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