Saturday, 24 March 2012

Morally wrong doesn't necessarily mean it's a criminal offence

This week I was afforded the rare opportunity to see what the RSPCA inspectors/animal welfare officers see on a daily basis. It was only one visit, but it was enough to disturb me to the core. (I have to be suitably evasive about elaborating on this but I'll do my best to illustrate further.)

People generally say one of two things to me: 'I couldn't do your job' or 'I would love to do your job'. The latter always sparks a silent response of 'no you wouldn't'. I think it but never say it because, well, it sounds rude! But truly, seeing the many neglected animals come in, the heartache of loosing some and the turbulent time we have each and every day is mind-boggling sometimes. But it is honestly a privilege to help the most needy animals in society and it's a privilege to be part of a team that shares the same vision, passion and commitment.

But no-one, and I mean no-one, can possibly imagine what the RSPCA inspectors/officers contend with on a daily basis. Many tell me they encounter a lot of verbal abuse, which is just so demoralising and narrow-minded because they are all just trying to do the best they can with limited resources. Similarly, they rarely get the credit they deserve and so often get side-lined or overlooked altogether.

A classic example of this was a couple of weeks ago when an inspector rescued a horse from a canal. The inspector spent hours alongside the horse and owner to ensure their safety throughout. The inspector was instrumental in securing the successful outcome, yet it was the fire service that got all the glory in the local newspapers, despite the inspector having notified the papers of the story in the first instance!

Of course no-ones does this work for 'the glory' but a bit of appreciation really does go a long way, of which we at the branch probably see more of than most. We are very lucky to receive updates from many of the adopters on how our old friends are getting along and this makes the world of difference to our motivation levels. But I was faced with the harsh realities of an inspector's thankless job this week when I visited a property (upon request/with permission).

I came away disturbed and was later described as looking ashen; it was clear for all to see I had been shocked to the core. To be honest what I saw was probably 'good' compared to the many dire and distressing sights of abuse and neglect that is witnessed, but this was one of my first tastes of seeing a neglected animal in-situ and it left me reeling and preoccupied for days.

I couldn't remove from my mind the conditions the animal had been forced to live in for several years. It was true that the animal 'didn't know any better' but I did, even if the owner didn't. I smelt so badly after handling the animal that it stayed with me until I could get changed.

I know in principle that the neglect was not so dire that it warranted either prosecution and/or instant removal; what it was was sheer ignorance. Explaining to the owner that the conditions were unacceptable was like talking to a brick wall; they really had no conceivable idea that it was just morally wrong to keep an animal in this way, though as I say, not necessarily amounting to a criminal offence (in the eyes of the law).

I knew we couldn't take the animal in at the time and would have to leave them there until we had space. I had to fight so hard against the urge to take the animal in there and then, but where on earth would I put the animal when each and every foster home and pen was full? Over the following hours I experienced a range of emotions that ranged from anger to guilt to utter sadness. Ultimately I was left feeling very grateful that we have such amazing men and women who do this on a daily basis with such guts and dedication and grateful that I only have to contend with our side of the bargain - rehabilitation and rehoming.

I'm sure that after a few years of being an inspector you become accustomed to seeing the sights that they do, but I'm also sure that some cases can never escape your mind; they just dissipate in time. The next time an animal comes into our care with the physically evident signs of neglect I know it will act as a reminder of this week's experience.

I can't imagine ever being in a world that is free from animal cruelty, moreover, I don't ever want to imagine our country without the RSPCA. The glimpse of the inspectors/officers work made me humble, appreciative and very despondent indeed.

Pictured above is Max. He is a new admission whose story is quite similar to the one I allude to in this blog.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Happy Mother's Day

At RSPCA Manchester and Salford Branch we have been reassuringly rushed off our feet this week with a whole host of new admissions on the cat and dog front. It's reassuring because it means we are making a difference -the whole reason why we do this work - but as I've spent the day reflecting on the week and pondering what to share with you, one aspect stood out loud and proud; the role of our foster parents. So, today's blog is an unconventional Mother's Day celebration.

Last weekend our heroic Humphrey cat (who had his life saved by our supporters raising money for an op) went to his new home. It was all a bit of a whirlwind and happened within a matter of hours of his new owners getting in touch. They are former adopters or ours who contacted us as soon as they saw Humphrey was up for adoption. Within the day Humphrey, now Opie, was settled into his new home, which whilst a wonderful success story it doesn't reveal the heartache that lies behind it.

My Animal Welfare Co-ordinator Catherine was Humphrey's foster mum throughout his surgery and recovery. She had the agony of worrying whether we could raise the funds, if he would pull through the op, if the op would be a success and if he would ever be rehomable. Catherine, just like all my other foster parents, takes great pride in caring for her charges and along with that is a very apparent dedication and commitment and inevitable attachment.

Humphrey was probably with Catherine for two months in all, which means the little furry man had the chance to well and truly get under her skin with his cheeky antics and love of sitting on the side of the bath as she bathed, and jumping in as it drained!

When you become a foster parent you start out with good intentions. You tell yourself: I won't keep them, I won't get attached to them, I won't get upset when they leave. But I don't know a single foster parent, myself included, who hasn't failed on at least one or more of those counts. So, when Humphrey went to his new home Catherine found it incredibly hard. Catherine shared that she had broken down in tears a couple of times during the first 24 hours of his departure, such was her fondness for him. But, thoughtful photo updates from his new mum and dad really helped her to come to terms with her loss, along with the knowledge that Humphrey was living with another of Catherine's foster furries, little Maisy the minx.

The story of Stevie, the JRT pup who had been in an RTA, illustrates another side to fostering that few people know about. When Stevie arrived at the RSPCA vets few held out any hope he would make it through the night. He was witnessed in an RTA, an inspector collected him but the owner never came forward - though not unsurprisingly as it seems he had had his tail illegally docked.

After a week in the vets his brain swelling had subsided and he had gone from full body shaking to just a mild tremble. Stevie (as in Shakin Stevens) was released into our foster care for two weeks to monitor his progress.

This means that I had to ask my foster parents Sue and Simon to look after a little man without any guarantee of a happy outcome. Now this is something we rarely do to volunteers because we know first hand how potentially distressing this could be. But we were all really hopeful about Stevie's future and Sue and Simon are not easily phased.

Two weeks later not only had Stevie's tremor reduced to nothing more than a barely noticeable, and occasiona, shake, but he had found himself a potential adopter with a client of Simon's (he is a canine hydrotherapist).

Stevie got the all clear from the vets on Tuesday this week and that happy ever after was afforded - though not without all four of Sue and Simon's dogs getting kennel cough from Stevie, who came down with it within 24 hours of arriving at their home. Now there's gratitude for you! Sue and Simon refused to let us pay for treatment for their dogs, which I found incredibly humbling. Thank you.

Blaze, now renamed Arthur by his foster family, arrived on Wednesday. He was signed over because his owners were unable to care for him sufficiently. He came from Rotherham in South Yorkshire and was completely unphased by his journey, subsequent handover to me, then to the vets for vaccination and then on to his foster home. This 4 month old pup was simply trusting, loving and incredibly good natured and his foster family were instantly taken by him. We then had to burst the bubble that he had received little, if any, training and had a plethora of undesirable behaviours they had to work on including house training, corprophagia, destruction and separation anxiety.

Now let me tell you, if that was me I'd run a mile (ok I'd get a taxi), but truly, that sounds like a nightmare to me. So, having foster families that just shrug it off and get on with it are just awe-inspiring to me. I don't like asking people to do things I can't/won't do, but having such wonderful volunteers who willingly do this is just amazing. I think they are very special people indeed and I really mean it when I say I am in awe of them.

Grace the bunny arrived last week from Yorkshire. She was rescued from a home of 40 rabbits and arrived with nasal discharge, something that causes great worry due to the possibility of Pasturella. On this occasion, because the discharge was confined to one nasal passage it was thought/hoped it was an irritant like a piece of grass stuck up her nose. After a week of antibiotics she was much better but then four days later it was bad again and the worry was a tumour.

Grace was anaesthetised and had a scope put up her nostrils and then subsequently xrayed - they both revealed nothing so infection was the likely answer. Grace's treatment is 3 months of injectable anti-biotics, which meant only one thing - she was coming home with me, as I'm the only available foster carer with the experience to manage her care, plus, like Sue and Simon, if my own catch it I'll just get on and deal with it.

Grace has been home 4 days now and I've already started singing to her, which is a sure sign I'm smitten already. I already know that parting with her in three months time is going to be hard. (And yes, I really do sing to my animals. Worst of all, and much to the chagrin of my husband, I make up songs for them. There, I have confessed!)

Lily and Weeto - well what an incredible amount of stress they heaped on their foster mum Mel this week. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to swap shoes with her. Lily was thought to be heavily pregnant and came from an owner who was banned from keeping animals for 3 years but had ignored her sentence. Lily is barely 8 months old, still a kitten herself, and so we were all worried how she was going to manage being a mum.

The day before she gave birth Mel reckoned Lily either had just one kitten in her or was about a week off giving birth. But then 2am in the morning she started in labour. She was desperately clingy with Mel, clearly worried about what was happening, and by 5.30am was shrieking the house down! Mel and her 13 year old daughter watched Lily give birth and contend with the 'clean up'. Lily's instincts kicked in, but only to a point, as she struggle to know what to do with the umbilical chord and the kitten. What then ensued was 10 hours of extreme worry for Mel, as she watched helplessly as Lily and kitten didn't know what to do with one another.

Now let me tell you, that level of worry is all consuming. It goes straight to your gut, confuses normal functioning and simply takes over you. By the afternoon kitten still hadn't successfully latched on for milk so Mel kindly took them both to the vets where I met them all. And what happened? Yep, you guessed it! Kitten started suckling on the journey and didn't come up for air from then on. They both got checked out by the vet and 3 days on are still doing well thanks to Mel's diligence, attention and care.

Trudy and her 5 kits - came to us via the Wigan branch who had no space for a heavily pregnant abandoned cat. Trudy proved to be a great mum following the birth and the kittens were thriving, but on day 9 their foster mum Anne rang to say she had a really strong hunch that something was 'up'. Now Anne is one of the most experienced mum+kits foster carers in the world, so if she thinks there's somet up then she's right.

Anne described how for the last two days she'd had to help mum with toileting the kittens and the kittens' poo was a different colour and now they felt overly warm. A trip to the vet revealed that mum had ulcers in her mouth and a raised temperature (the kits ahd the latter too); they all had a virus. Had it not been for Anne's experience we may have lost one or two of the kittens before the symptoms became obvious. Having Anne's skills and experience is so reassuring and such a privilege. Anne really is worth her weight in gold and I am so lucky to have her.

Mouse, Cosmo, Otto and Novo - are part of the last foster parent story I'll share (yes, there are even more this week!). For those of you who don't know they have been the stars of another blog since their rescue at the end of January from a garden centre fire. Our Hannah and Dave have been fostering them and on Friday it was time to part with them and take them up to the private boarding place we use for our small furries.

Hannah originally fostered Mouse because she had a horribly infected ear (a bite wound from living with other pregnant pigs and one unneutered boar). The ear could not be treated with antibiotics because she was pregnant so the best thing was for her to be kept indoors and closely monitored.

As time went on Mouse developed a fan club via her blog and Hannah became inspired to run the Liverpool Half Marathon to raise money for the fire-rescued animals. Today, Hannah completed that run (pictured right) along with her friend Jan (pictured left), and between them they raised over £500. So, this weekend, not only has Hannah had what me and Sue call the 'gulp' moment, in handing over her foster pigs, but she's had the wretched ordeal of running 13 miles (after weeks of intensive training). Oh yes, that makes her pretty special indeed.

But all my foster parents are special. They all knowingly devote themselves to an emotional ride each and every time they foster an animal. Tears are guaranteed with each new charge, but so is that dizzying sense of hope and the ultimate pleasure you get from watching your furry friend blossom.

My foster parents are simply brilliant people. Each and every one of them mean the world to me and I value their friendship and fostering skills in equal measures. Team M&S rocks because I have 'rocks' for volunteers and I will never take for granted what an enormous role they play in giving hope to so many rescued animals.

If you fancy fostering then we are currently looking for people who can foster queen and kits - you must be available during the day (i.e. work part-time hours only), have a separate room in your home that the foster animals can reside in, live in our catchment area and be able to commit to 3 month stints at a time. We are also looking for adult dog foster carers who are at home during the day, have a lot of experience with dogs and do not have other dogs. You can read more about fostering at:

Sunday, 11 March 2012

A weighty week

It has been another great week for animal adoptions. We've had lots of reserves and home visits and 4 bunnies alone have gone to new homes this weekend - so the mood is most definitely buoyant.

But the week, for me, has felt longer than usual and probably because we have tried to help 4 animals that have been left to suffer for too long and whatever we tried to do was just too little too late. There are another 2 more new animal's futures that remain uncertain at this time and no doubt next week will reveal the next step, which I can't say I'm holding much hope for.

Failing to help a rescued animal recover and find a new home feels exactly like that - a failure - but a while ago I came to the realisation that it is not me/our branch that has failed that animal but the person to whom the animal once 'belonged' to. It is this shift in thinking that essentially allowed me to keep doing this job and supporting the staff and volunteers around me when we hit such turbulent times.

I will not take responsibility for what has happened to an animal prior to coming into our care. Belief in this declaration is all important to whether you sink or swim emotionally because euthanasia is never anything less than distressing, while at other times gut wrenchingly awful. But for me what is most important is the welfare of the animal and for this reason I perceive euthanasia as a welfare option because it means we can alleviate suffering. It is with this thought uppermost in mind that I have found a strong theme prevailing on the phone lines this week.

Amongst the calls we get to the office we get a lot of requests for 'advice'. This can take the shape of anything ranging from what type of pet to get, how to care for a pet, how to rehome a pet and veterinary care (although we let people know we aren't vets). All in all it often amounts to people seeking reassurance or simple guidance that their original hunch was right. But this week, more so than any other week, has seen an influx of calls, both personal and professional, that have required a good listener, compassion and support - in other words, counselling support.

I have been struck by the range and depth of distressing scenarios some people have had to contend with this week. One in particular still haunts me. But with it being an anonymous method of getting a second opinion I feel compelled not to share details of any of the calls. So, why am I sharing this with you? I suppose in the first instance I just wanted to highlight the diversity of roles we have to undertake in our work - in fact one caller even acknowledged and thanked me for the 'counselling' service I had offered him during our 25 minute-long call. (But I'm fortunate in that I spent may years in an advisory capacity in my previous career, so I feel confident in my skills and abilities.) But I guess what is so striking for me is how much I value the fact that people feel able to call up and ask for help.

I'm not talking about animal care advice or veterinary advice (to which people are always told we are not vets) but I'm talking about life changing decisions for both the individual and their animals. It is a privilege to be perceived as having an opinion worthy of seeking and it is an even greater privilege to have someone share their intimate troubles with you. It is a role I take with the greatest of responsibility, but one that can be so troubling at times. I really hope that the people I have spoken to this week have managed to make choices that are right for them and their situation and I want them to know how much I valued their faith in us.

So, as you can probably tell it has been a 'weighty' week and one that I suspect is set to spill over into next week. But what a privilege it is to be in this line of work - to be able to help both animals and humans alike. Whilst morale is so very often low because of the lack of recognition, or indeed 'bashing' the RSPCA gets, amongst us, as colleagues, we know we are making a difference and that's what spurns us on.

The above images represent highlights of the week:

Petina guinea pig and her baby rescued from a Garden Centre fire have been reserved and this marks the start of us being able to find these survivors new homes.

Jinny and Jerome bunnies that were rescued from poor conditions have really started to come out of themselves and are proving to be such delightful, cheeky pair - progress that makes my heart sing.

Tucker-Tuck-Tuck bunny is the last long-stay animal that we have in our care. He has been up for adoption since September 2011 but he has actually been with us since September 2010 when he became a 'case animal' and his owner was finally successfully prosecuted in August 2010. Tucker is one of our favourite bunnies and we really hope he will find his forever home very soon.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Values and Core Beliefs

This past week has decidedly been business as usual at RSPCA Manchester and Salford Branch with the startling mix of excitement, euphoria and the absolute pits. A common theme that has repeatedly reared itself is that of 'core beliefs' and 'values'.

For some months now myself and Hannah I have been keeping a log of some of the more baffling calls and emails that we receive to the office. The original idea was that we were going to share them on the blog, but when the crunch came last week we both agreed they were just too shocking and distressing to share. Hannah was frustrated because she wanted everyone to be able to see for themselves what kind of things we routinely cope with, but it was just impossible to sanitise them for wider consumption. Things like leaving animals with struggling with giving birth, broken legs, open wounds and dying for days on end are regular occurrences and always, always at 3.30pm on a Friday afternoon.

We've recently been promoting free female cat neutering in East Manchester. Purely out of interest I've been logging the ages of the cats in receipt of our help and so far the oldest has been 4 years old. All the cats so far have had at least one litter and makes me wonder how many more they would have had if we weren't running the scheme.

When we did free microchipping in the area in January and I had my eyes opened to the fact that many people don't see a need to routinely neuter male cats. For me it has always seemed really irresponsible to allow any unneutered male or female cat out of the house, but my viewpoint proved to be very much in the minority on this occasion.

I actually really appreciate and enjoy having my eyes opened in this way and helps me to rethink our approaches and ideas for promoting animal welfare. Currently we are working through ways in which to affordably promote sustainable improvements to animal welfare in East Manchester. But the reality that I'm facing up to is that we are too limited both in terms of finances and staffing but that doesn't mean we'll give up. What I want to do in the first instance is try to understand what is needed the most. The problem is how to engage with a community to find this out when the notion of animal welfare comprises of a different set of values and priorities and the RSPCA is regarded with suspicion. Free neutering surely has to be one way forward but when only four people reply out of a 500 leaflet drop for free cat neutering it's hard to know where to go next.

Yesterday we held a free pet health clinic in Little Hulton where people were able to get free vet checks, microchipping and flea treatment. It's an area we try to visit annually and I'm delighted to say the turn out was tremendous and the team worked so hard and in total we microchipped 111 animals for free and health checked 91 animals with just one vet and in just 4 hours. Our friends, the Salford Dog Wardens and the local Park Ranger, were instrumental in making it such a success by going all out to promote it and I am ever so grateful to them.

There were two things that really struck me about the clinic yesterday: the wealth of kindness and support we received for the event and the identification of some serious health complaints. The latter is obvious because that always fills us with reassurance that we've really served a purpose in being there but receiving praise is just as uplifting, if not more so.

Now I know this sounds bizarre, but we rarely receive the kind of thanks and praise we got yesterday. Even though people were having to wait for so long to be seen, no tempers frayed and people actually made a point of saying what a good job we were doing. And, quite rarely we actually received some donations too.

Of course all of this is only a small part of what has been another hectic week, as we've had more new bunny arrivals (this time from a rescue of 40 in Newcastle), we've had lots of new cat admissions, the arrival of more baby guinea pigs and the admission of cutie-pie JRT pup Stevie.

Katie cat has to have been the luckiest animal of the week. She arrived Thursday morning, was reserved that afternoon and was in her new home by Saturday morning - very lucky girl indeed! And Stevie pup? He was in an RTA and seems to have taken the brunt of the collision to his skull. He has an uncertain future at the moment but both he and his foster parents are being very courageous and resilient, so let's hope he makes it through.

But the highlight of all of it? Our celebration night out for Brandy's adoption! It's not very often that an animal rehoming charity can brag about finding a home for a 9 year old brindle staffie with congenital skin problem in just 4 months. But actually, Brandy is the best friend anyone could wish for and she is just a wonderful dog that has already won over all the hearts in her new life. And there were plenty of snuffles and holding back tears when she went last Saturday but last night was a celebration and we did it in style!

So here's to Brandy and her new family for being so very special indeed.