Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Bull Breeds are dangerous - fact?

I am angry. I am really angry.

It started at the weekend with the media coverage of a child who was harmed by a 'bull breed' in a park. By Monday morning the unidentified dog had become a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, without any foundation. Then last night the BBC aired a programme about the Dangerous Dog Act and whilst there was balance offered in the way of juxtaposing owners against their actions it in no way revealed the truth.But my anger is not attributable to the persistent media misrepresentation of bull breeds, but of the damage that it causes to their reputation and in turn the knock on effect it has on their rehomability.

We end up with the most wonderful natured dogs languishing in kennels for months on end and all because they have been made out to be 'folk devils' by the media. In previous decades it has been the Rottweiler and German Shepherd but for now the bull breeds are taking the 'bashing'.I have decided to share a paper I wrote just before Christmas for my University of Bristol Companion Animal Welfare and Behaviour Studies course. I entered the research without knowing what I would find. My findings surprised even me. I was awarded a First for this paper; I share this so you know it was considered academically sound.

Aggression in dogs is related to breed and therefore legislation needs to be breed specific. Discuss.

The above question asks for a discussion of legislation based on the presumption that there is an established link between dog breed and the expression of aggressive behaviour. Any conclusions predicated on this hypothesis will reach valid conclusions only if the presumption itself is valid, and that therefore will be the focus of this essay. As the question is too broad to be considered here as a whole, the evidence pertaining only to the most commonly cited breed will be fully examined. Consideration of alternatives breed-specific legislation and the relative merits of each will be considered when reaching a conclusion.

Dog bite related injuries and fatalities are a worldwide public health concern; in the USA alone it is estimated that over 4 million people a year are injured by dog bites (Langley, 2009). According to DEFRA in 2008/9 5,000 hospital admissions in England and Wales were as a result of dog bite related injuries and cost the National Health Service over £3million annually (Defra, 2011). However, the actual number of dog bite related fatalities is minimal, with an average of 15 p.a. in USA and 1 to 2 p.a. in Canada (Raghavan, 2008). Yet these minority incidents have received disproportionate media coverage, in response countries across the globe have been prompted to introduce dog legislation to tackle the perception of there being a problem with so-called ‘dangerous breeds’ (Svatberg, 2006).

Generally two types of legislation prevail: breed-specific legislation (BSL), which aims to ban, restrict or impose conditions of ownership of certain breeds that are perceived to pose the greatest risk (Patronek et al, 2010), and non-breed specific legislation which is aimed at promoting responsible pet ownership (Rosado et al, 2007). In the UK prohibited dogs are not determined by breed but by 'type', which allows for restricting variations of the following types: pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro (Defra, 2011). In BSL worldwide these breeds recur over and over again, but most common of all is the pit bull terrier. This essay will examine the efficacy of BSL in relation to the pit bull terrier.

The prevalence of the pit bull terrier type in BSL raises a complexity of issues, none more so than the fact that accurate breed identification is so problematic (Cornelissen et al, 2010). For example, in the USA the term 'pit bull' does not just mean the American Pit Bull Terrier but also includes all bull and terrier type breeds (Collier, 2006). Furthermore, the criteria to include them as 'fighting breeds' is no longer accurate because their contemporary, breed-typical behaviour is so different from their origins (Rosado et al, 2007).

Given the misrepresentation of the breed in dog bite statistics it draws into question the validity of studies by Sacks et al (1996) and Sacks et al (2000) that claimed to identify the pit bull as America's most dangerous dog (Collier, 2006). Sacks claimed that between 1979 and 1998 there were 238 dog bite related fatalities of which 66 were attributed to pit bull types, making them the highest breed responsible at 28% (Sacks et al, 2000). However, a 2002 examination of USA dog biting statistics found that between 1965-2001 actual pit bull types were only attributable to 6.7% dog bite related fatalities (Delise, 2002).

A study by Voith (2010) reinforces the potential inaccuracy of breed identification in bite statistics. Voith sought to assess the accuracy of breed identification by experienced animal shelter staff against DNA analysis. The study demonstrated that out of 20 dogs staff could not accurately identify dog breed mixes, with only a 25% correlation between visual identification and DNA. The paper concluded that BSL was not justified and warranted review.

A paper by Collier (2006) examining the efficacy of BSL in Australia revealed that over a 20 year period, of the 19 human fatalities resulting from dog bites none were attributable to the pit bull, yet in 1991 the Australian Dangerous Dog Act was introduced and outlawed the breed. To further reinforce the ineffectiveness of the legislation Collier looked at 547 reported non-fatal dog attacks between 2001-2003 and found that pit bulls were responsible for just 4% of attacks, whereas the category most responsible at 33% were cross-breeds. Collier concluded that Australian legislation had not acted against the breeds that most commonly bite, but rather sought to eliminate specific breeds from society.

Rosado et al (2007) drew a similar conclusion in the examination of the Spanish Dangerous Dog Act. The paper found that because prior to the introduction of BSL there were so few dog biting incidents attributable to dangerous breeds that there was little to reduce in the first instance, therefore, the legislation was fundamentally flawed. Moreover, the paper stated that the BSL in Spain had proven ineffective in reducing the number of dog attacks (fatal and non-fatal) and that it simply offered a false sense of security because by targeting only ‘dangerous breeds’ it sets up a problem of under inclusiveness. What the study actually found was that German Shepherd dogs were the most prolific biters but that they were also the most prevalent breed in the canine population. But as Duffy et al (2008) stated, “...the total number of dogs of a given breed in the local community is seldom known, so the degree to which that breed is over-represented among reported dog bites is usually undetermined.”

A study in Netherlands similarly found there was no justification for the inclusion of the pit bull in the country's BSL and, more significantly, that BSL had not reduced the number of dog bites in the country (Cornelissen et al, 2010). The researchers found that from a survey of 1078 respondents that there were 86 different breeds of dogs implicated in biting incidents, of which 764 dogs were of a specific breed, 212 mongrels and 102 unknown. The researchers stated, “We found that all dogs can bite...Removing the most common biters would also imply removing the most common breeds; for example, we found that the Jack Russell terrier was responsible for approximately 10% of bites...”. The pit bull was not cited as a common biter and this paper eventually contributed toward the repeal of the BSL in The Netherlands.

A paper by Patronek et al (2010) posed that there was no published evidence to substantiate the claims that BSL is a success at protecting the public, but that there was published evidence that demonstrates that BSL is not efficacious. As an example of the disparity between the perception of ‘dangerous dogs’ and the published evidence, the paper cited a German study that compared the behaviours of 415 dogs representing banned breeds with the behaviour of 70 Golden Retrievers. What the study found was that there were no significant differences between the two groups, which adds weight to Collier's (2006) belief that BSL has been based on a perception of risk rather than actual risk.

Klassen et al (1996) drew a similar conclusion about the UK Dangerous Dog Act. The paper stated that it was a failure because it had not reduced or prevented injury from dog bites and had failed to address the most implicated breeds. Instead they claimed that the legislation had singled out certain breeds without evidence to support the decision.

For Rosado et al (2007) the primary critique of BSL was its emphasis on inclusiveness that inevitably led to the assumption that all ‘dangerous breeds’ are aggressive. Both Klassen et al (1996) and Collier (2006) concur that greater emphasis should be placed on individual dogs rather than specific breeds. Cornelissen et al (2010) and Patronek et al (2010) posed that a dog's tendency to bite or show aggressive behaviour was dependent on a number of factors including: genetics/hereditary, early experience, socialisation and training, behavioural and medical health and victim's behaviour all play a role. Bradshaw (2011) placed particular significance on the effect that early experiences and early socialisation can have on a puppy between 3 and 11 weeks of age and how a deprivation in socialisation and/or negative experience(s) can imprint on and affect a dog for life.

Bites studies it seems are often responsible for justifying the formulation of BSL, yet the nature of the studies make them inherently flawed. This essay has already explored the essential problem of breed identification, but there are more areas for concern. Firstly, because most bites studies are based on retrospective data, obtaining accurate and reliable information about the attack is problematic (Cornelissen et al, 2010). In addition, bites from larger breeds are more likely to inflict more damage and therefore necessitate medical intervention. Therefore, bites by larger breeds are more likely to get reported than bites by smaller breeds (Shuler et al, 2008). Whilst BSL remains popular because, according to Patronek et al (2010), there is an 'erroneous belief in its efficacy', The Netherlands is not alone in having repealed BSL; Italy has also repealed their law.

The Dogo Argentine was considered a dangerous breed in Italian BSL. Diverio et al (2008) sought to investigate the prevalence of aggression in the breed and surveyed 22% of the registered breed population in Italy. The study found that predation towards small animals, inter-dog aggression and territorial aggressions were the most commonly reported behaviours. Perhaps of even greater significance the paper revealed the fact that the breed had never been recorded as having bitten a human in Italy. As a consequence, the researchers concluded that Italian legislation was of no utility in preventing Dogo Argentine bites to humans.

In 1966 Lorenz defined aggression in dogs as a single behavioural trait. Contemporary behaviourists now place importance on the context in which the aggressive behaviour has been exhibited because aggression in one situation is not necessarily likely to recur in other contexts (Serpell et al, 1995). Therefore, understanding the motivation behind the act of aggression is paramount in understanding how best to reduce injury and fatalities from dogs.

Lockwood (1995) explained that biting is a key characteristic of canine predatory behaviour. It can appear in a variety of contexts including defence of territory, be pain or fear elicited, protection of social pack members and so on. In the study by Diverio et al (2008) up to 15 different classifications for expression of aggressive behaviour could be found, which reinforces why it is so important to understand 'dog language' (Cornelissen et al, 2010). Although, Cornelissen et al (2010) believed that education alone was not enough and that owners needed to be made aware of the potential damage their dog can cause and be held responsible for their dog's behaviour. Sacks et al (2000) recommended educating owners to better understand breed profiles and the significance of sex and reproductive status in minimising risks of attacks as well as teaching the importance of socialising and training a dog. Whilst Collier (2006) stated, “...a more defensible and promising approach may be to declare dangerous individual dogs that have caused problems.”

It is this paper's belief that there exists a substantive lack of evidence to support breed specific legislation. This conclusion has been reached following the examination of the research undertaken in America, Australia, Canada, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands and the UK. Perhaps the most promising hope for a way forward in the UK comes in the guise of a coalition formed by twenty organisations, including the RSPCA. The coalition are calling for six key areas to be addressed:
consolidation of legislation, review of breed specific legislation, legislation that covers all places including private property, all dogs be permanently identified, better funding streams to improve 'policing' and improved education and engagement with dog owners.

Perhaps the most crucial element of all of this is that, “…legislation must focus on the owner’s actions or omissions rather than the type of dog” (Epetitions, 2011). Until such time that individual owners are sufficiently held accountable for the behaviour of their dogs there will be little headway made in the reduction of bite incidents. Victim behaviour undoubtedly plays a role too, as O'Sullivan et al (2008) state, 'many bite victims cannot recognise subtle warning signs shown in a dog's behaviour'. However, the responsibility for the canine population extends further: it is also the duty of law enforcers, breeders and animal welfare organisations to ensure that the canine population is understood, responsibly bred and suitably socialised, trained and controlled. BSL will never be an effective tool against dog bites, as it is too simplistic approach to a complex and ever evolving problem.

In sum, there is no evidence to suggest that aggression in dogs is breed specific. Research to date has been retrospective studies on hospital admission records for dog bites, i.e. records of bites that have required medical intervention. Therefore, this does not reveal the complete picture of just how prevalent dog bites are in any given community, or whether one breed is a more prolific biter than another, not to mention the questionable validity of the data in the first instance. Furthermore, there currently exist little, if any, evidence to justify BSL, as it has done little to prevent or reduce dog bite injuries in so many of the countries where it exists.

Bradshaw, J, (2011). In Defence of Dogs: Why dogs need our understanding. London: Allen Lane an imprint of Penguin Books Ltd.

Collier, S., (2006). 'Breed-specific legislation and the pit bull terrier: Are the laws justified?’ Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 1, 17-22.

Cornelissen, J.M.R., Hopster, H., (2010). 'Dog bites in The Netherlands: A study of victims, injuries, circumstances and aggressors to support evaluation of breed specific legislation.' The Veterinary Journal, 186, 292-298. accessed 26th November 2011

Delise, 2002, cited in Collier, S., (2006). 'Breed-specific legislation and the pit bull terrier: Are the laws justified?’ Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 1, 17-22.

Diverio, S., Tami, G., Barone, A., (2008). 'Prevalence of aggression and fear-related behavioural problems in a sample of Argentine Dogos in Italy'. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 3, 74-86.

Duffy, D.L., Hsu, Y., Serpell, J.A., (2008). 'Breed difference in canine aggression'. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 114, 441-460. accessed 27th November 2011 accessed 4th December 2011

Klassen, B., Buckley, J.R., Esmail, A., (1996). 'Does the Dangerous Dog Act protect against animal attacks: a prospective study of mammalian bites in the Accident and Emergency department.' Injury: International Journal of the Care of the Injured, 27, (2), 89-91.

Langley, R.L., (2009). 'Human fatalities resulting from dog attacks in the United States, 1979-2005'.Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 20, 19-25.

Lockwood, R., (1995). 'The ethology and epidemiology of canine aggression' in ed. Serpell, S. The Domestic Dog: its evolution, behaviour and interactions with people. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 131-138. accessed 27th November 2011
accessed 27th November 2011 accessed 27th November 2011

O'Sullivan, E.N., Jones, B.R., O'Sullivan, K., Hanlon, A.J, (2008). 'Characteristics of 234 dog bite incidents in Ireland during 2004 and 2005'. Veterinary Record, 163, 37-42.

Patronek, G.J., Slater, M., Marder, A., (2010). 'Use of a number-needed-to-ban calculation to illustrate limitations of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the risk of dog-bite related injury'. JAVMA, 237, (7), 788-792. accessed 18th November 2011

Sunday, 22 January 2012


I am so thrilled that this week is ending on such a tremendous high; it means we will all be starting the new week at RSPCA Manchester and Salford Branch with a spring in our step. It's all because of a wonderfully triumphant day for our dogs but 24 hours ago the outlook was very different indeed.

Perhaps the first triumph comes in the form of our beautiful SBT Sadie. I took a call the week before enquiring about dogs available for adoption. The lady described what she was looking for: we had the perfect dog. But as always it was with a tinge of trepidation that I raised the small matter of her breed. To the eternal credit of the caller her initial reticence took her on a journey of discovery and rather than listening to those prejudiced around her, she and her husband went and did their own investigations and came back hammering down our doors to come and meet her.

You see, what they learnt was the truth, i.e. that SBTs are one of the most loving, loyal and good natured dogs you could ever wish to meet. A trip to the cattery mid-week demonstrated how special Sadie is when naughty Rigby cat (who went to his new home yesterday) took a great big swipe at her through the bars of his pen door and she just sat there looking bewildered.

Sadie left our care at 10.30am this morning with a very excited new mum and dad. As I type this I am pretty confident that Sadie will be lounging on the sofa, snuggling up to her new parents and smiling whilst she enjoys a belly rub. What a lucky girl.

The second triumph comes in the form of one of our trustees, who found a home for a new admission - a chocolate Lab - within days of his arrival. Today he has been viewed, reserved and had his home visit done! So, once he has been neutered and completed his assessment period he will be going to his new home. Let me tell you, this dog is smashing and truly deserves the life of luxury and love that he is about to receive.

The third, and perhaps our most exciting triumph, is Oscar dog (pictured above). Oscar came into our care in a distressing state last November. He was underweight and was scarred and lumpy as a result of the years of beatings he had endured. We spent a month rehabilitating him before we proudly put him up for a adoption. Despite his handsome good looks and charming personality there was not a single enquiry about him in two months, until this week.......

In fact, I was so excited after taking the initial call that I text all the staff and Sunday dog walking team to tell them all about it. The caller was excited as I was: she hadn't slept all night after finding him the previous evening on our website and I was so excited because she was offering the perfect home for him.

I then waited with baited to breath to hear back from the caller to make an appointment to come see him. Thankfully I didn't wait long at all and we talked some more and made arrangements there and then on the phone to deliver Oscar to them if they fell in love with him!

So, at 12 noon today, those of us who weren't in work sat by our phones eagerly awaiting the arrival of Oscar's potential new mum and dad and the outcome of the viewing. An agonising 75 minutes passed and then the phone rang: it was love! I can't begin to explain how much this means to us all but needless to say we are all so thrilled.

On Wednesday Debs and Catherine will take Oscar up to his new home in Cumbria (primarily because he gets quite travel sick and it's easier to clean up our animal van than it is a car). It also means that we get to have the pleasure of seeing where Oscar will live out a life of happiness, which will include daily two hour walks in a National Trust forest (that's out the back door of his new home!). I am so truly grateful for this miracle and to his new mum and dad for offering everything we could wish for and more for Oscar. We know they will give him all the love, support and training that he needs. He may have been with us three months but it was well worth waiting for.

I mustn't also forget to mention that Lola the bulldog is going to her new home this Wednesday - oh do we love that funny girl! And we already have a new girl lined up to come in who is a beautiful rotti. She is currently in emergency boarding so it will be great to get her in our care.

For those of you who don't know we don't have our own kennels and instead pay to board our dogs in a private facility. We used to spend four days a week on site but this week we've begun trialling a 5th day. It means that the dogs can enjoy even more attention and stimulation and hopefully it will improve their welfare too.

I'll be regularly joining in on the 5th day at the dogs, and although it will mean playing 'catch up' on my workload at home I know it will be worth it. I already spend every Tuesday morning with the rabbits and I can tell you the benefits far out-way the loss of an evening or two a week. There is just nothing better than actually spending time with the animals and I'm sure they benefit so much too.

We've also had a tremendous week on cat rehomings, so much so that the cats and kittens are coming in and out faster than we can get them listed on the website for adoption! It has been really fast paced of late and whilst the workload has mounted up, it isn't half a good feeling to be able to say 'yes' to requests from our rescuing and treating RSPCA staff.

But I cannot end without talking about the sadness we have encountered this week. Again, it is the all too familiar tale of rabbit neglect. This week two beautiful bunnies died. They were Little Bob and the magnificent Hilda. Both were tragic losses. Bob's was certainly as a result of the awful neglect we speculate he had endured. I say speculate because all we know was that he was abandoned and he had the worst overgrown claws the inspector had ever seen. My hunch is that he was thrown out after having spent months, if not years, being ignored. Hilda's, however, was a simple operating theatre loss, which is only the second time in four years that this has happened and out of well over 200 rabbits. Whilst so rare, it is no less gutting.

But what really tipped the balance this week was the arrival of our new bunny lady yesterday. I am not willing nor able to share the details,but perhaps if I tell you that she brought tears to the eyes of one of my most experienced staff member that might give you a measure of just how sickening her state of neglect was. Maybe one day I will share her story. In the meantime I take solace knowing that this little soul, who we have name Twiggy (yes, black humour is essential at all times!) is safe with us now and we will do all we can to rehabilitate her and rehome her just like Oscar.

I just wish there was a greater sense of equality amongst people's perceptions towards differing species. If ever you were in doubt about the individuality of small furries like rabbits, rats and guinea pigs then you need to spend time at my house; you'd soon change your mind!

You can see some of our animals available for adoption at

Sunday, 15 January 2012

You don't often hear about the lengths RSPCA staff go to to rescue and rehome animals. I think this is partly because the staff take it in their stride that this is simply what they do. I think it is also partly because good news doesn't have the same newspaper appeal as a bad news story. And I think it is also about modesty. This week I have seen, heard and even participated in what I would describe as 'going above and beyond' and I wanted to share with you some myth-busting acts that have taken place over the last 7 days that I know about.

The first to astonish me was the dedication of an Animal Welfare Officer friend of mine located in the South Yorkshire region. She'd had a run on rescuing ferrets and had run out of places locally to put any more. So, she casually told me that (once she had nursed him better in her own home)she would be taking a trip up to Hull to make sure a ferret had the chance to find a forever home.

The same Officer was actually ringing me to see if we had any rabbit space. She and some of her colleagues had a number of rabbits they had been taking care of in their own homes (one for two months) after rescuing from various incidents/investigations. When I agreed to take all four she went rounding up all the rabbits she and her colleagues had rescued and drove them all the way to us in Manchester. (Only for three more to require assistance later that day. No doubt they went home with her.)

Unknowingly I performed a similar act this week when an adopter rang to say her timid cat was getting the better of her when it came to getting her in the carrier for a vet trip. Without a thought I offered to go round to help at 8am one morning (setting off at 7.30am). I didn't think twice about this but it was later pointed out to me that this was an example of how RSPCA staff regularly go above and beyond for the animals. (Poppy cat made it safely to the vets, and on time, but she was a tricky 'customer'!)

But perhaps the most remarkable act this week happened yesterday. I hope it gets media coverage because it truly is incredible. It involved a Jack Russell getting stuck up a tree. Well, actually, getting stuck up inside the tree! Our intrepid Inspector Heaton spent five hours chiseling away at a knot hole in a tree where the dog had got stuck inside. Firefighters were on hand assisting too, but it was Inspector Heaton and the owner that spent a total of five freezing hours outside with gritted determination to free the overly inquisitive pooch.

The reason why Inspector Heaton shared the story with me was because it was a tool that our branch had purchased for his inspectorate group that had helped finally free the dog and reunite him with a very grateful owner. Now, of course, it's not the branch connection I'm highlighting here but the extent to which the amazing staff of the RSPCA go to to aid animals. And do you know what? This is not a one off, or an occasional thing, but a daily occurrence; it's just that we don't get to hear about them as much as we should because the staff just take it in their stride that it's just what they do.

Well, I think all the officers and inspectors are amazing and I cannot applaud them enough for getting up each and every day and doing what they do. But they are not the only ones who are fantastic. This week my team have been even bigger troopers than usual as we've had to cope with being one down and lots of new admissions.

I am so lucky to be surrounded by such hard working and dedicated people. Freezing my toes off on a very cold Sunday morning with the Sunday dog team today only served to highlight how lucky me and the animals are to be part of something so special. Team M&S - you are the best!

Above is a picture of Holly mummy and her kittens - I know it has nothing to do with the rest of the blog but we all love a coo at kitties! Two have already been snapped and we have two boys remaining who would like to be rehomed together.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A right good spit wash!

Well, it may be a slow first week back for most of the country but for us it's been full speed ahead. What a busy week! I think I've been at the vets every day this week and next week is looking no different.

We have a very poorly Samantha bunny and Cain cat, I've actually lost count of how many new cats we've admitted, we have an adorable new kitty too who was found stray on New Year's Day (pictured above) and let's not forget Lola the bulldog - that face could sink a thousand ships (see above).

Going to their new homes have been Huey, Kanga and Roo buns as well as Maisy and Florence kits. There is still little interest in our dogs despite Oscar being an amazing boy and Sadie being so loving and Brandy being very funny indeed! I know it's just the time of the year but all the while the dogs are stuck in kennels. The only saving grace is that the weather has been so mild. I always dread winter in the kennels, but so far we've been lucky weather-wise and I really hope it stays that way for their sake.

Next week sees the arrival of 4 more rabbits from the Yorkshire region. The area is desperately struggling with rabbits and ferrets and whilst we can't help with the latter we are doing all we can to help with the buns. That's going to be at least 15 we've taken from the region recently. Neutering and a ban on selling them in pet shops would solve the problem so easily, but that is just a mere pipe dream.

And I'm delighted to report that Kato cat has finally been reserved (as has newbie Jessica). So, it's just our adorably naughty Timmy that we need to find a home for, as he will be our longest waiting cat then.

Timmy is without doubt my kind of cat. Very high spirited, full of playfulness and bursting with mischief. He may be an adult cat but he is every bit the kitten, which I'm guessing is the reason why he's not been snapped up. Well, teeth and claw play does tend to be a bit off putting in an older cat, but I love it! I'm just surprised his stunning good looks haven't won someone over yet.

My favourite image of the week is undoubtedly that of our former charges Murray and Mitzie (pictured together above). I just love the fact that Murray has Mitzie in a head-lock whilst he's giving her a right good 'spit wash'. It puts me in mind of the people who you hear saying 'animals are boring' or that they 'don't like them'. Well, stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

Which reminds of right good laugh I had this week. It was due to the comments section of an article on the Daily Mail website. The article was a peculiar one: about a cross-eyed woman who had lied to an animal sanctuary in order to be seen to be meeting the criteria to adopt a puppy. I truly do not understand why this merited printing, however, the 'entertainment factor' was supplied in abundance in the comments section.

The section was filled with the usual diatribe about how awful the various leading animal charities are but then some of the postings went off on a tangent about how dirty and horrible dogs are. They got more and more ridiculous but the best one of all was from someone who suggested we should round up all the stray dogs and ship them over to North Korea because they will 'put them to good use'. (And the tone really did suggest that they meant it.) At this juncture I was howling with laughter at just how ridiculous some people are but then you soon find yourself confronted with it in 'real life' by the multitude of calls we take that defy belief.

These most typically arise in the form tea-time calls about a pet that has been sick all day or for several days in a row. The emphasis being on tea-time here, when the vets are shut yet their animal has been suffering for hours or days or even weeks prior. I promise you this has become a regular occurrence every Friday, without fail. They usually start around 3.30pm onwards, so this time-slot along with Monday mornings have become my loathing periods.

But I think what really hit home for me this week was when I was at a primary school talking to different classes about the work we do. I had taken along a display of the 9 animals up for 'Best Rescue' (the voting has been extended due to our website being down, such a nuisance). The children wanted to hear all the stories, to which I did my best to sanitise/pare down, and they all rather brilliantly punctuated the tales with great sound effects. But it was actually the teachers' comments afterwards that really struck a chord: 'I've learnt so much' and 'I didn't know that you did all this' and 'that was really interesting'. It made me wonder what more we can do to share with a greater audience just exactly what we do. But then I got back to the office and discovered that perhaps we are beginning to find these ways already.........

This week I have had email contact with a lovely lady called Claire, who was keen on adopting one of our cats. She told me that she had come across our Facebook and blog and after reading about what we do she said she will be supporting us more in the future. That really made me smile because someone had taken the time to read between the headlines (so to speak) and learn for themselves what we really do. Claire's comment were exactly what I needed for a pick-me-up and I'm truly thankful to her.

Here's to another challenging week ahead and more space juggling!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Annual Review of 2011


Contemplating the last 12 months is a daunting prospect. It has been another incredibly busy year and a major event was the opening of our 3rd charity shop in Didsbury. The shop is set to raise an annual profit of £10-15k, which will pay the annual boarding costs for our dogs. We’ve received fantastic local support for the shop and we really hope that this will continue throughout 2012.

On the animal front we have had a number of ‘babies’ come into our care and successfully hand-reared. This has been done by just two foster homes and there have been puppies and kittens and no shortage of cute pictures! But the dedication afforded by these foster homes is just priceless. Few people realise that it involves round the clock care for weeks on end and it really takes a very special person who can do this. We never take for granted how simply amazing and committed they are and we thank them for giving the gift of life to so many babies.

One of the remarkable aspects of 2011 is just how much we have taken off in social media terms. We now have an army of followers to our Twitter, Facebook and blog site and these wonderful people come to our rescue each time we place an appeal: whether that be for food, cattery enrichment, Xmas toy appeal or shop donations. We feel blessed and honoured to have such a devoted cyber clan!

But perhaps the greatest highlight of all has to be some of the more remarkable animals that have come into our care and been successfully rehabilitated and rehomed. Our Rescue Animal of the Year awards highlights some of these incredible animals:

And you can read more about others we have helped at:

You really cannot better that sense of achievement that you get when an animal battles against the odds to overcome its former experiences and move on to a new forever home.


273 Animals Taken in

Cats = 208 (2010 = 181)

Dogs = 45 (2010 = 62)

Rabbits = 19 (2010 = 88)

Misc = 1

275 Animals Rehomed

Cats = 195 (2010 = 165)

Dogs = 37 (2010= 50)

Rabbits = 39 (2010 = 40)

Misc = 4

300 Pre-Adoption Home Visits

274 Animals Attended Free Pet Health Clinics

217 Owned Animals Received Low Cost Microchipping


To fully appreciate the ‘highs’ it seems inevitable that we need to experience the ‘lows’, and there has been plenty to challenge our faith and commitment during 2011. There have been some truly severe cases of cruelty and neglect, which are all the more worsened when we cannot overturn the problems and have to face euthanasia. The images above are of some the brave animals we tried to help during 2011.

In total during 2011 we have loved and lost 28 animals. This amounts to nearly 10% of the animals that we have taken in during 2011. We do not put animals to sleep because they don’t find homes, but because we cannot help them any further than we have tried. These animals have been the victims of a society that treats companion animals just like any other commodity, and sometimes we have to accept that we cannot undo the harm/neglect that has been caused to them; although we rarely give up without a damn good fight. Losing an animal is the hardest aspect of our work and one that never, ever gets any easier. Tears are shed quite frequently but there is only one reason why we keep coming back for more.

Loosing accommodation spaces this year was something else we had to face up to, as the finances were pinched to their limit. The biggest expenditure after staff wages is boarding fees. As many of you know we do not have an animal centre and only have one f/t and one p/t animal staff plus the Branch Manager (who spreads herself wherever needed in the charity). This isn’t extravagant by any means and we just about get by (though we loathe it when one of us is on leave).

Cutting boarding spaces was the only obvious option to save more money and it means that we can now only afford: 4 kennels, 15 rabbits spaces and 11 cattery pens. We do make use of foster homes but this can create additional logistical and financial burdens so we do have to be careful not to over-fill.

We are coping, but with new systems in place at Regional HQ to allocate spaces to inspector rescued animals we may feel the pressure more next year.


The branch will continue to prioritise the rehabilitation and rehoming of the animals the RSPCA inspectorate rescue. We are determined to ensure we maintain the level of service we are currently operating on and to make sure we help as many animals that we can.

But less choice unfortunately seems to mean less interest and this is certainly reflected in the rehoming stats for dogs in 2011. It stands to reason that if you have fewer animals to choose from, you attract less attention. But, believe it or not, we have not had a great demand from the inspectorate during 2011 for our dog spaces so loosing 4 did not prove to be so disastrous after all. But, as always, it is cats that are so over-populated and put the greatest of strain on our resources.

As a means to try and address this we are going invest £1k to trial a pilot scheme in Gorton to target female cat neutering prior to spring-time. Believe it or not this sum will only neuter 30 cats but that could prevent on average a further 150 cats being born in one season in just this one area.

If we can source further funding we will seek to repeat the scheme in other areas, which will also include free microchipping and even free transportation to the vets where required (such is the reluctance of some owners).

As the national RSPCA embarks on another year of rabbit welfare campaigning we will be right at the heart of supporting this.

As many of you know the bobtailed-ones are a big passion of the branch, so we are set to return with our ever popular Rabbit & Guinea Pig Roadshow around Easter time. We will also participate in ‘Rabbit Awareness Week’ in September and of course continue to champion the bunnies throughout the year with the highest of rehoming standards.

Partnership working with Salford Dog Wardens is our final goal for 2012. We have struck up a great relationship with them and they were instrumental in delivering our annual Xmas pet clinic in Eccles in 2011.

We will aim to target other areas in Salford with free vet clinics, free microchipping and free dog neutering vouchers (the latter courtesy of the dog warden). Of course this will be dependent on finances, but we will kick off the year with an event in Little Hulton for Valentine’s Day. Well, our pets are much loved too and what better way to show them?


Certainly at the top of the list is funding for cat neutering projects. A close second is to open another charity shop to help us generate more sustainable income. A third wish would be for stability in the animal staff team, as we have been somewhat plagued with illnesses and line-up changes during 2011.

But the really big wishes would be a Branch Administrator, a Community Fundraiser and an Area Shops Co-ordinator. Pie in the sky? Well, maybe just a touch, but it’s good to have ambitions for the future.

So, for now, we’ll stick with simply rehoming lots and lots more animals please and to say a massive thank you to our incredible team of volunteers, staff and supporters who keep us going so brilliantly. Happy New Year to you all!