Sunday, 29 April 2012


This week has been nothing short of epic. To say we are bursting at the seams is really no exaggeration and it's all down to one thing; irresponsible breeding.

We have more cats and kittens, rabbits and kittens (that's what baby Lapin are called) than ever before and there is simply no more space. I've called in every favour I can think of to house as many as possible and now I've reached the end, which is a real pain cos there's a cat in a vets waiting to be admitted tomorrow and I'm at a loss as to what to do. The reality that Spring time has arrived has well and truly dawned.

We had a count up Saturday afternoon and we've over 20 feline kittens alone, the first of which won't be available for adoption for another week and with no cats reserved it's going to be a while until there is any flexibility at the cattery too (Keep an eye on our cat adoption pages).

My head hurts. No more animal juggling for me. Instead just a lot of saying 'no' at a time when we really should be saying 'yes'.

We've embarked on a programme of cat neutering with the RSPCA vets in Salford. The amount of money we've set aside is £1.5k but in reality that will only neuter 60 female cats. At our recent rabbit and guinea pig roadshows we offered free neutering, and 19 rabbits were signed up. This will cost in the region of £1k (part funded by the wonderful Cavy Cosies). But, so what? £2.5k is a large amount of money for us, but in reality it is a drop in the ocean in terms of tackling over-population of animals.

Over the years I've heard many creative ideas about how to address the problem. My favourite to date came from an episode of 'Undercover Boss' that featured the Blue Cross. At the end it was decided that anyone wishing to use their London vets had to have their pets neutered. I don't know whether this ever happened, or is still enforced, but what a powerful message to send out.

Perhaps the worst idea I've heard came just recently from a leading pet store chain  that is piloting a new scheme whereby baby rabbits are being sold having been neutered at 4-5 weeks of age. I am not opposed to early neutering, far from it, but there hasn't been sufficient research into this field yet to determine the long term effects. Neutering prior to being fully weaned is uncomfortable to say the least for me, however, if the sentiment behind it is to reduce population numbers then there is some scope for feeling positive towards it, but at the same time I know that there are many people out there who feel this is just a crass marketing tool.

Ultimately there is only one way to reduce the overpopulation of animals in this country and that is to get companion animal owners to change their attitudes. One of the things I loathe hearing the most is people who have entire male cats and allow them to roam outdoors. It is so wilfully naive to think it isn't important to neuter your male cat, but it really is just as irresponsible as letting out an unneutered female.

A call I took this week involved the story of a female cat who had just finished nursing/weaning kittens and had been 'allowed' to go outdoors. The cat was most likely 'caught' again because of prowling neighbourhood toms. For me this is just shockingly irresponsible on every animal owner involved and will ultimately lead to many more cats giving birth to kittens in peoples' gardens, sheds, bushes and kittens being dumped in their droves.

This week a litter of 5 kittens were found in a rucksack in a random alleyway in Manchester. Those kittens were left there to die. And for what? The sake of £25? That's how much it costs at the RSPCA vets to get a female cat neutered and chipped. Now I know it is not that simple. But did you know that two adult cats (male and female) can be responsible for up to 50 million off-spring? So, where is the moral sense of duty of companion animal owners?

I hear you saying that times are hard for millions of Britons, and you are right. But there are many animal charities out there who will offer financial assistance for cat neutering. So, for me, it's all about priorities and motivation. For example, we ran a scheme Jan-Mar this year in a specific area in Manchester offering free female cat neutering. We even offered to transport the animals to and from the vets. Only 10 animals were signed up and not one of them has yet been neutered by their owner. The saying 'you can lead a horse to water but...' springs to mind.

So, yes, I'm angry. I'm angry that now the kitten season is in full swing we have thousands of lives in jeopardy. We have animal charities nationwide struggling to cope and survive, and on a purely selfish note myself and my team will now work relentlessly round the clock 'mopping up' other peoples' mess.

You want to be a pet owner? Then take responsibility and neuter your animal.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Marathon Effort

Today a wonderful man is running the London Marathon in aid of our animals. Wayne Hulton was previously unknown to the branch before he contacted us offering to raise money for the animals by running the London Marathon.We were in absolute awe and overwhelmed by such an incredibly generous and ambitious endeavour.

We learnt that Wayne chose our branch because of working in the area and being a life-long animal lover and committed vegan. Wayne has been training hard over the last few months but in the run up to today he has been plagued by injured. Two weeks ago it was looking like he was going to have to pull out due to troubles with his knee. But Wayne has been undeterred and he is stood, as I type, at the starting line of the London Marathon.

We are asking everyone to show their support for Wayne and our animals by text giving or donating on line today.   wayne hulton is fundraising for RSPCA Manchester and Salford

Sunday, 15 April 2012


This week has been incredible. It has seen the staff and volunteers pull together to achieve so much. From the shop staff to home visitors everyone has pulled out the stops to help the animals this week. The enormity of it all dawned on me this morning when I woke up to find the text message that Fifi cat is finally a mum.

I say 'finally' because she came into our care 3 weeks ago allegedly heavily pregnant. We've been on tenterhooks all that time and by Thursday this week she was just so enormous that when I took her for a vet check I thought there must be a football team in there. But, no, there was just three: tabby, ginger and black and white. Her foster parents stayed up until the wee small hours keeping a close watch and are no doubt absolutely shattered now. What super foster parents and what a lucky Fifi to have them.

Kittens have definitely been the theme of the week. Tuesday saw the arrival of 3 very dishevelled 1 week old kittens that our foster mum Sue willingly took in, despite the 2 hourly regime of feeding! They had been handed in to a private vet over the bank holiday weekend. We know nothing more about their origin and not having this information is quite frustrating because they aren't in the greatest of shape but still holding their own. I'm just so grateful to Sue for affording them this life-line.

We've had 5 adult cats arrive too. Sadly one in a pitiful state having coped with a dislocated knee cap for a very long time. Magnus is unable to weight-bare and has severe muscle atrophy on the affected leg. He goes in for major surgery next week and then a long period of rehab so please keep everything crossed for him. Yet again our Catherine is facing up to the challenge and will do us proud, just like she did with Humphrey cat. It's just sad to know that Magnus has suffered with this for so very long.

Oh, and I have to mention our newbie Percy the Persian! He is a beautiful ,big, white boy who was found stray in the most terribly dirty and severely matted state. His fur was so densely matted that the clippers kept over-heating. Because he had to be sedated to be dematted there was no option but to crack on, but it resulted in 'clipper burns' all over his body. The poor lad! Percy Persian is doing fine though and will soon be available for adoption but he does look a sorry sight.

We have the wonderful new addition of Zak the dog too, whose owner moved out of her home and in with her boyfriend and returned to Zak just once a day to feed and walk him. Complaint calls resulted in him being signed over to our care and we are so pleased because he is such a lovely boy.

And then yet more kittens arrived! This time 4 x 1 week old kittens were handed in to the RSPCA vets. The finder said they were in his garden and no sign of mum. But from the condition of these kittens she was not far away because they were in such great condition, and content. We were extremely lucky when foster mum Sue volunteered to take these 4 on as well as the 3 from the beginning of the week. Just amazing. All 7 are doing really well but the contrast between the two litters is so evident.

With lots of new arrivals that means we've had lots of adoptions too. We've had to call on the same home visitors to do so very many recently that we may have to look at recruiting more if things carry on the way they are. For example, Hannah did two home visits back-to-back in one night so we could meet the demand to turn things around so quickly.

We've also had illnesses amongst the shop staff and the ones that have remained standing have been brilliant in rallying round, working extra shifts and sorting out cover. It has made me feel very honoured and proud of my shop team.

And of course yesterday was the first of two annual fixtures that sees a dedication and passion like nothing else. The Rabbit and Guinea Pig Roadshow not only offers the most comprehensive programme of services and support but sees my wonderful volunteers come out in force to put on the 'show'. They worked tirelessly yesterday and in just 4 hours the following was achieved:
  • 31 rabbits and 33 guinea pigs were vet checked
  • 20 rabbits were microchipped (my favourite stat from the day because stray rabbits, and ferrets, are such a problem)
  • 7 rabbits booked in for free neutering
  • 2 rabbits diagnosed with serious health complaints and both sent to see emergency vets.
  • £275 taken on the stalls (profit very small due to small mark up but demonstrates people investing in their animals' well-being)
Our last date of the roadshow is Sat 21st April in Whalley Range, so please take advantage of this very special opportunity.

Tonight sees another example of how brilliant our supporters are. We have a fundraising Comedy Night taking place and all the acts and compere have volunteered their talents and time for free! Not only that but Dulcimer bar, where it is taking place, has given us a tremendous amount of help and support and the venue for free. Help like this is invaluable to a charity like ours and something that we highly value.

The support and kindness that we receive from our supporters and volunteers and staff is simply inspiring, motivational, reassuring but above all priceless. I cherish the way that you can be having a desperately bad day when seemingly from nowhere a letter, an email, text message or a phone call will arrive that will just make it all seem worthwhile. Some of my highlights this week have included:
  • a post on our Facebook page by a foster carer extolling the virtues of his role
  • email updates (with photos) of adopted animals
  • flowers and thank you card
  • letter with £25 donation
  • very large box of chocolates to wish us Happy Easter
  • text/Facebook messages of support for our loss
  • volunteer returning from a two-year break (due to work and animal commitments)

Money can't buy the kind of generosity, kindness, caring and love that we and the animals receive. It's something that we will never take for granted and something that we truly value. The friendship that so many people afford to us means so much to me and I thank you all so much for enriching ours and the animals' lives.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

An Easter Bunny? Make Mine Chocolate Please!

Since childhood I have been in love with rabbits. I think the only thing that rivalled my fascination and devotion to them when I was knee-high to a grasshopper was Sooty, Sweep and Soo! My passion for rabbits, is to this day, as strong as ever and as inexplicable as ever. Rabbits have truly become my life-long preoccupation and, if I'm honest, the driving force behind my commitment to animal rescue and welfare.

For me, rabbits have two selling points: their intrinsic beauty and the subtlety of their behaviours. Now the latter is obviously because they are hard-wired to hide from the world, but if you actually take the time to learn their subtle ways you get to unlock a deeply fascinating species. I like to think that true bunny-lovers are an intelligent breed of humankind because we share the patience and determination to learn the lagomorphs.

I never truly realised just how much I understood bunny behaviour until recently. A series of encounters with bunnies and their owners has demonstrated to me how much I take for granted my insight into these creatures and, if anything, how much I have surrendered to their dominance in my life!

I share my home with 7 of own my own and 1 foster bunny. What seems to have happened is that this experience has become normalised in mind and I forget that this is not everybody's experience of their 'pet' rabbit. The characters that are in my home are so diverse and illustrative of how much they are abused and misunderstood.

My longest stay rabbit is Larry. He is the first bunny our branch admitted back in January 2008. Larry was stray in a very rough area and had evident dental problems. The most likely scenario was that he had been fed a diet of dried food. So, coupled with his Netherland Dwarf features he developed costly dental problems. Larry was slowly introduced to a hay and greens diet and over time I have managed to get his teeth stabilised. He does have tooth-root flare ups that require pain relief but on the whole is one very happy bunny boy.

Domino came from the RSPCA's Pet Retreat scheme. He came in with his brother and came straight into foster with me because they had such shocking dental problems. Domino's brother didn't make it; overgrown teeth and gut stasis saw to that. But I adopted Domino after he and Larry decided they were going be best mates. It was a battle to re-educate Domino's eating habits. He had obviously been fed on dried food and little else, as vegetables and hay were alien to him. To be honest, had it not been for him and Larry becoming best friends I would have had to put him to sleep because we could never have rehomed him. Instead, Larry and I adopted him and the credit card gets a regular bashing for his vet treatment and he is, without doubt, the love of my life!

Mildred-cowbag (pictured, left) - so named because she absolutely hates me. If looks, lunges, bites or grunts could kill Mildred would have had her own way by now! Mildred was found stray in a park at Easter 2008. It was so apparent from day one that she was aggressive through poor socialising and mismanagement. She came straight into my foster care that Easter Bank Holiday weekend and never left. We could never rehome such an aggressive rabbit, but moreover I couldn't be parted from her. I had fallen in love. Mildred rules the house with iron teeth but I don't mind, not even in the middle of the night when she sits and waits in the doorway of the bathroom to bite my ankle as I enter sleepy and unaware. She is formidable.

Ollie-Dollie (pictured, right) is possibly one of the most thickest rabbits I have ever met. He is a lop, and generally they are quite happy-go-lucky bunnies, but Ollie-Dollie is plain stoopid. He is Mildred's best friend and together they complement each other effortlessly. Ollie was a 'case' animal and I brought him home to foster because he was on long-term treatment for respiratory infection. His owners were prosecuted for neglect. When he was eventually signed over to our care me and Mildred had fallen in love with him. So now he lives in a delicate balance of snot and sneezes and lots of love. He is picture-perfect with a head full of cotton wool for brains - he gets lost when he goes upstairs and I have to carry him down! He even has a litter tray and water bowl upstairs in case it happens when I'm out! I love Ollie-Dollie, he is such a wally.

Joy and Trisha came from another shelter. They had been unwanted children's pets. They lived there for nearly 3 years without anyone interested in adopting them. When the shelter was struggling we took in a number of their animals, including these two. After 18months with no interest in them, and Joy starting to show signs of ill health, I brought them home to die. Well, so I thought; ha! That was over two years ago and we have only recently lost Joy. Trisha is ailing but well and truly holding her own. We estimate them to be around 8 years of age, so please don't be thinking bunnies have short life spans. The average age for a rabbit is 8-10 years but I have had bunnies live to 11 and 12.

Biggun is a British Giant. He came from a multi-animal rescue of 92 animals. He was one of only two rabbits in the case. After very many months his owner was successfully prosecuted for neglect. Biggun was kept in such a small cage that he couldn't even raise his ears. His early life experience has seemingly scarred him for life and I kid you not he is agoraphobic. After lots of trial and error he now lives in a pen. It is by no means what I consider to be sufficient in size but it's all that he can tolerate. He is a moody lad but at his absolute happiest in his pen, with his mate and with food! Biggun is brilliant but I would do anything for him to be brave and to be able to enjoy a better life.

Lastly, Jemima. I actually can't tell you her full story, but what I can tell you is that she was an unwanted children's pet that was thrown away in a park. When she was rescued she had a new born litter of 10. Jemima has never lessened in her anxiety of humans. The most progress I have made is getting her to take food from my hand. She is painfully frightened of close human contact and this behaviour speaks volumes and demonstrates how greatly she has been betrayed by humans. Jemima lives happily with Biggun, in her own world with everything on her terms (except for claw clipping and vet trips). Jemima never stood a chance finding a forever home, she is simply too messed up. She is both my biggest failure and biggest triumph rolled into one.

Over the years I've shared my home with well over 100, maybe more like 200, rabbits that I have adopted or fostered. On top of that I have helped to care for in excess of a thousand in rescue environments. The reward for helping these vulnerable, charming, complex, beautiful creatures is indescribable. Some of my greatest achievements in life have been with the most 'damaged' rescue rabbits. Giving these animals a second, third or fourth chance is what I live for. Rabbits are simply amazing.

  • Please don't buy rabbits as children's pets - they are not suitable.
  • Please don't buy rabbits from pet shops - there are over 35,000 in rescues throughout the UK.
  • Please don't condemn rabbits to live in hutches - they travel in excess of 5 miles a day given the chance.
  • Please consider a rescued rabbit - we neuter, vaccinate and microchip all our rabbits and offer a bespoke service for the life of the bunny, the adoption fee is just £35. Check out:

Giving a rabbit as a present at Easter is at best a cliche and at worse another statistic of neglect.