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

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Helping animals in danger - 400 feet up

Many moons ago - long before I entered the world of journalism and even longer before I entered life in the RSPCA press office - I worked for a year between school and university as a structural draughtsman and technician.

As someone who has never been the greatest fan of heights, perhaps the one moment that sticks in my mind was gingerly climbing to the top of a ladder and clinging onto an open bathroom window as if my life depended on it, as I attempted to take a measurement under the eaves of a house somewhere in Shrewsbury.

It was this rather obscure memory that came flooding back to me as I visited RSPCA inspector Richard Abbott recently on the glorious West Wales coast, to record a podcast all about his experiences as a key member of one of our rope rescue teams.

My ‘daredevil’ activities paled in comparison to Richard’s as he regaled me with tales of abseiling down 400ft cliffs above the crashing waves to rescue seabirds, and clambering down steep banks of loose shale with the prospect of being squashed by falling rocks and boulders to reach stranded livestock.

When you mention the RSPCA to most people, they immediately - and understandably - think of the fantastic work done by our rehoming centres, or our inspectors dealing with animals left in poor conditions as so often seen on television shows like Animal 24/7 and Emergency Animal Rescue.

Many don’t realise the vast levels of specialist expertise within the charity, especially in dealing with such potentially dangerous situations as faced by rope rescue teams, like those described to me by Richard.

Like all RSPCA inspectors, most of his time is conducted investigating complaints of cruelty across his patch that stretches out from north Pembrokeshire all the way up to south of Aberystwyth and across into mid Wales.

Due to the landscape of the area he covers though, he is called out to lead rescue operations to reach animals that find themselves stranded on perilous terrain that is often been previously untouched by humans before.

In his career as an RSPCA inspector he’s rescued all manner of animals using his rope rescue skills. From horses to sheep frightened down cliff faces by walkers’ dogs along the coastal paths, to dogs themselves whose over-adventurous nature sometimes finds them stranded.

It was just as I was bringing the interview to an end with Richard that he summed up the whole thing perfectly though. For him it makes no difference whether he has to rescue a hedgehog trapped down a drain or spend hours planning the safe recovery of a sheep stuck on a mountain ledge, bringing in fellow rope rescue trained inspectors from far and wide.

The situation makes no difference to him; the fact remains that they are both animals in danger. They might be worlds apart in terms of size and predicament, but they both need rescuing and that’s exactly what the RSPCA’s inspectorate does. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. 365 days a year.

Andy Robbins, senior RSPCA press officer

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Animal welfare is good for business

One of the things that has changed the most – and for the better - since I joined the RSPCA press office 10 years ago is a shift in consumer attitudes to animal welfare.

Consumers now know they can demand products that have been sourced and produced with animal welfare in mind, and companies recognise that animal welfare makes good business sense.

I can remember a time when it just didn’t occur to people to buy free range meat or to find out what the new coat they were buying was made of.

They just picked up a pack of chicken breasts from the supermarket shelf or item of clothing off the rack and were happy not to make the connection between the product they were buying and the fact that it came from a living animal.

Why have things changed? Well, I think TV programmes showing how farm animals are reared and slaughtered have helped raise awareness, and of course the RSPCA Freedom Food label has helped people make a higher welfare choice without having to spend much more on their weekly shop.

Supermarkets now actively advertise their higher welfare and free range products, and there are an increasing number of ethical fashion companies and retailers, with major clothing chains developing impressive ethical and traceability policies.

I think the fact that so many companies, large and small, enter the RSPCA’s Good Business Awards every year shows that they know that animal welfare is good for business and that they’re proud of the work they’re doing.

The awards were set up in recognition of the achievements of companies in the fashion and food industries that achieve higher standards of animal welfare.

Watch out for this year’s winners once they’re announced on 5 October and in the meantime, why not vote for the supermarket you think does the most for animal welfare in the RSPCA People’s Choice Award? The Co-operative, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Whole Foods Market have all been shortlisted.

Of course there’s still a lot that needs to change, from the way businesses operate to the way people shop, but I think we should be pleased with and proud of progress made in the last decade – I certainly am.

Helen Coen, senior press officer

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Time for action on circuses.

from Katya

One of the key issues I have been involved with over the past few months is the campaign to get a ban on wild animals in travelling circuses – a campaign which is at a critical stage.

We think that gawping at animals such as elephants, lions and tigers performing tricks in circuses is an outdated and unacceptable form of ‘entertainment’, especially since they are likely to suffer in this environment.

And we are not alone. A month ago MPs from across the political parties agreed with us and voted unanimously for a ban at a high-profile debate in the House of Commons.

They spoke passionately about the issue and against government plans to introduce a licensing regime instead of a ban – and we were delighted that something looked as if it was finally going to happen.

However, we have since heard worrying reports that despite this vote the government may still not be going ahead with plans for a ban. This has made us extremely concerned and we are calling on the government to act.

The issue of wild animals in circuses is one that has struck a chord in many people. A government consultation showed that 94% of the want a ban and there was widespread upset after heart-rending footage of Anne the elephant being abused by one of her keepers at a circus was revealed.

But it is not just animals like Anne that we need to be concerned about. The issues involved with wild animals in circuses go deeper than outright abuse.

Research has shown that the conditions necessary to meet the welfare needs of wild animals are simply not feasible in circuses – where frequent travel, restricted movements, poor living conditions and loud noises are a regular part of daily life.

The animals spend most of their time confined to enclosures where they pace up and down for hours on end. They are transported in beastwagons, which have to be a certain size to be allowed on roads, and housed in temporary cages, typically ¼ of the size of those recommended in zoos.

Some animals are simply tethered to a peg on the ground – unable to move a few metres or socialise with others.

And all in the name of 'entertainment.'

Katya Mira

RSPCA press officer