Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Heart sink time

Sometimes things go wrong. Our rehoming co-ordinator and I had a series of increasingly agitated calls over the weekend from family members of an elderly lady whose cat failed to come home on Friday evening. They sent out search parties and a neighbour told them that "an RSPCA van" had taken the cat away.

Our inspectors and ACO's definitely do not spend their lives roaming round Cambridgeshire kidnapping people's cats: someone must have made a call to say that the cat was an ill or injured stray. That wouldn't be a problem - the family themselves were realistic that the cat is very old and someone might think he was a thin stray. What is a problem is that nobody seems to be able to trace where the cat was taken. We (the branch) haven't had a request from an inspector or ACO to take the cat in for boarding and none of the local vets has contacted us to ask for funding for continuing treatment (assuming the cat looked bad enough to see a vet).

What is supposed to happen in these cases is that the paid staff member who collects an injured or sick animal takes it to the closest available vet and arranges for the National RSPCA to be invoiced for initial first aid (usually referred to as IET = Initial Emergency Treatment). Once that's happened, the vet is supposed to phone the local branch (me, in this case) to arrange for us to pay for the cost of continuing treatment and/or transfer to boarding facilities.

It tends to be this final step that breaks down, because each individual vet only deals with RSPCA cases relatively infrequently. So, they tend not to remember what they're intended to do, and vets using their initiative, with all the best intentions, can lead to situations you'd rather not get into. The most common failing is that no-one in the practice contacts anyone (because they assume we'll have been told the cat's been taken to them), with the result that the animal has apparently been "disappeared". Understandably this looks to the owner as if we've either got the cat and are refusing to say where it is; have lost it, or (worst of all), put it to sleep without giving them a chance to claim it.

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