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