Friday, 6 July 2012

A Place in The Sun

Given the on-going Leveson Inquiry, you’d be forgiven for thinking that tabloid journalists aren’t the most popular bunch on the block right now. In terms of groundbreaking discoveries though, that’s hardly up there with the Higgs boson particle.

For an industry that thrives on title-tattle of the rich and famous, criticism is nothing new to the red-top press.

So why then, you may be wondering, has the RSPCA thrown its support behind The Sun newspaper’s Safer Dogs Campaign? How can a newspaper which regularly prints images of snarling canines and ‘devil dog’ headlines get the backing of Britain’s biggest animal welfare charity?

From a press officer’s point of view, the facts are simple. As of May this year, with sales of more than 2.6million copies every day, The Sun is the highest selling national newspaper. Despite the recent backlash against tabloid journalism, its influence is still huge.

Just like the job of frontline inspectors is to rescue animals and prevent cruelty, the job of a press officer is to get the RSPCA’s message across in the media. In this instance, Britain’s biggest selling newspaper has essentially put it on a plate for us. We’d be crazy not to bite their hand off.

When The Sun came to us, asking our opinion and what reforms to dog law we want from the Government, we were happy to share those thoughts. When The Sun then used that information as the basis for a campaign to apply more pressure on our country’s decision makers, why wouldn’t we support that? It means we are essentially getting our messaging directly into the homes of more than 2.6million people on a regular basis. That is probably more than many advertising campaigns or mail-outs could achieve, and at no financial cost to ourselves.

As press officers, we can try our best to get our point of view across to journalists and media. Despite this, we can’t control what images or headlines The Sun uses. However, we are more likely to influence such matters by working closely with them than we are by not.

You might not be the biggest fan of Page Three girls, sensational headlines or double page features on Jedward (seriously, who is?), but our priority remains animal welfare – not The Sun’s editorial policy.

Newspapers are ever-changing and we can’t predict whether The Sun will suddenly decide to change its view by this time tomorrow. If it does change its tune, then no doubt we’ll have plenty to say about it. We’ve not signed up to any secretive deal. We’ve not exchanged black briefcases outside a dimly lit tube station. We’ve not given anyone a secret handshake. We’ve simply applauded a major media outlet for pointing out what we’ve been saying for years – that the root of the problem is deed not breed.

The proof will of course be in the pudding. However, if the newspaper’s Safer Dogs Campaign makes a real difference and improves the lives of thousands upon thousands of dogs – not to mention the vast majority of responsible dog owners – and stops the demonization of dogs, then we hope we won’t be the only ones who offer them a pat on the back.

Andy Robbins - senior press officer

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Ten Cat Commandments, inspired by Moses the moggie

There exists a calm, well-behaved and wise old cat called Moses. He is owned by my friend's mum, a preacher.

There also exists a pair of tiny, naughty and greedy pests called Gracie and Blod. They are owned by me.

It is often pot luck as to which you end up with, though I will say to potential cat owners that a pet moggie really is a fabulous thing. Here's my advice for what it's worth!

1. Thou shalt not restrict ownership to 'crazy cat lady' only
Cats need a re-branding. Where has this popular image come from that moggies are mainly or only owned by mad cat ladies who dress them as babies and push them around in a pram?

Cats can make great pets for all, including men. Think Top Gear's James May and Fusker, Robert de Niro and Mr. Jinx and James Bond’s Blofeld with that moody-looking Persian. I can think of many male friends who could give a rescue cat a responsible, loving home...

2. Thou shalt not underestimate feline intelligence

Poor kitties, they never rank in these ‘top ten intelligent animals’ surveys. So what if a crow can make tools and an ape understand words - could they press down a door handle with their paws and then swing in on it before dropping to the floor ninja-style like my friend’s cat?

Cat intelligence does seem mainly to be of the need-to-know type which is only used when push comes to shove, and mostly hidden so that they are not made to learn tricks.

3. Thou shalt not pigeon-hole cats!
Words commonly and unfairly bandied about to describe cats are ‘selfish’, ‘disloyal’ and ‘lazy’. Occasionally you will also get ‘evil’. Plus, there are websites dedicated to cats that look like Hitler!

OK so my mother in law’s cat Fudge is somewhat of an evil genius, but on the other hand teeny 18-year old Dennis (female)  is a happy-go-lucky and hapless thing.

She is currently wearing an eye patch like a tiny pirate after an irritated Fudge caused her to lose an eye, but Dennis remains loyal.

4. Thou shalt get thy cat neutered

A single unneutered cat can cause havoc with the kitten population over the years, filling RSPCA catteries and foster homes to the brim.
Neutering or spaying is a one off, often discounted solution, and the money you make from not feeding those extra mouths can buy a whole heap of 'ten cute kittens hanging from tree' Athena posters.

5. Thou shalt not give them too much of an inch...

... Or the cunning cats amongst them will take the mile! My cat ownership began on a slippery slope which for me meant letting them sleep in the bedroom (cue regular 4am wake-up calls) and treating them to extra titbits from our plate, which eventually turned them into plate thiefs (or should that be cat burglars?).

Make life easier - feed them a regular cat diet and assign them their own sleeping area with the door to your bedroom firmly shut!!

6. Thou shalt make your community a cat haven

Cats and their free roaming ways often take them away from your back garden and into contact with neighbours, strangers or sticky situations.

Common cat problems in my experience include antifreeze poisoning (whether accidental or deliberate), air weapon attacks and wild animal traps. As well as reporting incidents to us, why not discuss possible preventative measures in a local community group.

7. Thou shalt microchip your mog

We say this all the time in our press work, but an updated record of your details linking to the cat’s microchip is the best chance you have of being reunited if moggie is stolen or strays!

Added to this there should only ever be one collar you should use on your cat, and that is a safe snap away’ kind - I recently witnessed some horrific lacerations at Newport Animal Centre when a cat wearing a regular collar got caught on a tree.

8. Thou shalt love thy cat on youtube

Dogs owners have the park and all the canine camaraderie that comes with it to show off. But cats are more of a ‘private’ pet and so you tube is the perfect place to share your moggie’s 'mad half hour' or general quirks with the world.

Cat capers seem to outweigh the canine sort on youtube; my current favourite is still ‘cat gets caught barking by a human’.

9. Thou shalt repeat: A cat is for life and not just for Christmas

This goes for all animals of course and it is sad when people rehome their cat because it doesn't get on with the new dog. Always build your pet family bit by bit like a jigsaw!

Some may also worry that it's necessary to rehome a cat during pregnancy due to health worries, but my expectant friend was recently reassured by a vet that taking simple precautions such as getting others to change the litter tray and washing hands is sufficient.

10. Thou shalt anthropomorphise your cat!

This goes a step further than Point 3 and creates a whole life or persona for your cat/pet (done by many of my friends). I think it just shows the affection people have for their animals.

However, if you have created bands for your cats as we have done (little Gracie is in a Motown girl group called Mop & the Moppettes while black cat Blod is in an EMO band), then you have gone a step too far.

Happy cat capers all!

Lowri Jones - press officer - Wales

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

I want to work for the RSPCA!

One of the things I hear most often when I tell people I work for the RSPCA is “Oh I would love a job with them,” or “I want to work with the animals, can you help me?” or even “That was my dream job when I was little but I suppose it’s too late now”

Do you want to know a secret? It was my childhood dream too.

Me (with big sister) aged five - already passionate about animals!

The RSPCA has always had a special place in my heart. Throughout my adolescence I raised money for the charity through cake sales and even penned a passionate article about the RSPCA and puppy farms in the magazine I used to write as an 11 year old. (Interesting note: the magazine was alarmingly entitled ‘Kinky Mag’ but only because I had no idea at all what that word meant. Honest).

I staged campaigns and petitions through my school on all manner of animal related issues, including veal crates and battery eggs.

At six, I held a protest in office of my then headmistress, to convince her to make a wildlife conservation area in a wooded patch at the edge of our playing fields.

After much wrangling, she agreed. I didn’t do myself any favours with my schoolmates though. Most rather fancied the idea of a tennis court to be honest.

One summer I even lied about my age to volunteer at an RSPCA branch near Cardiff. (I am not proud of the fact I fibbed...well maybe a little).

I loved it - walking the animals, feeding and brushing them, even cleaning up dog poo. I would call my mum in tears most days begging to be able to bring home the dogs and cats I had been looking after.

Indeed I became so attached to one cat - who I named ‘Dribble Cat’ - that I still have a picture of her in a photo album. Mind you, this was about 17 years ago now, so I would guess Dribble Cat is enjoying fish pie in the sky by now.

But I didn’t start my career working for the RSPCA. Like many people I speak to, I just didn’t know how.

So I became a journalist instead. Which given my auspicious start as the editor of Kinky Mag - is hardly surprising really.

A decade later, I had done my post grad in news journalism, worked as a regional reporter, food critic, theatre and art reviewer and even a health and science reporter.

It was great – although stressful – and yet I had become a little disillusioned with my line of work.

I would occasionally hear people say how much they ‘loved’ their jobs. I liked mine, (a lot of the time anyway), but ‘love’ your job? Surely it wasn’t possible for normal people like me to love their jobs?

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the travel and excitement that come with my job, but I felt I wanted something more...I wanted to do something that mattered. Something I really cared about.

That was when I saw the advert. Suddenly I realised I would combine journalism with animal welfare by working as a press officer for the RSPCA. I had never even thought of that. WOW.

I found out I had got the job on my 26th birthday and now, here I am four years later.

Its not all going to TV studios and hugging fluffy kittens and lovely bunnies though.

I have watched endless hours of horrible footage; heard harrowing stories from those on the ground; visited countless farms, animal centres, hospitals and branches; watched dozens of castrations and operations; seen the terrible affects of cruelty on vulnerable animal and humans through schemes like Pet Retreat...and yet...

...I can honestly say I do love my job (most days!) and I feel like I do something worthwhile.

I sometimes wonder how I have come so far from the 11 year-old girl sitting in her room writing impassioned articles about puppy the 30 year-old sitting in an office writing impassioned articles about puppy farms!

But of course, sometimes coming right back to where you started is a pretty amazing place to be.

To find out more about working or volunteering for the RSPCA, why not visit:
Calie Rydings, Snr Press Officer

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Dead Horse Living

My husband would tell you I am obsessed with two things – animals (in particular horses) and Zombies (the Hollywood type that cannot communicate, move slowly and have no purpose in their life except the quest for food.

Seven years ago, I would have said my two interests had nothing in common – but then I met Mai.

Mai, an 18-year-old chestnut coloured thoroughbred mare came to me via an RSPCA inspector, as her owner could not afford to keep her. She was underweight, covered in lice and rubbed raw by her rug and she had a bad case of mud fever [when horses get mud around their feet, and it causes irritation around their lower limbs] on her heels.

Once at our home, Mai was alive, in the dictionary sense of the word, but she didn’t seem to acknowledge anyone around her. I would hold her bucket as she ate, bath her sores and stand and stroke her – but I can honestly say she never looked at or acknowledged me.

I tried hard not to take it personally, as I knew that whilst I brought her food I was also the person that covered her in lice powder and had to clean her painful scabs, which would probably not make me very popular.

Three weeks after arriving with me, Mai was standing by the field gate looking towards the house and making a terrible whinny noise, the first sound she had made and daft as it sounds I know she was asking for something from me and it wasn’t food.

As she stood there, I took her rug off and started to massage her all over. The thick woolly coat she has hung onto, until then to protect her starving frame, was now coming out by the handful leaving a carpet of hair on the floor.

And, as I groomed her, with my hands, as I had many times before, she decided it was time that she finally acknowledged my existence and she started to rub her muzzle against me and return the favour.

That was the day the light in Mai’s eyes came back – and instead of just going through the process of living, she decided it was worthwhile being alive
Mai, fully recovered and being a supernanny!

Six years on, Mai has become a permanent member of my family and a vital member of my fostering team. When a new pony has been through its quarantine period I usually match it up with Mai, who at 24 and going strong, could probably give Jo Frost a run for her money in the nanny stakes.

With food, water and veterinary attention most animals can be brought back to health but giving them a purpose and a reason to live and teaching them there is a benefit to being with humans is much harder.

By fostering an RSPCA equine not only are you teaching it the skills it needs to be rehomed but you are opening it up to a bright new future and proving that for them, zombie life is over – the future has more to offer than just struggling to find the next meal.

Jo Barr, Snr Regional Press Officer

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

An obligation to care

Today I am pleased to introduce a very special guest blogger. Nathan Paice, who is doing work experience on behalf of the RSPCA, to help promote our Good Business Awards and inspire organisations to implement higher animal welfare standards.

So without further ado, here is what he had to say:

"The welfare of animals, in fact the welfare of the environment and all wildlife, has been a cause close to me since I was young enough to remember.

In my eyes, we’re no better or worse than any other living thing; we all have a role to play on this planet and we all deserve the same decent treatment and level of respect – we’re all animals anyway aren’t we?

Thankfully, those important values have long been instilled in me by my close family and friends growing up.

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks the same way. In my experience talking about subjects like this, there always seems to be two extremes with varying opinions drifting in between.

You have the ultimate animal welfare enthusiast on one end of the spectrum – the militant, fruitarian activist. While on the other end, you have the seemingly cold-hearted opinion of someone who believes we’re top of the food chain, it’s survival of the fittest, that we need animals purely for our survival and they live solely to serve our diets, modern medicine and the fashion industry, bla bla bla…

The ones who deliberately hurt animals either for their own pleasure, or because they’re cowards with no self-control, I’ve left out of the spectrum altogether; they’re soulless in my eyes.

Animals don’t have a voice like us, so they can’t shout out if they’re being treated cruelly. That’s why I feel such an obligation to lend a helping hand to the RSPCA – I think the fact I’m a huge animal lover helps as well though!

There is so much we take for granted with regards to animal welfare. I had an understanding of the injustices to animals in various industries like food and fashion, but I didn’t quite realise how deep it went until I started working with the RSPCA. It was harrowing to learn.

You see all those pieces in the media and hear opinions from people about shock tactics and not wanting to know all the gory details.

 For me though, it’s important to have an awareness and keep that spark to help fight for animal welfare alive by staying in touch with the real, gritty issues. You can’t live life through rose-tinted glasses; the very garment your wearing (it doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive designer, fur item) could have been manufactured out of untold suffering and blood – quite literally.

It really doesn’t take much to look at a label and question where something is really coming from or how it was made in the first place.

I’m not na├»ve enough to think everyone will become vegan and animal rights should be placed before ours, because I know that’s not the case. However, we can work to ensure animal rights are placed alongside ours as mutual living things on this planet, and we can work to ensure animals used in industries like food and fashion are handled with respect and treated like we would want to be treated. It’s only right.

To think otherwise just seems plain immoral. There really is no excuse for animal welfare neglect in this day and age.

If you’re not so big on animal interaction, I really do recommend you try and connect with them. Interacting with animals is such a rewarding experience."

Nathan Paice

Thank you so much to Nathan for a fantastic blog, and for all his help with the RSPCA's Good Business Awards. Whatever his future career, we are sure he will have every success!

Calie Rydings (Snr RSPCA press officer)

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Castration nation

What other job means you get to watch several castrations, meet a cat with thumbs and eat cake all in the same morning...well, mine.

It’s sunrise, or maybe just after. I arrive in a car park next to an RSPCA branch in Brighton East Sussex. My breath comes out in vapour despite winter finally giving way to spring.
A queue of people is already forming. They stand in a straggly line in front of a large white RSPCA van with plastic cat cases in their hands.

The air is punctuated with plaintive cries from the felines within...these clever cats know something is going on...they just don’t know what.

The door to the van swings open and down steps a small woman with short hair and a business-like expression on her face. She starts taking the cats from owners.
I introduce myself nervously. She looks me up and down – from my crumpled RSPCA polo shirt to my pale face - and says: “I do hope you aren’t too squeamish. We’ve had three people faint on this bus I don’t want you to be the fourth.”

This is Nicky Honey, the RSPCA’s one-woman cat neutering dynamo!

Nicky Honey, with vet Alan. Two animal welfare heroes!

For the last 11 years her mobile clinic has become a familiar sight in car parks, outside supermarkets, pubs and community halls in south-east England. The mobile clinic provides low cost cat neutering operations to pet owners in the region's communities who are on low incomes and benefits.

Inside the mobile neutering van

Alongside her partner in crime (vet Alan), Nicky works anything up to 60 hour weeks because she is so passionate about the value of neutering – which is not only important to protect cats' health, but also in reducing the numbers of unwanted kittens.

A cat with thumbs!

Nicky tells me that one cat was brought in to be neutered after apparently having had 17 litters- which equates to around 150 kittens born to owners that did not want them and left to animal charities such as RSPCA and Cats Protection to pick up the pieces.

But the mobile clinic goes far beyond simple neutering. Nicky says sadly that one cat was brought in for neutering which was actually in labour, and the owner hadn’t realised. Nicky and the vet managed to save three of the kittens after doing an emergency caesarean.

Often the cats have other health problems when they are examined by the vet. One was brought in with a ruptured diaphragm and ear problems, mouth abscesses, fractures and gynaecological problems are all too common.

Nicky says the nature of the job involves many skills from nursing to plumbing. It can be quite intense and she has learned to expect the unexpected.

Today there are 14 cats; nine female and seven male. Apparently the procedure is more complicated for the gals than the guys.

I see a female spay first. Now please bear in mind that I am a bit on the softy side when it comes to animals – I was once almost hit by a car rushing to the centre of a duel carriage way to rescue a pigeon (it died in my arms)...

That rather emotional response to animals – and my dislike of blood –is why I highly suspected that I might just keel over at the first sight of blood.

However - all's well that ends well - I didn’t faint... and I got to meet a cat that had thumbs! Now that’s not the sort of thing you get to do every day. Afterwards, as reward for all my hard work (ie: not passing out), Nicky gave me a slice of cake. Nice.

Nicky Honey is an amazing woman, who really does dedicate her life to animals. I feel very privaliged to have spent the day seeing her work, and to have the opportunity to learn why neutering plays such an important part in the on-going fight to improve animal welfare.

By Calie Rydings, snr RSPCA press officer

Monday, 16 April 2012

The not-so-Grand National

I've got a real soft spot for horses having been lucky enough to have been put in a saddle before I could walk and grew up spending the summer competing at shows or at pony club camp. So when I was asked to be the RSPCA's press officer at the Grand National I leapt at the chance.

Equine Consultant David Muir checking a water jump
 The RSPCA's equine consultant, David Muir (a former mounted police officer and fellow horse nut) has been working with the British Horseracing Authority for more than a decade to bring in dozens of safety improvements and thanks to his tireless work I was treated to a rare behind the scenes tour at Aintree.

I watched the towering, glossy horses trotting through the pre-race vet examine, was shown round the state-of-the art post-race cooling station where sweaty horses are misted and hosed down, and I nearly got drenched by the on-course watering system designed to make sure the going is 'good'. All these improvements are thanks in part to the RSPCA's persistent call for better welfare.

I pulled on my wellies to walk the world-famous course. The fences were massive - I couldn't see over a couple of them and incredibly some are even wider than they are tall.

But my magical moment came on a tour of the stables to meet the horses. They were absolutely stunning, in tip top physical condition and groomed to perfection.

I was lucky enough to stroke last year's winner Bally Briggs and chat to his stable lad who revealed his favourite treat is Polos. There is no doubt that all the people I met that morning love horses, it came shining through speaking to the vets, the grooms and the jockeys.

But sadly that is where my fairytale trip to Aintree ended.

I have nervously watched the Grand National on television countless time, peering between my fingers and willing them all home but standing on that famous course as the 40 horses and their jockeys circled before the starting line was gut-wrenching. I hoped all those beautiful horses would come back safely but knew there was a strong chance they wouldn't.

RSPCA equine officers

As they thundered out of sight I watched the race on a giant screen and listened to updates from the RSPCA equine officers stationed at jumps along the course. Through the crackly radios we heard the heartbreaking news that two horses - According to Pete and one of the favourites Synchronised - had both fractured legs and had to be put to sleep by vets.

While thousands of smartly-dressed race fans cheered the two leaders to a photo-finish in the stands our equine officers saw a very different side to the so-called Grand National behind the ominous screens. And while merry racegoers filed nosily out of Aintree and made their way home two horse boxes left with empty spaces in the back.

Despite all the safety improvements over the years it is obvious that more needs to be done if this world famous race continues.

I'll always remember my first ever day at the races but sadly for all the wrong reasons.

Press officer Cat on a horse...some 10 years ago!

Catherine Peerless, RSPCA Press Officer

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

It’s a funny old game

It has been a rough few months for us fans of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club. Presently sitting rock bottom of the Premier League, staring relegation in the face, there hasn’t been much to cheer of late.

However, as I sat crestfallen in front of the television in my local pub a few weeks back, watching Fulham put a fifth past a beleaguered Wolves side, a (slightly intoxicated) stranger at the end of the bar passed on some words of wisdom that recently returned to strike a chord with me.

“That’s football,” he said. “There will be good times and bad times but, once you’ve picked your team, you stick with them for life.”

This piece of sporting acumen couldn’t be truer. You may at times admit that your defence is leakier than a rusty colander, or that even Tony Hart would struggle to inject some creativity into your midfield – but you’ll always remain loyal to the club you support.

At this point you may be thinking you’ve mistakenly clicked onto the Sky Sports website or an amateur fanzine.

However, I use this obscure footballing metaphor to demonstrate exactly the principle I found myself sticking to recently, when I waded in to the RSPCA’s defence following some stringing criticism from an old school friend.

She had taken to Facebook to post a vitriolic status update slamming the RSPCA, after a local branch admitted it had no room for a homeless kitten that had been taken into the veterinary practice where she works. Ultimately, she accused us of not caring.

Like a wounded fan who has just heard his team being torn to shreds on a radio phone-in, I took the bait and posted my own passionate argument for the organisation I’ve been proud to represent for the past four years.

Just like my beloved Wolves, I pointed out that while we are far from perfect (I didn’t know the exact details of the matter she referred to in her Facebook status), to claim we don’t care was seriously wide of the mark.

Anyone who visits RSPCA headquarters in West Sussex will be welcomed by people from all backgrounds and professions who share a passion for animal welfare – all the way from our reception team to our chief executive.

I’ll admit, it hurts when people accuse us – an organisation founded on the principal of preventing animal cruelty – of not caring. I would like to think that simply by responding to my friend’s criticism shows that we do care.

It would have been easier to sit back, ignore what I’d seen and let my employers take a beating without defence. However, the same feeling that is stoked in my gut every match day was ignited by my loyalty to the RSPCA.

So if there is one thing that we shouldn’t be accused of at the RSPCA, it is not caring. I don’t know what the future holds and where my career will take me, but I do know that just as I’ll always be a Wolves fan, I’ll always be a supporter of the RSPCA. After seeing with my own eyes so many times the great work we do, I feel like it’ll always be in my veins and I’ll always be proud to tell people I worked here.

And I know I’ll still care about animal welfare in 20 years time, just like I’ll still care if the mighty Wanderers find themselves consigned to relegation and swap the glamour of trips to Man Utd and Liverpool for wet Wednesday nights in Burnley and Barnsley.

Andy Robbins, senior RSPCA press officer

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

What an artful Dodger!

Working in the RSPCA regional press office means that you get to deal with an array of sad, happy, shocking and bizarre stories on a daily basis.
Every animal we write about has their own very unique story, and in most cases a very sad one.

You never become immune to it, each tail (excuse the pun) generates a host of emotions and it would be wrong to deny this.

But every so often there is just one animal that sticks in your mind more than most.

Dodger! What a handsome chap

And for me that is the very brave, very faithful and very cheeky Dodger.

Dodger, an 18-month-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, came on my radar after he hit the headlines when his owner was caught on camera hitting him in a shocking attack. The footage was subsequently posted online and caused outrage among the public.

His owner was subsequently prosecuted for animal cruelty and banned from keeping dogs for 15 years.

Like people up and down the country, my stomach turned when I watched the footage, and felt so sad that a poor defenceless animal could be treated in such a way.

Dodger was subsequently brought into the care of the RSPCA; first to one of our local dedicated branches before later being transferred to the RSPCA Block Fen Animal Centre in Cambridgeshire.

While under the watchful eye of RSPCA staff it was clear that Dodger was completely deaf, and almost entirely blind.

Yet despite his adversities, and everything he had been through in his short life, his tail still wagged constantly and he had an uncontrollable urge to please people.

Being deaf was one thing, but added into the mix the fact that he could not even see (therefore making hand signals impossible for him to interpret) clearly meant he faced an uphill struggle.

But the RSPCA staff had fallen desperately in love with him, so they didn’t give up and sought advice from the Animal Health Trust’s Ophthalmologists (ATH).

Once again Dodger’s thirst for life won over the staff at the AHT and they agreed to remove his severe cataracts from his eyes, and give him the gift of sight back.

Both eye operations have proved successful and this cheeky chappy is well on his road to recovery.

The next step is now to find him a loving new home - which could prove difficult, as staff at Block Fen have grown so attached to him their hearts are going to snap when he goes!

I met Dodger a couple of times prior to his operations; he is just full of eager love, energy and an adorable mix of mischievousness.

I love that Dodger has been given a second chance thanks to the Animal Health Trust and the RSPCA.

And it is just one story of many that are happening every day at RSPCA centres across the country, where staff and volunteers do all they can to help the hundreds of animals in need in their care.

It’s so nice to have a happy ending and we know once Dodger finds the right owner, he too will have his own fairy dog tail.

Of course, that’s if the staff at Block Fen will let him go...

Nicola and Ben the dog
Nicola Walker - East Regional Press Officer

Friday, 23 March 2012

What don't you know?

Ok, so you think you know everything about the RSPCA?

Well, please decide which of the following statements are true. Did the RSPCA…

1. save hundreds of animals after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti?

2. set up training sessions where young offenders work with dogs to help rehabilitate themselves ?
3. use its experience, expertise and influence to successfully lobby for the first animal welfare law in China ?

3. discover through scientific research that playing song to baby birds would help them breed more successfully when they left our care?

4. play a little-known but crucial role in the founding of the NSPCC back in the 1880s ?

Well, if you haven’t guessed it already, the answer is all of the above.

And yes I know it’s a bit cheesy when all the answers are true, but it’s also a real truism that our charity’s work is incredibly varied. So much so in fact that it’s virtually a rite of passage for any new volunteer or employee to get to the end of their first week and exclaim “I just never knew the charity did all this...!"

Actually, one of the biggest challenges our press team faces is trying to get people to realise, and remember, that the RSPCA does so much more than just protect and care for pets.

Ok, cats and dogs do take up a large part of our work, mainly because they are by far the country's most popular pets. But we so much more, from campaigning to improve the lives of lab animals, working abroad to encourage animal welfare in countries with little or no animal welfare laws or providing shelter for victims of domestic abuse via our Pet Retreat scheme

So every time you think of the RSPCA, please try to remember that we may be here for the cats and the dogs too, but there’s a world of animals out there, and lots of different ways to help them.

Henry Macaulay - Head of press

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Born to be wild!

I can remember the first time I met a bearded dragon. He was called Eddie and sat in a tank in the corner of a flat I was visiting.

I was fascinated that such an other-wordly creature existed as I had thought dragons were a fabrication from fairy tales. Especially ones with beards.... He looked pre-historic too – staring unblinkingly at me with ancient eyes.

But I also felt sad. His owner was struggling to look after Eddie properly and wanted to rehome him. He clearly cared about him, and was doing his best. But he had bought him on a whim when a relationship ended, not realising how much work was involved with keeping the right temperature and light in the tank, buying the right food and – now that he was moving home – finding somewhere that would let him keep him.

This story is becoming rather common. In the last ten years there have been an incredible rise in the number of bearded dragon incidents the RSPCA has been called about – from 43 in 2001 to 427 in 2011.

When I popped down to the RSPCA reptile rescue centre at Patcham, near Brighton, last week there were rows upon rows of lizards, snakes and even crocodiles which had either been dumped or given up because their owners found them too difficult to look after.

As someone more used to cats and dogs, I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel about these less tactile animals which live in tanks and are unlikely to jump up for a cuddle. Yet I soon saw the appeal.

The stunning orange and white striped milk snakes which slide along the arms of centre manager Keith Wells were utterly captivating, and it was a real thrill to watch the two caiman crocodiles nose about their tank. Then there was the gecko which crawled from hand to hand in such a cheeky chirpy way that my heart just couldn’t stop itself from melting.

Such character coupled with the quirkiness of being unusual can be very alluring, and leads many to buy on impulse without properly looking into what the animal needs and how long they might need it for. From a glance around the reptile rescue rooms, it is easy to see how this can lead to problems as the initial novelty of owning such an animal wears off.

In Keith’s care was a water dragon with a huge abscess in its mouth because of the metabolic bone disease it had developed from being given the wrong food and the wrong level UV lighting in its tank. A bearded dragon had such a big belly from being overfed the wrong food that it could barely stand up. And the crocodiles, confiscated by the police because the owner did not have a proper license, were likely to grow so big in a few years that they might need to be kept in a bath.

Keith, who has a life-long passion for reptiles and their welfare, now has to try and find new homes for these ‘exotic’ animals. He needs to make sure the new owners know what they are taking on, have all the right licenses and equipment, and are likely to look after them properly for the duration of the animal’s life. This can be quite some feat – especially in the case of the highly venomous snakes which are not exactly the kind of pet you can take out and cuddle.

I can see how much work goes into running this centre, the first of its kind for the RSPCA, and the dedication shown and hours put in by Keith are very obvious. He is clearly going to do his utmost to make sure as many of these animals as possible end up with owners who love them and do their very best for them.

But I can’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable, looking at these fantastic and fascinating creatures, about them being in a tank at all. The name ‘exotic’ pet may sound appealing and exciting but the official RSPCA definition of an exotic is a wild animal kept as a pet.

It may well be that some exotic animals, such as bearded dragons, can have perfectly contented lives in captivity if looked after properly. But whether we are talking about reptiles, or other ‘quirky’ exotics such as meerkats, marmosets and racoons found increasingly easily via the internet, what we are talking about are wild animals who are thousands of miles away from home. Their natural habitats in Africa and Asia would provide the space, temperatures and light they need naturally rather than artificially provided in the corner of a room in England.

However, the reptiles in Keith’s care cannot be released to the wild over here – it is illegal and many would either be unable to survive or else cause damage to our own environment. And it is unfeasible for them to be flown home. What he can do and is doing is help them get the best life they can in captivity and educating as many people about their care as he can in the process.

As the trend for ‘exotics’ grows, and the number of dumped and unwanted exotics is growing, so is the need for more centres like Patcham and more people like Keith.

By Katya Mira, Wildlife Press Officer

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

With a little help from our friends

I’m going to be honest with you – I’m angry.

I have worked for the RSPCA for a number of years now, and like most people, I came here because I care about animal welfare and believe that showing compassion to all other living creatures has an impact on the well-being of us humans too.

I see my friends and colleagues hard working every day – sometimes against a tide of public apathy or hostility.

I hear the criticisms that we have “loads of money in the bank” and yet “sit around in our shiny HQ” enjoying our “fat-cat salaries” and do not care for animals, or only do so “when a TV camera” is there.

And this is why I’m angry - because we do care. We care an awful lot.

So let’s get this straight - the RSPCA relies totally on public donations. Although we have legally required reserves in the bank and a large 10-year old headquarters in an industrial estate in a sleepy village in West Sussex – we are not ‘fat cats’ sitting around wearing coats of money...we are real people and professionals in our fields: whether we are welfare scientists, campaigners etc.

We do it because we care, and frankly we couldn’t do it without the help of volunteers and support from other organisations, businesses and donors.

So, I am going to think of some nice examples of help and support that we have received recently, to help quell my rising anger!

Stepping in and Stepping Up:

Fresh Cargo (a fair trade clothing and fair trade gifts company based in Nottingham), helped to finance an RSPCA fund raising expedition by RSPCA inspector Emma Timmis to South Africa. On the 11th hour when airlines were not able to support the event, Fresh Cargo made the decision to back the fund raising campaign.

After a year of gruelling preparation, Emma Timmis, ran 1,500 miles across South Africa in order to raise £15,000 in less than two months. To find out more about Emma’s amazing journey go to:

Doggie defence!

Dealing with animal attacks has always been a posties worst nightmare...until now...

Recently the RSPCA joined forces with the UK’s largest mail ordering company, Postal Audits, to help tackle the problem of how to deal with ‘dangerous’ dogs.

The company [that provide mail auditing, measurement and postal consultancy services in the country] donated £20,000 to fund a role within the RSPCA’s companion animal science department, to look specifically at how to work with dogs with aggression or behavioural problems.
RSPCA dog behaviourist Jenna, with Bennie the dog!

At first the research will be used to help staff and volunteers working with animals in rescue and re-homing centres, but in the long term the RSPCA hope the tips and tricks can be used by anyone coming into contact with dogs on a daily basis – such as postmen, district nurses, utility workers, home care and social workers.

Food for Thought:

When it comes to animal welfare, food labelling is confusing. All too often, meat products are labelled with terms like ‘farm fresh’ or bear pictures of animals in fields. These labels don’t indicate how the food was produced and, with 80% of the EU’s farm animals reared on intensive farms, often these labels are misleading. Describing the method of production for each animal product clearly indicates the quality of life they are likely to have experienced.

Recognising the existence of this problem in the marketplace, a coalition consisting of RSPCA, Soil Association and World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has started work on a new campaign that will call for clear, honest labelling of the method of production on all meat and dairy products across Europe.

The coalition is looking forward to officially launching the campaign later this year.

One of our farm animal scientists, checking out the chooks

When businesses, individuals or other charities are able step in and help support the work of RSPCA, we are able to make so much more of a difference to the lives of animals in this country and abroad.

So who could possibly stay angry - when you have a little help from your friends?

Calie Rydings
Snr Press Officer

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Have pen, will travel (adventures of an RSPCA press officer)

I won’t lie – I’m no Alan Whicker. Sure, I’ve had a few adventures - from going up the Statue of Liberty to flying over the Swiss Alps in a hot air balloon - but I’m hardly what you’d call a hardened traveller.

When it comes to work though, I do have a fancy for getting out from behind my desk, jumping into a car and driving off into the sunset (or up the M40) to find out what our staff are up to on the frontline.

If nothing else, it has given me a far greater understanding of the challenges faced by all different wings of the RSPCA on a daily basis. What it also offers is the chance to find myself in some unlikely situations, meeting people I never thought I’d meet and gaining unique access to situations I can’t imagine ever having experienced if it wasn’t for my role in the RSPCA.

This was brought home to me during a recent visit by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural affairs, Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, to the RSPCA’s Harmsworth Animal Hospital in north London.

It was there I found myself sat in a meeting that could influence the biggest change in dog control legislation for more than 20 years. It was the second time I’d found myself chatting with Government Cabinet ministers at Harmsworth in two years, having previously met former Home Secretary Alan Johnson MP and former Defra Secretary of State Hilary Benn during the launch of a government consultation in 2010.

As someone born and raised in the fairly quiet confines of rural Shropshire, it got me pondering upon some of the ‘how did I get here?’ moments  I’ve experienced since joining the RSPCA press office nearly four years ago.

As a former newspaper reporter, getting out and about as part of my job is nothing new, but here are some of the random experiences I’ve enjoyed since working for the country’s biggest animal welfare charity:

• Joining covert RSPCA inspectors and police on dawn raids at the homes of suspected dog fighters in Birmingham.

• Throwing buckets of water over horses to cool them down as they crossed the Grand National finish line.

• Sitting in a Soho recording studio with British actor Bill Nighy while he recorded a voice-over for an RSPCA fireworks campaign radio advert.

Male models in pants = normal day at work
• Commentating on a sack race between a group of male models dressed only in their pants and fake pig snouts, while volunteering on an RSPCA stand at a music festival in Clapham Common.
• Standing in a windswept West Yorkshire allotment at 6.30am on a wet February morning, looking for a man wanted on suspicion of illegal hunting with dogs.
• Dangling a microphone over a cliff edge in Pembrokeshire to record the sound of crashing waves for a podcast about rope rescues.

• Watching police intervene as two dog fighters brawled with each other in the waiting area of the magistrates court where they were being tried during an RSPCA prosecution.

Which ones are the Eggheads? You decide.
• Filming an episode of teatime quiz show Eggheads at the BBC Scotland studios in Glasgow with my press office colleagues (we didn’t win!).

• Meeting former Liverpool Football Club manager Rafael Benitez in the showring at Aintree Racecourse during a live broadcast of BBC One’s Football Focus.

It does beg the question, whatever next? The simple answer is, who knows, and just goes to show that life at the RSPCA press office isn’t dull.

Andy Robbins, Senior RSPCA Press Officer

Thursday, 23 February 2012

RSPCA - Looking to the future

What exactly is a ‘pledge’?  

 It’s a funny word, not quite a promise but more a statement of intent.  We know Americans ‘pledge allegiance to the flag’, and politicians often ‘pledge wholehearted support’, and then of course there’s even the furniture polish…

But why is the RSPCA unveiling five pledges today?  (  ) 

Well, for us they really are a statement of intent, and a pretty clear one at that.  This country may have a reputation as a nation of animal lovers, but all too often we know different. Sometimes it’s direct and shocking cruelty to animals, like the awful cases as our inspectors have to confront each and every day. 

 More often than not though, animal welfare is a hidden issue. It can be the vague labelling on meat in shops & supermarkets, the substantial suffering of lab animals used in research, or even the health of cute-looking but physically crippled pedigree pets. 

Enough is enough, and the RSPCA wants to do something about these awful problems. That’s why we’re committing to doing our level best over the next five years to tackle these issues.  The pledges don’t cover all our work but they do give a clear idea of what our big priorities are over the next few years.

It’s unusual for a charity to be quite so bold setting such public targets – sometimes we’re all so busy just coping that we get too focussed on right now, and not on our long-term goals.  

So today the RSPCA is explaining very clearly what we intend to do and how. The honest truth however is that we really won’t be able to do it on our own, and that’s where we need your help.   
New CEO Gavin Grant launching the brand new pledges!

There’s a useful guide on our website with a few short films, some straightforward information, and a clear explanation of how everyone can do their bit.  You can have a look at: 

Trying to achieve these goals is what the RSPCA is all about, and frankly it’s why I come to work every day.  In some areas we’ve made some great strides in the last few years from the hunting ban to the Animal Welfare Act.

But make no mistake, there’s a long way to go, so please take a moment to look at the pledges and have a think about how you can help.  If we all do our bit, then things will change and we could finally become a nation of animal lovers.  Maybe then our country could really deserve that reputation.

Henry Macaulay, Head of Press