. It was hoped that the photos could be used in evidence against the perpetrator, but sadly none of the witnesses felt able to go on record,so justice could never be sought for him.

Thankfully Blue had made a full recovery prior to coming into our care (he was at another centre before coming to us). We've had him nearly two months now and he's not shown any signs of ill health. He officially went up for adoption this week after careful, considered assessment of him and spending the time working on clicker training with him.Blue absolutely excels at it and will do anything for food; he really has been a star pupil and will now walk to heal and is a well behaved gent and sits politely.

What is so wonderful about Blue is how much he enjoys being with people. He makes friends with everyone and everyone falls for him in an instant. I call him 'snuffly truffle man' because he just loves picking up a scent and following it; he's so much like a hound dog sometimes. Blue is going to need a special home though because it is clear that he has been encouraged to be reactive towards other dogs. He was obviously once used as some kind of twisted status symbol of threat and aggression, which is totally ridiculous given just how loving he is and so eager to please. The more time I spend with Blue the more I fall in love with him. I really hope we can find him a home, but I won't pin too much hope on it happening any time soon.

If you would like to help support our work we need more than just money. You can donate/buy a pet product via the Ebay Store link or visit the Amazon Wish List link above or you can help us fill our new shop with donations. We can collect donations of a sizable amount so please just call the office on 0161 882 0680 and leave us a message

Sunday, 2 December 2012


The launch of the new RSPCA Animal Adoption Centre at Pets at Home seems several weeks ago, not just a paltry few days ago; it really has been an action packed week with exciting developments.

New staff being interviewed. Ellie dog and Debs in the background.
We arrived early to the opening to give Ellie the chance to sniff around and find her paws. This magic little girl wasn't bothered about the cats and rabbits or the large amounts of people; she was more interested in licking all the mince pies!!!
Cup cakes and pup cakes went down very well (with us and Ellie!)

The centre was officially opened by RSPCA CEO Gavin Grant
The turn out for the opening was far greater than I had anticipated, but Ellie and all the other animals took everything in their stride and barely seemed to notice all the activity. The animal accommodation is pretty much sound proof so the cats and rabbits were blissfully unaware of all the noisy goings on and just got on with doing what they wanted. I couldn't help but feel that we were their entertainment!

Since being officially opened all 4 of the black cats that had been overlooked for so many many months have been reserved. We have had plenty of interest in our bunnies but no firm offer a home just yet. I so desperately want them to find a home before Christmas and I'm keeping everything crossed that one is not far away. But for now we are deeply chuffed that Marlon, Murphy, Merlin and Marley have potentially found forever homes.

After the excitement of Monday we then had to turn our attention to the new Northern Quarter shop. The first thing on the agenda was choosing the decor. Oh, if only it was that simple! After changing our minds too many times we settled on a wallpaper but not on the paint. We bought copious amounts of sample pots, only to go with our original conception!

Before we let Jason loose with his paint brush.
Wallpaper of choice, but now we've found damp on some of the walls so we've had to scale back our plans.
Jason getting stuck in

Watching paint dry

By the end of this week the decorating will be finished, the flooring and signage chosen and ordered, fixtures purchased and furniture delivered. We are still struggling to find a shop counter to match our look but for now we're having a much deserved day off. You can follow the progress of the shop on it's very own Facebook page.

Next week it's full steam ahead with the donations drive and putting all the fixtures and fittings together. At this rate we may even have a soft launch before Christmas, but I'm not making any plans as such.If it happens that's good, but if not we can wait until the New Year. (If you would like to help us with this new venture we need your help with promotional ideas, volunteers and donations. You can contact the manager by the Facebook page or email us; every little helps!)

Friday and Saturday were spent back at Pets at Home with our dogs. It was Ellie's turn on Friday and she was so excited when we got out of the car; she knew exactly where she was! She knows the RSPCA Adoption Centre staff quite well now so she was very happy to see them too, but alas no mince pies to lick!

Ellie was so at ease that after a couple of chaperoning her I left her with the staff. She enjoyed the warmth, comfort and affection she got during the day and the very next day a miracle happened....a Christmas miracle! Ellie was reserved! She's having a second viewing this morning but an email yesterday confirmed that the couple had well and truly fallen in love with her, so it's very much looking like our girl will have a home for Christmas! This is such exciting news.

Ellie right at home in the new adoption centre.

Sally (aka Fatty) visited the centre on the Saturday. With her being a Cairn Terrier we weren't quite sure how she was going to react to the cats and rabbits but she was so excited by meeting everyone that it took over an hour before she noticed the other animals. What we discovered on our visit was how much Sally loves children! She was so excited to meet children that we now know she would love to be rehomed to a family. Sally officially goes up for adoption this week and it's going to be one very lucky home that will get to adopt this beautiful bundle of energy.

Sally enjoying her time out of the kennels.

I'm hopeful Sally will find a home for Christmas too. She's a cracking little girl who has been incredibly well cared for and well loved by her previous owner. Sadly Sally's owner became too frail to care for her dogs any longer so they cane to us. Despite being a fatty (the weight is dropping off her with regular exercise and  strict diet) Sally loves hour long walks every day so she's looking for an active home.

It just leaves us with Harley dog and Samantha rabbit to worry about now. Samantha has had yet another failed bonding, again not of her doing, but it means she's been waiting 13 months now for her forever home. She's a wonderful girl and we are all so fond of her. She's our longest stay resident at the branch and it feels deeply unfair she's still waiting.

And then there's Harley dog; our gorgeous, cuddly Harley dog. I really don't want to see him in kennels for another 3 months. He's 8 years old and the freezing temperatures are even more unkind to an older dog. Yesterday the staff did some filming of Harley to demonstrate just what a lovely lad he is. I hear it was lots of fun and here is a preview of what they got up to. You can see how loving he is and hopefully someone out there will appreciate just how wonderful he is now.

Best friends Harley and Debs

So here's to another week of sleep deprivation and confusion; but hey, it's what we do best at the moment!

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.