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: