Tuesday, 30 October 2012
After about six months of having Murray, Tigger and Mitzie we were invited to the Purrfect Party. We both had been wanting to get more involved in helping the RSPCA Manchester and Salford branch out, after all it was their fault that we no longer had lie ins and had no more spare time on our hands! At the party, which was fantastic, we got speaking to Susie who told us about the possibility of Cat Cuddling on a Saturday afternoon. It was important that we were available as many Saturdays as possible so the cats would hopefully always have someone to play with. Unfortunately I work shifts, which means my "weekends" don't always fall on a Saturday/Sunday! So, Emma went forward as the regular cat cuddler and it was agreed that I could tag along when I was off or before/after working on Saturday.
Every single cat who goes into the cattery does so for a reason, they all have a very sad story attached to them, from being abandoned in a bag in a field, to their owner leaving the country and leaving them in the house. Unfortunately, these kind of stories, however upsetting, soon became a weekly occurrence and started to lose their shock factor. Along with Sarah (the other regular Saturday cat cuddler) it was soon decided that there were a lot of horrible people out there, and sad as it is to see a cat in a cage (they are good sized pens, with lots of room, toys and heated pads) this was the best place for them.
Going to the cattery and seeing how the moggies react to us is so rewarding, seeing them all get the attention they deserve, even if it is for a couple of hours on a Saturday makes us feel like we are doing our part to help them. That said there are times when we can feel completely and utterly useless. In recent times there have been a couple of outbreaks of cat flu, seeing this was very upsetting for us. Normally the cats are full of energy and bouncing around, scoffing as many treats they can get their paws on, refusing to go back into their cages after a bit of playtime…you name it! All we could do is give them cuddles, and hope, pray, wish they got better soon. The majority of the cat flu sufferers got better within a week, but some have sadly taken 2 or 3 weeks to recover.
Sunday, 28 October 2012
I suppose you could argue that my decision not to disclose is an act of cowardice and evidence of shame and wrong doing, but it isn't. The decision to euthanize, no matter what the circumstance, is never taken lightly and never, ever gets any easier to bear. In most instances I accompany the animal to the vets and wherever possible stay with them. I do this because I feel the need. It's hard to explain why, but I do. I guess it's all about being both accountable and making sure I have made the right decision.
This week has seen two such decisions. This is rare; we probably don't normally have more than one a month. What's more, we've admitted an animal this week that we already know has a likelihood of turning out with the same tragic end. Whilst I feel strongly about giving animals a chance, unfortuantley I have a strong sense of foreboding with him.
It always strikes me that a proportion of the animals that most need a second chance are the ones that we cannot rehome. This is the case whether it be ill health or psychological trauma. I once heard these animals described as 'damaged' and that is an apt description. Through no fault of their own they have been damaged by their custodians and sometimes beyond our capabilities to 'repair'.
This week saw the arrival a dog who has had the most revolting life. It's so bad I couldn't share it through fear of causing distress. I shall skirt round the issue by saying he has been repeatedly beaten by his previous owner. I cannot disclose any more but needless to say this poor dog is damaged. He's been in RSPCA care for two months as a case animal and transferred to us this week for assessment to see if he can be rehomed. He is large breed dog, which in itself causes problems - both the breed and size that is before we start to unpick the behavioural problems that he has.
It is with a heavy heart that we start a journey with him that could well end in the ultimate tragedy. My staff know it and I know it, but our commitment to do all we can for him (and all the others like him) never waivers. He will get all the help that we can possible afford him and we will do all we can to rehabilitate him, but we acknowledge our limitations and our duty to society to protect them from harm.
This week tickets go on sale for Cesar Milan's tour of the UK in 2013. Many people know him, but for those of you who don't he is a self-styled dog 'trainer'. His methods are based on the outdated belief that we need to 'dominate' dogs and show them whose boss. He achieves compliance in the animals by afflicting pain and stress. He uses 'techniques' that are easily replicated by the lay person, which makes his ideas all the more lethal.
The physical chastisement Cesar Milan applies does nothing to address the route of the animal's behavioral problem. Punishment is a quick fix that merely serves to temporarily suppress fear and anxiety in an animal. By adding abusive and aversive techniques to an animal's existing fear or anxiety it will only serve to create a ticking time bomb. Inevitably what will transpire is a temporary suppression of the undesirable behaviours but in the long run this will only make the animal unpredictable and create even more problems than there were to start of with.
Punishment does not fix a problem, it simply creates more.
I heard someone defend Cesar Milan this week by saying isn't it better to punish an animal than to put it to sleep? The naivety of this statement betrayed what little knowledge that individual (and Cesar Milan) has of the way animals, in particular dogs, learn.
In this video Cesar Milan seems to be trying to teach a dog not to perceive the chicken as prey. All he is actually achieving with this technique is to teach the dog to have negative associations with him (the handler) and in the process physically and emotionally abusing both animals. This is not socialisation but abuse. This is context specific and too brief an exposure to the chicken for the dog to have become habituated to the chicken. Moreover, the dog's avoidance of the chicken will only be temporary.
Take a look at this video:
If you've had the stomach to watch it then you'll be left feeling quite distressed from seeing the repeated abuse of animals. What Milan has done in this instance is applied the technique of 'flooding' alongside a skewed version of counter-conditioning using physical punishment. In lay terms all he's done is layered more problems on top of the underlying behavioural problem the dogs have.
Take the skateboard example. The bulldog clearly has a phobia of skateboards but rather than gradually accustom the dog to the presence, sound and movement of a skateboard the dog is repeatedly kicked to suppress his fear response. What's going to happen? Well, in the long-run the fear of the skateboard is not addressed, if anything it's more likely heightened and eventually that suppressed fear could result in the dog redirecting his fear as a aggression and someone getting hurt. In addition, the dog has learnt to fear other aspects of that learning experience - the handler, the environment, others around him, the noise of the skateboard that he may transfer to other similar sounding stimuli.
So, to simply state that hitting an animal is kinder than euthanasia is just too simplistic and doesn't address the
real root of the problem as to what the extent of the 'damage' is to the animal, i.e. what are their problem behaviours and what are they rooted in? With our new admission this week we are yet to discover in what way his problems are manifested, but one thing you can be sure of, if we can work on them and help him to recover and find a home then we jolly well will.
I'll leave you with this video, an excerpt from The Alan Titchmarsh Show this week:
Alan Titchmarsh gets hero of the week award, that's for sure.
Tuesday, 23 October 2012
Just 2 weeks after getting the two boys home we were already thinking of adding to the enjoyment and trying to balance out the boy/girl split in the house. We had seen little Mitzie on the website for well over a week and were completely bemused as to why she hadn't been adopted. Again showing just how naive I was, when I called to arrange a viewing of her I explained how I thought she would be a calming influence on the boys who were already tearing around the house at all hours. When I said this I could hear Susie's laugh from the office...
To cut a long story short we went for a viewing the very next day and took her home there and then as we had only had a home visit a month earlier.
Mitzie like the boys was one of three kittens but had ended up on her own when her two brothers were adopted separately. It became obvious fairly soon on that little Mitz was going to be a bit more of a challenge than the two boys when on the way home she let fly with the most almighty trump that a cat has ever done. As it turned out Mitzie poo problems which are common in kittens. It caused endless diarrhoea (not in the scratch tray) and resulted in Mitzie not gaining any weight at all. She was the runt of her little so was only about half the size of Tigger and Murray even though she was two weeks older than them.
After 2 months of treatment we went on our summer holiday to Egypt leaving the kids at our house with Emma's parents babysitting. While they had had cats all their lives it didn't stop us worrying about them, and texting everyday to check on them, especially Mitzie with her problems. When we got back we were absolutely stunned, our tiny Mitzie had put on so much weight (thanks to a steroid shot given) and her tummy had completely settled and she has never looked back.
Sunday, 21 October 2012
The title in itself is quite misleading. I am the manager of the charity. The charity being RSPCA Manchester & Salford Branch. There are around 170 RSPCA branches in England and Wales that are all independent charities. Our role is to support the work of the national RSPCA by primarily taking in the animals its field staff, like the inspectorate, rescue.
All the branches operate differently and this is largely due to the wealth of each charity, which in turn is down to the level of public support and the bequest of legacies. Some branches can afford to own and run animal centres, some are so small that they are run entirely by volunteers, others, like ours, are somewhere in between. For those of you who don't know, we do not have an animal centre but instead use private boarding facilities and a network of foster carers. We have two paid animal staff whose role it is to make sure the animals are successfully rehabilitated and rehomed, wherever possible.
I am responsible for every aspect of our charity's work: from the admission/care/rehoming of each animal, the operation of 3 charity shops, all the charity's admin and personnel matters as well fundraising and event organising. I'm also involved in a number of working groups within the national RSPCA (more about one of these in a week or two) and I am also the volunteer co-ordinator, a home visitor and foster carer in what little spare time that I have.
|Daisy, new admission this week, Abandoned outside a vets heaviuly pregnant.|
It sounds a mammoth task, and it invariably is, but without such breadth and depth to my work I would honestly be bored. But whilst the variety is genuinely the spice of life, at times it feels like a lead diving suit. These last few weeks have been really tough, and this last week in particular like walking through treacle. We have been experiencing unprecedented numbers of sickness amongst the staff, which has corresponded with plenty of staff annual leave. Keeping the three shops open has been the most incredible challenge and only due to the sheer will and determination of three amazing people. This week, bar two days, I have had to run the animal side myself. I've not done the prettiest of jobs - getting into the office for just an hour and there, or turning up to vet appointments looking muddy and dishevelled. But with sympathy and support an 12 hour days of bobbing around like a human ping pong ball I've managed, just about, to cope.
Working for a small animal charity, especially when you are in a management position, is not a job, it is your life. I rarely have time to myself, but it's been like this for so long now that I'm not sure I'd know what to do with myself anyway! But it's when things fall to pieces that it feels quite unbearable because it is down to me to sort it out and have all the answers. Today is no exception. I'd really like to put my feet up, or maybe even curl up in bed, but instead I have a day's worth of book-keeping to do, some animals to go see to and a weighty decision to implement tomorrow.
But what really helps is knowing that there's nothing special about me. There's people up and down the country, around the world in fact, who do exactly the same as me day in day out. They don't moan, they take it all in their stride and they get up each and every morning to continue the good fight. But what is special about me is the team I have behind me. From my trustees and staff, to foster carers, dog walkers, cat cuddlers, home visitors to shop volunteers; I have the most wonderful friends. There's no such thing as 'just a volunteer' or 'just a staff member'. Each and everyone is so much bigger than this to me. I'm lucky, very lucky. And I know it.
Who else would come out at 7pm on a Saturday night to try and catch an alleged abandoned rabbit (turned out to be a wildie!)? Who else would dog walk at 9am on their days off? Who else would take in too many furry pooing machines and turn a blind eye to furniture destruction in the process? Who else would give up their evenings and weekends travelling around to 'vet' potential adopters? Who else would spend hours serving customers and sorting through murky bags of donations? Who else would work for peanuts and beyond their contracted hours? The answer is simple: my team, the M&S Team. Without whom I wouldn't want to be doing what I do.
|Wild rabbit living by the Mancunian Way|
So, the next time you hear someone denigrate the RSPCA please think about this blog and the effort that goes into achieving so much with so little. We are a small cog in a very big machine but we do the best we can and I'm proud of it. But I'm also never to proud to admit when I've got it wrong or could've done better. This week definitely fits in the 'could've done better' box but it's not been from a lack of trying.
|Dog walking and vet runs have taken priority over office time|
Tuesday, 16 October 2012
Shortly after they were placed in one of the RSPCA M&S branch’s amazing foster homes, to be hand-reared around the clock until they were old enough to go into their forever homes.
Sadly, poor little Brett became ill for the second time and on Boxing Day the difficult decision was made that he was to make his way to furry heaven.
We first saw Jermaine (now called Tigger) and Murray on the website and the second we saw them wanted to adopt them so, I called and arranged a viewing to get to meet them. I distinctly remember speaking with Susie and her telling me not to worry about Murray as he had lost almost all his fur. This was down to him being a mucky pup and getting milk all over him, and when he was brushed his fur had fallen out. Foolishly thinking it would be a 10 minute thing I arranged it during my partners lunch break on one of my days off. An hour later, and most definitely not wanting to leave without the two boys we called up to reserve them and I then spent an eternity in Sainsbury's stocking up on food, toys and litter even though we still had the home visit to contend with.
I had never had any cats before (my partner had), so I had drawn up some strict house rules for the two boys to stick to, my partner tried to explain this was pointless as cats have their own rules, but I was determined. They included not being allowed in my bedroom, no climbing curtains, they would have their own food and water bowl and not steal from each other. I had it all planned out and was beyond excited about taking them home.
Saturday, 13 October 2012
Cecilia's rescue story sticks in my mind so very much because of the emotional distress she must have experienced. I don't care if this sounds like anthropomorphising but tell me an animal wouldn't feel distress after this experience......
A member of the public found Cecilia in her shed. She called the national RSPCA helpline and RSPCA inspector Heaton was dispatched forthwith and rushed her straight to the RSPCA Animal Hospital for an emergency cesarean. Inspector Heaton later described the scene to me. He said there was blood all over the place along with deformed, dead kittens strewn all over. One kitten was stuck in the birthing canal, dead.
About 3 weeks after Cecilia was in her foster home her foster parents kindly took in two hand rears.
We half-heartedly talked about whether Cecilia would take them on and I felt there was minimal harm in trying after a few days. Remarkably Cecilia allowed them to feed off her but didn't assume full 'mum' duties, but that was ok because the foster parents were there to see to the additional care needs.
Before long Theo and Thelma, the two hand-rears, were strapping kittens thanks to the help of Cecilia. Who never seemed to mind the intrusion and just appeared to accept her duties as her role in life.
With Lana gone and Theo and Thelma doing so well, we found ourselves once again in dire straits with kittens needing to come in. I call it 'juggling' but that is honestly what it feels like sometimes when we have try and work out who can go where so we can help as many as we can. There were 4 fully weaned kittens that were ready for adoption and Cecilia's foster parents were happy to help so they joined the modern family.
Except Pip, Pablo, Pippa and Pepper had different ideas about being fully weaned and decided they fancied a visit or two to the Cecilia milk bar!
It goes without saying we soon put a stop to this but I share because it shows what a remarkable cat Cecilia is!
Last week, you may recall, we admitted 26 cats and kittens. This included Edith and her 4 boys. We had nowhere for them for a few days so they lived in the office. Edith was possibly the most reluctant mother we'd had all year. The only way she would feed her babies was if we locked her in with them. At 3-4 weeks of age their lives really hung in the balance and some of them even ventured to nibble solid food too.
There were no signs of ill health with Edith, we just thought she was a young girl that got caught too young and was an inevitably reluctant mum. The day we moved her into a foster home she rejected her kittens. We worried it was due to a change of environment so moved her back to the office, but she lashed out at them straight away.
By this point the kittens had not fed in 15 hours and wouldn't take a syringe feeds. These poor babies were crying out with hunger and flocking around us to help them. The sense of helplessness was overwhelming.
They were rapidly loosing weight and one was starting to fade. We could think of only one option. Cecilia.
We rushed Edith's boys to the foster home and in an instant Cecilia took them on. We took the older kittens into another foster home and sighed a very big sigh.
But then the reality dawned. Our actions were surely abusive to give Cecilia a second litter to 'wet nurse'? It was act now and think later situation and this ethical dilemma still rings out loud, but what were we to do? I don't regret our actions but don't know that we can justify saving 4 lives and compromise another in return. Whilst Cecilia just seems to take it all in her stride, we've vowed to keep a close eye on her and definitely give her no more.
Edith's boys are now thriving and have a future thanks to Cecilia. But I'm not proud of our actions. I don't think we necessarily did the right thing but sometimes in this line of work the boundaries of right and wrong get blurred. If it was wrong what we did then I hold my hands up. I don't have a problem admitting mistakes, the important thing is to learn from them, but I'm still not sure what else we could have done.
|One of Edith's boys with Theo and Thelma|
|Edith getting lap cuddles in the office today - her absolute favourite.|
Saturday, 6 October 2012
|Roscoe enjoying a bedding sample, one of 100 donated by The Fine Bedding Company this week.|
|Harley dog was returned after 4 years following a house fire and owners moving into temporary accommodation. He really loved his walk in the woods.|
We've had another tremendously successful month with animal adoptions with 35 finding new homes in September. In total this year we have found homes for 297 animals. That's more than one animal a day and 105 more on the same period last year. This really is quite incredible when you come to think that we are a 3 man team overseeing the care and rehoming of some 70+ animals. I think it also means that we feel the bad times just that little bit more because of the fact that we don't work in specific areas, but across all species. Whilst as individuals we may have a leaning to one species, mine being rabbits, we still all care about them equally and fall for their charms and delights each and every time.
But we are not alone in feeling the undulations of our work; we get share to it with our amazing volunteers and supporters who standby us through thick and thin and turn our 3-man-band into a great big noisey marching band! Next weekend will undoubtedly prove to be a brilliant example of how amazing they really are, as we hold our second Purrfect Party at the Worsley Court House. The event is a sell out thanks to them all and as such has already raised £500 for the animals, but more importantly it will be a great chance to enjoy ourselves together, so bring it on!
|Sinbad the baby bunny having a cheeky sneak of milk from his mum.|
|Ruth suffered unimaginable cruelty yet her desire for human contact is insatiable.|