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

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