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