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 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Silent suffering

"If to be alive to the suffering of my fellow creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large." William Wilberforce, co-founder of the RSPCA, politician and leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.

It's that time of year again...the shops are dripping with heart shaped balloons and cards festooned with wide-eyed kittens. Love is very much in the air...

Many people assume because we are an animal charity , we 'love' animals more than people or even stronger than that - because we show empathy to animals we are incapable of showing empathy to humans.

That is why I want to tell you about one of the brilliant schemes we run. It is a project that I am immensely proud to work on and one that helps save the lives of both animals AND humans.

But first, let's think for a moment about domestic violence.

Well, it accounts for one-quarter of all violent crime. One in four women - and one in six men- will suffer domestic abuse in their lifetime, regardless of age, ethnic origin or social status. On average, two women are killed by current or former partners every week.

  • One incident of domestic abuse is reported to the police every minute
  • On average, a woman will have been assulted 35 times before she reports abuse to the police.
  • It takes a woman an average of seven years to leave an abusive partner and each year 750,000 children witness domestic abuse against a parent.
It knows no boundaries and is a very serious problem.

What does the RSPCA have to do with this tackling this problem? Well, tragically, many victims find it even harder to leave when there is a pet involved - because they don't want to leave them behind but most refuges can't accept animals.

In fact, around half the households in the UK own a pet, so it's not surprising many families seeking to escape domestic abuse have animals in need of care.

That's why the RSPCA founded PetRetreat - a pet fostering service for families fleeing domestic violence. It was established in 2002 alongside Womans Aid and has already helped hundreds of pets and their families to escape abuse in the last ten years.

Through a network of amazing volunteer fosterers, we care for family pets while they are in a refuge or waiting to be re-housed; and the reunite them when they're settled in a safe new home.

Here's an example of just one animal that has been helped by PetRetreat:

Petra, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, lived with the perpetrator of the abuse, his partner and two children. The dog (like many animals in abusive households) was also a victim of violence in the home.

On one occasion the abuser broke her hind leg in several places by kicking her. Sadly she had to live with the pain of the injury for many days as he wouldn't let her be taken to a vets for treatment.

When the woman and her children left to go to a refuge, they asked us to foster Petra.

This beautiful, friendly dog was taken for treatment by the RSPCA, and unfortunately she had to have her leg amputated. This didn't change Petra's tenacious attitude and despite everything she had been through she was still a happy and energetic dog!

Sadly many animals aren't as lucky as Petra. One woman told us that her husband threw a kettle of boiling water over her puppy and then strangled it. When she was dead she realised she had nothing to keep her there, and left.

So let's talk about love again, and the goodness of human nature. Last April we appealed for people to become fosterers, so we could continue to run this vital scheme. And you know what? More than a thousand lovely people came forward, bumping our numbers up from just 80 in 2010 to over 1,000!
Tamsyn, one of our inspirational fosterers. Herself a former victim of DV

If you want to know more about the appeal, why not listen to our podcast?

So right now the challenge is to meet the demand from the ever increasing number of calls we get from victims of DV needing our help.

I'm going to be blunt, because there are lives at risk (of both people and animals). We need money first and foremost to keep this scheme going. To donate, please go to:

But we also need people to help us publicise the scheme in any way you can - it could be a leaflet drop, a letter to your local newspaper, a status update on Facebook, a tweet on Twitter or even (and I blush saying this!) by sharing this blog. This way, more families affected by domestic abuse will know there is help out there for them and their pets.

With your help, we really hope RSPCA PetRetreat will be able to remove one of the barriers to escaping abuse, and ultimately, that it'll help families and their pets live without fear.

So, if you really want to spread a little love this Valentine's Day - why not support RSPCA PetRetreat.

Calie Rydings

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Murphy's Law? Not for this horse!

This is the story of skewbald Murphy, a 21-year-old pony who landed on his hooves when his new owner, Gemma Brown took him on three years ago....

Among the variety of media work we do, we press officers are occasionally asked to write features and news stories for our supporter magazines Animal Life and Animal Action - which is aimed at our younger members.

So in search of a story about a rescue horse for Animal Action I recently visited stables in Ferring, near Worthing.

That’s where I met Murphy; who was found in a field in East Sussex in 1991 
when he was just over a year old.  He had a nasty chin injury caused by a head collar which had been left on him as he grew, getting tighter and tighter until it cut into his skin. 

Murphy was fostered on behalf of the RSPCA for three years before he went to a new owner and all was well for many years. However, Murphy’s owner had to move away and he was rehomed to a riding stable and livery yard.  It was here that Murphy met Gemma in 2009.

I found out that Gemma is just 18 and a student at Chichester College.  She has been riding since the age of nine and works part time at the stables where Murphy lives.  Gemma told me how Murphy helped her to get her confidence back after she had a bad fall when out riding four years ago, leaving her reluctant to ride.

She said:  “I had known Murphy for several years, but took on his care three and a half years ago.  He didn’t completely trust people when I met him and could be quite stubborn. 

“I realised he needed a confidence boost just as much as I did and did lots of work with him - he’s a different character now.  Murphy is still a bit cheeky especially with me, but he is so safe and good with people now.  It’s so great to see him happy.”

It was great to see how content Murphy obviously is and how much Gemma cares for him, despite being more than three years his junior! 

We hear so much about irresponsible owners, that it’s great to get out and meet some of the millions of people who really care for their animals.  Gemma is just one of those.  She was keen to point out that if anyone is thinking about taking up riding or getting a horse, they need to make sure they are prepared to care for them for them properly.

She explained how much time and hard work owning a horse can be and how, when Murphy was in full time livery, she had to get up before her GCSEs to get to the stable every morning.  Now Gemma works part time to keep up Murphy’s care, as well as studying. 

Every year the RSPCA works hard to improve the lives of the thousands of horses which aren’t cared for as well as they should be.  Last year we rehomed hundreds of horses and dealt with 669 calls about abandoned equines, all with a field staff of just 402 officers in England and Wales, which equates to just one RSPCA officer for every 337 police officers.

Did you know?

Horses can live well into their thirties and much longer, although their working (riding or driving) lives may be shorter.

There are estimated to be between 600,000 and just under a million horses in the UK

The total cost of keeping a horse could amount to over £70,000 during its lifetime, so a substantial commitment is required

You can find out more about horse ownership here

by Sophie Wilkinson