Monday, 19 December 2011

Bred for looks, born to suffer: pedigree dog health and welfare

Imagine what a wolf looks like. Now conjure up an image of a pug. Very different, aren’t they?

The pug, like every dog, is descended from the wolf.

I think we’re so used to seeing the many breeds of dog available today that we just accept the problems they suffer due to their short legs, long backs, large heads, or other exaggerated feature.

But if you compare these dogs to their ancestors it’s obvious that nature didn’t mean them to have the flattened faces and wrinkled skin that for some reason we humans find so endearing.

We shouldn't be allowing this to happen.

Dogs have been bred for the way they look over many centuries and lots of them – and in particular pedigree dogs – are now vulnerable to unnecessary disease, disability, pain and behavioural problems.

The RSPCA has launched a new campaign, Bred for looks, born to suffer, in order to raise awareness of the issue.

TV presenter and dog trainer from the hit TV show It’s Me or the Dog Victoria Stilwell agrees that dogs shouldn’t be bred solely for the way they look and has recorded a message of support for the RSPCA’s campaign.

We've also created a new hard-hitting press ad:


I think this says it all.

To add your voice to the campaign, please sign up at

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Dog legislation: a hot topic

In the world of animal welfare, dog legislation is one of the hottest and most controversial topics.

The RSPCA takes every opportunity to improve the welfare of dogs, and in recent years we have aired our views about the current failing legislation - often receiving plenty of criticism for it along the way.

What a lot of people fail to recognise is the level of expertise and experience within the RSPCA, from scientists to political lobbyists to inspectors out in the field. Our decisions are made with what we believe ultimately is in the best interests of animal welfare, and are based on scientific evidence and practical experience.

One thing that many organisations agree on is that the current law isn’t working. It isn’t working in terms of public protection, it isn’t working to stem anti-social behaviour and importantly from our point of view, and it isn’t working for the dogs themselves, who are as much the victims of irresponsible ownership as anyone.

That’s the reason why the RSPCA along with 19 other organisations, ranging from fellow animal welfare charities to workers’ unions, have launched a new petition calling on the Government to make good on its pledge to tackle irresponsible dog ownership.

More than 5,300 people have signed up since it was launched less than two weeks ago. If you too would like to see dog legislation change, please sign up.

Andy Robbins, senior RSPCA press officer

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Box-ing clever for international animals in need

With over 150 years of international experience, the RSPCA’s overseas work takes place all over Europe, East Asia and southern Africa, for the benefit of animals and people in society, agriculture, industry and the environment.

When there’s an oil spill in Norway, RSPCA International is there, literally getting their hands dirty cleaning and tending to birds. When tragedy strikes in Haiti, RSPCA International is there – helping communities treat their pets and livestock, and in our own small way helping people get back on their feet and on with their lives.

I'm very excited about a fantastic new RSPCA International project called ‘Clinic in a Box’ – which is running in conjunction with one of our sister organisations: the Lilongwe Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (LSPCA).

The LSPCA’s mission is to rescue and care for animals in Lilongwe and work with local vets, police and government to improve the lives of animals right across Malawi.

They are the first and only animal welfare organisation in Malawi. The LSPCA was started in 2008 by a dedicated group of vets and other professionals who wanted to improve the lives of dogs, cats and farm animals in Lilongwe. 

They run regular mobile community veterinary clinics which provide free treatment to animals in the poorest communities in Lilongwe.

Their education officer visits every school in Lilongwe to teach children how to care for their animals and they work closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and the police to stop the illegal selling of puppies and kittens on the side of the road. 

They also work with local communities to improve the health of their chickens, which are an important source of income for poor communities.

Clinic in a Box is a project supported by RSPCA International to set up a new veterinary clinic in Malawi, south-east Africa.

The current LSPCA clinic is under a tent, with no electricity or running water. The new clinic will mean better care for animals that really need help.

As a charity, we are looking for donations of everything; including an x-ray machine, dog beds, medicines and more.

Everything will be packed into a huge shipping container and go from the UK to Malawi - literally a 'clinic in a box'!

Now to put this in perspective, I want to tell you about a couple of true stories of animals who have been helped by the LSPCA – and why the existence of a proper clinic, with proper veterinary facilities is of the utmost importance:

Saving Grace

Chisomo ('Grace' in Chichewa, a local language in Malawi) was very sick when LSPCA's vet Dr Richard Ssuna saw her during an LSPCA clinic. 

She was close to death through malnutrition, but was still managing to feed four beautiful puppies.

Her family were not able to look after her, so gave her to the LSPCA to be cared for. Chisomo was a gentle dog, despite being in intense pain from a broken leg.

Luke Gamble, a vet from the UK was visiting at the time and making a TV series called 'World Wild Vet'. Richard and Luke took Chisomo back to Richard's house to operate on her to remove her leg. They had to operate in Richard's garage, because LSPCA does not have a clinic.

This meant the operation was much more difficult with no proper equipment or theatre. But the operation went well and Chisomo was soon up and walking on her three legs.

Happily, with lots of food and care from LSPCA, Chisomo made a great recovery and she and all her puppies were found loving 'forever homes'.

Grave Danger

On a very busy day, someone approached the LSPCA vehicle and reported a case of severe animal cruelty to two dogs. In spite of the many other duties, this call was prioritised and a team was sent immediately to assess the situation.

The first sight of the dogs was horrific - two bags of bones, covered in fleas and lice, totally bald and motionless. They both used what little strength they had left to try and get away. Because of the abuse they had endured over the years, they had little trust for humans.

Since they had little energy left due to starvation, they could not run but resorted to snarling when the LSPCA workers attempted to catch them.

Although the LSPCA did not find the owner, it was revealed that these two were just about to be buried alive. The LSPCA workers even found a deep hole had already been dug - so they had got there just in time. An hour later might have been too late.

All effort was directed in getting the two back to get health; they were taken to the quarantine site for rehabilitation. They were immobile and unresponsive to anything for the first two days but responded well to food.

But with lots of love, patience and care, the two dogs - Buddy and Buster - soon started getting up and responding to their environment. They were dewormed, vaccinated and bathed. The mange, the wounds and the flies were all taken care of and soon their fur grew back!

Unfortunately Buddy had to be put to sleep later due to medical problems as well as failure to socialise with both people and other dogs, but Buster has just been adopted by a Norwegian family.

His life history touched them and they could not resist the urge to provide a good home for him. 

How can you help?

Your donation will help us save more animals. If you have a UK mobile, you can donate by text. Just text CARE33 and the £amount to 70070. You can donate £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10.

For example to donate £3, just text CARE33 £3 to 70070.

Calie Rydings, RSPCA press officer

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Join the club 'strictly' for Staffies

Why Staffordshire bull terriers need a bit of positive PR

The RSPCA Blackberry Farm Animal Centre, near Aylesbury, has set up a great initiative to try and dispel some of the misconceptions people have of the Staffordshire bull terrier.

The centre’s Staffy Club is now a year old and has more members than ever – more than 50 at the last count. It’s a great idea, Staffy owners and non-Staffy owners alike get together weekly for walks to socialise their dogs and themselves!

Once a month they also train the dogs in agility and even heel work routines to music, something which has earned a comparison to Strictly Come Dancing and has seen them ‘perform’ at Blackberry Farm’s fun day in July, much to the delight of spectators.

It is easy for people to see the many negative stories about Staffies and draw the conclusion that they’re all aggressive. It is also easy for me to defend the Staffy, having never met one which was anything less than friendly, lovable and full of character.

If we look at where their poor image has come from, it’s only been in the last ten years or so that the wrong sort of people have been getting their hands on Staffies, failing to socialise them properly, train them or even provide them with basic care like food and shelter. Many also inflict deliberately cruelty on their pets.

Before this, dogs like Rottweilers and German shepherds were the ‘status dog’ of choice for the less than scrupulous.

Those same people then abandon the dogs when they no longer have a use for them, resulting in 756 Staffies coming in to RSPCA care in 2010 and many more to RSPCA branches and other animal welfare organisations.

Unfortunately, because some Staffies are actually made to be aggressive deliberately or through the neglect of their previous owners, they can take lots of care to get used to people and other animals again. The cycle continues when people see the Staffy’s negative image and don’t even want to consider rehoming one.

Blackberry Farm’s animal care assistants Kirsty Spittles and Liane Tiffany wanted to do something to really make a difference to this trend and actively encourage people visiting the centre to meet one of their Staffies and talk through the many benefits of owning one. The Staffy Club is aimed at building its membership and creating ‘ambassadors’ for the breed who can show people that Staffies can actually be trustworthy, friendly and intelligent pets.

Staffy Podcast

On the podcast just a few of the Staffy Club members talk about why they love their Staffies and I would urge those considering rehoming a rescue dog to have a listen, find out more information and think about a Staffy.

Many of the owners I spoke to said they initially had no intention of getting a Staffy, but now would not be without them.

By Sophie Wilkinson (with contributions from Xabi the dog)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Animals in war

Traditionally at this time of year we buy a poppy and observe a silence to quietly contemplate those who have lost their lives in conflicts around the world.

Thanks to the amazing success of the stage adaptation of children’s novel, War Horse, more and more people are realising the sacrifice a huge number of animals have also paid in war-zones.

I recently went to see War Horse at the New London Theatre, London, and was captivated by heartrending the tale of Albert and his beloved horse Joey who is shipped to France to be in the cavalry at the outbreak of the First World War.

It was a tribute to the incredible skills of the puppeteers operating the life-sized ‘animals’ that much of the audience was moved to tears watching Joey’s traumatic journey from the bloody battle field, being captured by the enemy and ending up in a no-man’s-land littered with the bodies of other horses and soldiers.

My emotional night at the theatre inspired me to discover more about the involvement of animals in the First World War.

The RSPCA was 90 years old when the conflict began in 1914, and the charity was quick to realise that vets would be needed on the front line to treat animal casualties.

With motor vehicles scarce, horses were a vital way of moving troops and equipment. At one point it was estimated that both sides had a million horses on the front lines.

It wasn’t just horses that were crucial to the war effort - donkeys, mules, camels, bullocks, dogs and carrier pigeons all had vital jobs pulling ambulances, detecting mines and carrying top secret messages through the trenches or flying instructions miles behind enemy lines.

RSPCA staff enlisted in the Army Veterinary Corps and raised £250,000 – a staggering £12, 747,500 in todays money - for veterinary supplies and set up four field hospitals which saved about 80 per cent of the 2.5 million animals brought in for treatment.

Once the fighting had stopped, the work of the RSPCA continued. The charity helped soldiers who wanted to bring dogs home but could not afford the quarantine fee of £14 – equivalent to about £715 today. The RSPCA joined forces with the military to build 500 kennels to take in the dogs during their six month quarantine before they could be reunited with their grateful new owners.

And in 1932 the Prince of Wales opened an RSPCA Memorial Dispensary for Animals in Kilburn, north west London, which is still an RSPCA clinic today.

A plaque was erected outside with the poignant message: “To the countless thousands of God’s humble creatures who suffered and perished in the Great War 1914 – 18 knowing nothing of the cause, looking forward to no final victory, filled only with love, faith and loyalty they endured much and died for us.

“May we all remember them with gratitude and in the future commemorate their suffering and death by showing kindness and consideration to living animals.”

Every Remembrance Sunday the RSPCA and other animal charities pay tribute to fallen animals at the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park as well as at the Cenotaph.

So when you fall silent to remember those who have given their lives for the freedom we enjoy, don’t forget the millions of animals who also played their part in shaping history.

Catherine Peerless, RSPCA press officer

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Make Bonfire Night go with a bang, not a whimper

Every November the RSPCA receives calls to its enquiries line asking what we can do about the threat posed to animals by fireworks.

My dog (with me on the photo) was kept in outhouses for the first few months of her life and when she came to us she was a bundle of nerves, especially around loud noises. Although she is much improved, the weeks around 5th November are a miserable time for her and I wish that people would just go to fireworks displays on Bonfire Night itself so at least she would only have one fright night instead of one after another for several days or weeks.

Leaving personal opinions aside, this is a tricky situation. On the one hand, there are lots of people who love fireworks and on the other there are lots of animal lovers who can’t bear to see many animals suffering from fear and distress.

The number of firework-related calls to the RSPCA received between 1 and 8 November increased from 319 in 2009 to a startling 383 in 2010. This is worrying and shows that there are still a great deal of people concerned enough to call us about frightened or hurt animals, and probably many more who wouldn’t think to contact the RSPCA.

The RSPCA has always urged people to go to organised fireworks displays rather than holding their own and I really believe this is the best way to go. After all, they are usually bigger and better than a few fireworks in someone’s garden, and they give pet and livestock owners the chance to prepare in advance and keep their animals safe and as comfortable as possible.

There is also hope in the form of various homeopathic and non-medical treatments for pets which can reduce anxiety.

Please also ‘remember remember’ that it isn’t just household pets that can suffer at this time of year and it is extremely important that people think about the dangers bonfires and fireworks can pose to wild animals. RSPCA wildlife centres often have to treat injured and burned hedgehogs that have been caught in bonfires and we ask that people build fires as late as possible and disturb the fire’s foundations before lighting to give wildlife a chance to escape.

We sometimes forget horses and farm animals too, so please think about animals which are nearby if you are thinking about planning a display. Lots of noise and bright flashes can be very distressing and we do see animals injuring themselves in a desperate attempt to escape.  All you need to do is think twice before holding a display where animals are kept nearby or just let their owners know what your plans are with plenty of notice.

The RSPCA has lots of useful advice on keeping pets safe during fireworks season.

If you do find an animal which is sick or injured please call the RSPCA on 0300 123 4999.

by Sophie Wilkinson

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Ghoulies, ghosties and long-leggety beasties

As night-time falls the creeping, slithering, stalking world arises, lit only by a pale-faced moon.

From ghoulies and ghosties, long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, Halloween can be a lot of fun.

And, certain animals, including black cats and blood-sucking vampire bats, are perfect for evoking a sense of fear around this time of year.

Black cats have been the subject of much debate, fear and superstition for centuries. Depending on the part of the world you live in, or the time in history in which you lived, they could be associated with witches, anarchy, evil, demons, illness, prosperity, luck or even a storm at sea.

Today, superstitions about these cats still remain. This may be the reason why many animal charities – including the RSPCA and Cats Protection – report difficulties in rehoming black cats. In fact an RSPCA centre in Shropshire has designated October 'Black Cat Awareness Month' in a bid to rehome unwanted felines.

One such example of a beautiful black cat that keeps being overlooked is Trixie. This gorgeous two year-old girl has been through a lot in her short life.

Trixie was left totally bald on her back legs, and had to have her tail amputated after she was injured by a small child who had got hold of a pair of hair-straighteners. Sadly it is not unusual for RSPCA staff to see animals come into our care with horrific injuries caused either by accident, neglect or mistreatment.

Trixie is currently being looked after by a foster carer (another group of unsung heroes without whom the RSPCA couldn't continue to care for the thousands of animals it does), and they tell me that she is a lovely, affectionate and very placid cat - despite what she has been through.

Apparently she is fine with other cats, and even though her fur may never grow back, with lots of TLC she will grow in confidence and become a loyal companion for someone.

Not just that, but in the spirit of Halloween, Trixie has white marks on her sides - which means she is also rocking a rather fabulous Mortica Addams look!

If you are interested in giving Trixie a new home, please contact Lisa at RSPCA Northamptonshire on 07840 926122. To see other cats looking for good new owners, why not visit our rehoming pages on the website and brighten up a black cat's day?

Cat facts:
• In Florida, USA, some shelters halt black cat adoptions at this year. They say many people will adopt black cats simply for Halloween decorations, not because they want to provide a home to a new pet. Palm Beach also bans adoptions on Friday the 13th.

• It was once believed that a fisherman’s wife can protect her husband from dangers at sea by keeping a black cat

Few things are more chilling that the thought of a night creature that subsists on the living blood of another organism. Perhaps that’s why bats have lived in our haunted imaginations for thousands of years.

Even before Bram Stoker's book, Dracula, fear of blood-sucking animals was common, and many cultures from different periods have their own version of the story. However, a real bat is much more innocuous. Most subsist on insects. Of the hundreds of species of bats, only three actually drink blood - and only one drinks blood from mammals.

In fact, the RSPCA does a lot of rescue and rehabilitation work with bats – at all times of the year, not just Halloween!

A bat expert at our Stapeley Grange Wildlife centre has discovered a new way rehabilitating injured bats, and back in June we cared for 47 baby bats which were illegally removed from their roost, leaving them without a mother.

The pipistrelle babies were discovered in the box in Wiltshire by a member of the public along with two adult females, one with a fractured wing.

The baby bats, some "no bigger than a thumbnail", were all infested with mites and suffering from dehydration. The orphan pipistrelles are currently being hand-reared, round the clock, by a team of six "bat workers".

So that’s it for today’s blog. Just remember - most of the time we make up scary stories about certain animals just to entertain ourselves...but of course, that doesn't mean they're not lurking, just outside your window...

Bat Facts:

• Vampire bats adopt orphans, and are one of the few mammals known to risk their own lives to share food with less fortunate roost-mates.

• An anticoagulant from vampire bat saliva may soon be used to treat human heart patients and stroke victims.

Calie Rydings, RSPCA press officer

Monday, 17 October 2011

Cash-strapped shoppers want a bargain but also have values

I was surprised and pleased to learn that, despite difficult financial times, almost half of shoppers still say that the welfare of animals is extremely or very important when it comes to choosing their groceries.

The future also looks positive, with nearly a third of shoppers saying they expect to purchase more free range and high animal welfare products in the year ahead*.

The figures should be higher, of course, but it is an encouraging figure; although people want a bargain, many are also maintaining their values.

This trend is clearly having an effect on businesses, an increasing number of whom are trying to improve on animal welfare.

I recently helped out at the RSPCA Good Business Awards ceremony, where companies who are already going the extra mile for animals were recognised for their efforts. It’s great to see that some companies are recognising their responsibilities and responding to what consumers want.

The winning companies were clearly very pleased to be recognised by the RSPCA, and will hopefully be encouraged to do even more.

You can find out more about ‘good business’ by watching this film (click on the image below of Farmer Brown in his tractor)  which was shown for the first time at the awards ceremony.

Also, take a look at RSPCA Freedom Food’s new Hettie the Hen animation about welfare-friendly shopping (click on the image at the end of this post)!

The winners of the RSPCA Good Business Awards 2011  are……

For the third year running, Co-operative won the most public votes in the People’s Choice award, plus the award for Most Progress. Marks & Spencer received an award for Sustained Excellence, and Sainsbury’s picked up the prize for Excellence in Consumer Communications for its promotion of higher welfare food.

Riverford Organic (farms in Devon, Hampshire, Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire, delivers around the UK) won the Independent Retailer award, while Daylesford Farmshop (Kingham, Gloucestershire) and Edge and Son (New Ferry, Wirral) were highly commended.

Lussmans Fish and Grill Restaurants (St Albans, Hertford, and Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire) won the Independent Restaurant award, while Due South (Brighton) was highly commended.

The Feathers Inn (Hedley on the Hill, Northumberland) won the Pubs category for its commitment to animal welfare, including a food festival and expansion into catering. This is the second time they have won this award. Catering company Eco Cuisine was highly commended.

Both large and small fashion companies are also working hard to improve animal welfare.

High street favourite George at Asda was presented with the Large Company award for its work on traceability, while Beyond Skin scooped the Small Company award for producing desirable, ethical high fashion footwear at an achievable price.

Rapanui was given the Innovation award for its use of QR codes (a type of bar code) on product labels. Customers can scan the tag using a smart phone to view interactive information about the origins of the raw materials in the garment. The judges described the idea as ‘game changing’.

The Best Newcomer award was won by The North Circular and Frank and Faith were highly commended in the Small Company category.

*Source: IGD

Helen Coen, senior RSPCA press officer

Thursday, 6 October 2011

It’s a Strangelove...or how I stopped worrying and learnt to love my dog

Have you seen the film 'Marley and Me?' - you know the one about the family who learn important life lessons from their adorable, but naughty labrador...who is often described as 'the world's worst dog'?

Well, I've got news for you film fans...Marley is a perfect pooch compared to my dog, Mister Bones.

We got Mister Bones during the long hot summer of 2008. My husband and I carried him home, wrapped in a blanket, feeling for all the world like proud new parents.

We had got his dog bowl, bed and toys all ready. We had read the books and done our research, so we felt we were ready to raise this beautiful (if slightly daft looking) animal.

Ten hours later...our sofa was ripped to pieces, his toys lay in tatters, he had gone to the toilet all over the floor and was now crying into the night because we wouldn't let him in our bed.

The truth is that everybody who gets a new puppy expects a few nights, maybe even months of this sort of thing right? Well, here we are four years later, and while Bones is now (mercifully) house-trained, he is still the naughtiest dog I have ever met!

We have another dog – Scarlett – a beautiful old rescue dog who came to us from a terrible, cruel home. When we got her she was very underweight despite being a greyhound cross, had never been house-trained (or indeed slept inside a house), or had a proper collar. She was bald around her neck from where she had been tied up and covered in scars.

It took a few weeks and a lot of patience but soon we saw Scarlett grow in confidence and she became a keen student, eager to learn sit and stay, fetch and play. She is – most of the time at least – the perfect dog!

But Bones is special. Despite puppy classes and training groups he has struggled to learn anything other than sit. He does come back on walkies, but only if there is food to tempt him. He sometimes plunges himself into rivers, forgetting he is afraid of water and then cries for us to come and pluck him out. I have on many occasions seen him run straight into the glass balcony door because he forgets it’s there...and so it goes on.

Even our animal-loving friends and family refused to dog-sit Mister Bones because of his tendency to emit a high pitched whine (that we call his sorrowful song) whenever he wanted attention.

We had begun to despair – fearing we were terrible owners. Then I had a baby and suddenly Mister Bones grew up. Far from being jealous of our son, as we had feared, Bones loved him!

Although our boy is now an energy-filled bundle of toddlerhood, Bones is gentle and patient with him. In fact, he adores him...especially at dinner times, when he sits ever so attentively by his highchair waiting for the inevitable scraps to be flung his way.

The point that I am making is that dog ownership is never straightforward – it is fraught with challenges and especially when you bring a new person or animal into the house it can be a very worrying time.

The most important thing I have learnt living with Bones is that you as an owner have to be willing to understand and recognise what your dog is feeling.

Be gentle and patient, try to let the little things go but remain focused on the important skills you can teach your dog that will help them live a happy, fulfilled life.

Living with Bones has been a rollercoaster. He has cost us thousands of pounds in damage (1xcomputer, 1xsofa, 1x family Christmas presents, 50+ books/ DVD’s destroyed and the list goes on) but to us – he is priceless.

Calie Rydings, RSPCA press officer

Monday, 26 September 2011

Give some chirpy chooks a good home

My partner and I have decided to get four new chooks after our previous brood died last year. We did have just three hens – Geraldine, Lillian and Gillian - all named after good friends we’d made in a Ugandan village.

They were ex-battery farm birds, and even I hadn’t been quite prepared for their terrible appearance when we collected them. Pecked, de-feathered and defeated, they seemed a sorry sight.

The utter cruelty of battery farms should have been consigned to history long ago, and next year’s ban on battery farms across Europe can’t come soon enough. But it’s extremely frustrating to know that the so-called ‘enriched’ cages meant to replace the old ones are a pretty small change. A cage is a cage is a cage.

So what can we do? Well, we’re one of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people who’ve decided to keep their own chickens. They make such great companions, I’m just surprised more people don’t do it.

Ok, there’s a bit of hen-house clearing out, some scratching of the lawn, and the occasional wiping of a hen’s bum.

But there’s the joy of watching an ex-battery hen which has never seen earth before instinctively start to shimmy and bathe contentedly in the dust. You also get to see a bird, initially so bald that it looks like it’s come from a supermarket shelf, return to full-feathered splendour.

And of course there’s the never-ending supply of eggs, great for neighbourly diplomacy, and which you also know have come from happy and healthy animals. It means you can always ‘go to work on an egg’ – not to mention the child-like joy of discovering a freshly-laid warm egg, especially comforting on a cold autumnal morning.

As before, our ten-year-old cat Margot will no doubt be more than a bit curious about the flappy new friends sharing the garden, but she’ll take it in her stride. After a few days of wary circling, detente is quickly established and all the animals go about their business without any fuss.

With our last brood, there was even a hint of friendship – one day we came home to find hen and cat lying down in the grass beside each other and enjoying the sunshine together.

The joy of hens. We’d recommend it to anyone.

So go on, give some chirpy chooks a good home.

Henry Macaulay, RSPCA head of press

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Cats and other tails from the regions

It’s all bits and pieces from me this week, starting with the change of profile pic to my dog Xabi who is sporting her new haircut for autumn!*

One of the big problems facing RSPCA branches and centres every summer is the deluge of unwanted cats and kittens which fill every space in catteries and in foster homes.

Now we are seeing this year round and, as more cats are abandoned, less people come forward to give them homes. 10,610 were reported as abandoned 2010, compared to 8,310 in 2009.

If I could ask for one thing it would be to urge people to get their cats neutered or spayed – many RSPCA branches and other organisations run discounted programmes for those who might struggle to afford it. It really is the kindest thing to do and helps prevent the heartbreaking situation of cats and kittens being dumped.

One kitten this week was found tied to a dog crate with an old piece of bailing twine in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Just a few days later, two tiny newborn kittens were dumped in a soaking wet cardboard box in Sunderland. Luckily, all three were found before any serious harm could come to them but it could easily have been a different story.

The big story of the last week was the rescue of more than 400 Manx shearwaters which had blown off course in strong winds as they migrated to Argentina. The shearwaters were leaving the islands of Skomer and Skokholm off the coast of Pembrokeshire, which are home the largest known concentration of the birds in the world, when they ended up being stranded in the surf on the Welsh mainland.

The RSPCA rescued the birds and transferred them to its West Hatch Wildlife Centre in Taunton, Somerset to be rehydrated and fed so that they would be strong enough to survive their migration. They are now being released in groups of around 30 at twilight (as they are drawn towards daylight and may veer inland) off the south coast so they can continue their journey to South America.

In other news, we have been recognising those who have done outstanding work in the field of animal welfare in our 2nd annual RSPCA Honours ceremony, which was this year hosted by our vice president, actor and presenter, Brian Blessed.

The awards were given to some of our own inspectors for their exceptional hard work in many areas, as well as to individuals like Jill Robinson from Animals Asia for her incredibly effective efforts to end the cruel practice of farming bears for their bile, and to Danny Penman, a journalist who has covered countless exposes of animal cruelty, such as Canadian seal hunts and the shipment of monkeys in Asia to European laboratories, to the public’s attention through his tireless undercover work.

And, finally we’d like to say a big thanks to Simon Pegg. The Shaun of the Dead and Run Fatboy Run star popped into an RSPCA charity shop in Crouch End, London, to donate a bundle of clothes. The clothes included a Versace suit and the money raised will go towards helping the thousands of animals cared for, treated and neutered by the Central and North London branch of the RSPCA.

*Xabi was rehomed from RSPCA Block Fen in Cambridgeshire six years ago. She doesn’t shed hair so needs regular grooming as she gets very furry, hot and uncomfortable, especially now she’s getting older!

by Sophie Wilkinson, Regional Media Manager

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The RSPCA's best-kept secret

I think one of the best kept secrets about the RSPCA is that we give a much-needed second chance to hundreds of horses and ponies each year.

Our work doesn’t finish when we’ve rescued them from cruelty or neglect and nursed them back to health. That’s only the start.

Each horse is assigned their own groom so they build a relationship with one person, and hopefully begin to learn that people are there to look after them, not harm them.

Grooms spend endless hours with horses to help them regain trust in humans after, in many cases, traumatic experiences.

Only when they are responding well to human contact does the next stage of their training start, and they practice having their feet picked up, being groomed and being led in hand.

Once they’ve mastered basic stable manners, they are trained to be ridden. This is done in a gentle and gradual way by introducing new experiences and building up the horse’s confidence, slowly working towards the time when they are happy to wear a saddle and bridle and carry a rider.

This preparation also increases the RSPCA’s chances of finding horses a good new home – especially in difficult financial times when fewer people can afford to take them on – as most people want a well-trained ‘ready-made’ horse that they are able to ride safely.

All of this costs money, of course, and it costs at least £5,000 to care for, rehabilitate and find a new home for each horse – only possible thanks to generous donations from the RSPCA’s much-valued supporters.

One of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever followed has been that of Polly, one of the many horses who have benefitted from the RSPCA’s hard work and expertise.

If you’re a member or a supporter of the RSPCA you may already have read her story in Animal life magazine. If you missed it, you can read her rags to riches tale here.

You can also listen to a podcast including interviews with some of the wonderful staff – all of them unsung heroes - at the RSPCA’s Felledge Equine centre who cared for and rehabilitated her, and watch a slideshow of photos of Polly.

I was lucky enough to spend time at the equine centre and watch the grooms working with horses at various stages of their training.

I was struck by the incredibly caring, nurturing environment and the obvious trust the team there had in each other and were gradually building with the horses in their care.

Polly was already in her new home when I visited, and Lisa Paulin, deputy manager of Felledge Animal Centre, was kind enough to take me to see her and meet her owner Krissy Bowden. 

Having seen the shocking pictures of Polly when she was first rescued, it was amazing to see her looking so happy and well.

I feel privileged to have met Polly and the wonderful people who have collectively, through a team effort, transformed her life.

To find out more about adopting a horse or pony from the RSPCA, please visit the RSPCA website.

Helen Coen, RSPCA senior press officer.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Nine hundred million reasons to support farm animal welfare

The alleys near the docks were dark, dank, and foul. Robbers lay in wait for sailors stepping ashore from their ships after months, even years, at sea.

Stray cats slithered and mangy dogs prowled. On the wet slippery roads wretched, beaten horses strained and slipped as they tried to pull their loads up the steep hills. Cattle were beaten in the street. This was London, 1824.

In St. Martin's Lane (not far from Piccadilly Circus) stood Old Slaughter's Coffee House. On the evening of June 16 1824, it was busier than usual - because a meeting had been called to discuss ways of protecting animals from cruelty.

Two years previously an Irish member of Parliament, Richard (Humanity Dick) Martin, piloted a Bill through the House of Commons called An Act to prevent the cruel and improper Treatment of Cattle, which made it an offence, punishable by fines up to five pounds or two months imprisonment, to "beat, abuse, or ill-treat any mule, ass, ox, cow, heifer, steer, sheep or other cattle."

But the Act (known as Martin's Act) needed men of vision and courage to ensure the clauses of the bill were put into effect. And one man determined to see that happen - the Reverend Arthur Broome had decided that if he could persuade a few prominent people to support him, he could found a society and employ an inspector to see that Martin's Act was properly enforced.

Humanity Dick himself was at the meeting, as well as a quiet man with a great social conscience called William Wilberforce - the politician who in the 1820’s led the movement to abolish the slave trade.

So, out of this historic assembly the SPCA was born – the world’s first animal welfare charity (The "Royal" was added later). On that night the SPCA declared they would send men to inspect Smithfield Market, where livestock had been sold since the 10th century, as well as slaughterhouses, in order to try and prevent the suffering of farm animals.

What I am trying to demonstrate is that while many people think of the RSPCA as a 'cats and dogs' charity, in fact the Society was founded in 1824 in direct response to witnessing cruelty towards livestock.

Now, nearly 190 years later – through the work of our farm animal science department and the higher welfare food and farming campaigns team - the RSPCA is very much honouring its roots; carrying out this vital work and striving for better welfare standards for all farm animals.

How do we do this? Well, by demonstrating, just as Martin and Wilberforce demonstrated, that improving farm animal welfare begins with the greatest ideas and the smallest actions.

I have worked as the RSPCA press officer for farm animals for three years and am proud of the work these guys do – largely behind the scenes. These are knowledgeable, passionate but pragmatic people, who care very deeply.

That said, it is a huge challenge to try to improve the welfare of such a large number of animals, from chickens kept as pets to pigs and cows on large-scale farms. That’s why we work in a number of different ways to encourage improvements, and always use all available science and practical evidence.

And how can you help? Well it’s easy really...buying just one item of higher welfare food a week, telling just one friend why supporting Freedom Food or Free range can help animals live better lives; or writing just one letter to a supermarket or an MP can help us improve the lives of the 900 million animals farmed in the UK each year.

To find out more about our work and what you can do help improve the lives of farm animals, go to:

Calie Rydings, RSPCA press officer

Thursday, 25 August 2011

In at the deep end! My first week at the RSPCA

In my first week as an RSPCA press officer I learned some surprising facts:

  • You can discover exactly what breeds make up your dog by a sample of their saliva

  • Some people think it’s a good idea to dye their pets and ‘fur-jazzle’ them.....

But the thing that struck me most, and will stay with me forever, is my discovery during an induction chat with Tony Woodley, the RSPCA inspectorate’s communications and liaison officer, how many incidents each RSPCA officer deals with on a daily basis.

I already found it staggering that the RSPCA handles 1.2 million calls a year, but when I saw in black and white how those calls are shared amongst just 340 frontline staff, it really brought it home to me what a never-ending mission the inspectors, and the Society, faces.

I met with lots of other RSPCA staff and departments during my first week.

I was shown stomach-churning photographs of emaciated dogs by staff in the prosecutions department, discovered that rats need their tails to control their body temperature during my chat with the companion animals department, and learned from the wildlife team that meerkats do not make good pets.

At the end of the week I had a bulging notepad of information and links to reports, guides and sections of the RSPCA website I need to read through to build up my knowledge of animal welfare and the RSPCA’s work.

I have come to the RSPCA from a very small company of just two people. so it will take me some time to get used to working as part of a larger organisation - and remember everyone’s names and what they do!

But now I can better appreciate how all the different departments have a vital part to play.

It’s clear from everyone I have spoken to, no matter which department they work in, that their number one priority is always improving animal welfare.

I’m really looking forward to playing my part in that team effort raising awareness of the RSPCA’s goals and ambitions to help animals.

Cat Peerless, RSPCA press officer