Friday, July 25, 2008

Dog crates

Does anyone out there have a small to medium sized dog crate (metal or plastic type) that they no longer need and would be willing to donate to the RSPCA?

It needs to be small enough to fit in the back of a car, and would be used by our volunteers when they need to transport dogs.

Any offers, please email me


View Larger Map

The map above shows the full horror of our interaction with local vets. We have dealings with all of those shown; some on a day-to-day basis, others very occasionally. Each surgery will have several vets, nurses and reception staff, and there is no way all of them can remember our standard procedures, or how to contact the right person to ask for financial help for one of their clients.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cats and more cats

Our poor driver had a wasted journey this morning. A member of the public had found a stray cat which was "walking funny" and believed to have been hit by a car. As it was after 9 at night, he was asked to take the cat to Vet24 for first aid, with a view to transfer to the clinic in the morning. Unfortunately the cat had other ideas, and on arrival at the vet, he shot up a tree and vanished into the night, before actually reaching the surgery. However, as the vet said, he most likely didn't have any fractures if he could move that fast.

Second stray of the day was a badly matted, un-neutered cat. This is the time of year when tom cats wander in search of females and they often come to grief. This little chap is just a bit battered and should do fine. He turns out to be negative for both Feline Leukaemia (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV): a huge relief. 

Which brings us to the dreaded topic of the Seven Days. Lots of people will tell you that the RSPCA  puts stray animals to sleep automatically after 7 days. This is NOT TRUE, but like many myths, there is a small amount of fact at base. Healthy animals and animals who can be treated so that they can have a reasonable quality of life stay with us until they find a home (the only exception is animals who are actually dangerous). We normally wait until at least 7 days are up before offering them for rehoming, to give their original owner the chance to reclaim them. 

Some animals are clearly so badly hurt and suffering that there is no choice other than euthanasia almost at once. The major difficulty is animals who are less severe cases, but are clearly not going to get better or have a reasonable chance of getting a home. Some of those (end stage kidney disease is an instance) might live happily for a few weeks or months more if they could be reunited with their original home, but it really isn't fair to keep them in cattery conditions. Feline Leukaemia is a nasty and ultimately fatal disease, but a caring owner might nurse a leukaemic cat successfully for some time. In these sorts of cases we'll normally keep the animal for seven days in case the owner turns up, but effectively we'll already have made the decision that euthanasia is realistically the only possible option.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On Payment Plans and Responsibility

Hardly any vets will allow arrangements where pet owners pay back the cost of treatment over a period of time, for the simple reason that too many people never pay back the full amount.

Our animal clinic is run in association with Cambridge University Vet School, and they charge pet owners for most operations direct, at prices which reflect the learning value to students of the opportunity to watch the process. This usually works out at roughly a third of what a private vet would charge (and is subsidised by us and by the University). Unfortunately, a third of £600 is still a lot of money for someone who is on benefit, and the Vet School used to offer payment plans so that owners could pay back a small amount each week. Like the private vets, they found that there were too many bad debts for the scheme to continue - money is tight and Universities are being pressed to pay their way like everyone else.

We're now left with the conundrum of what to do about the existing debtors. The School have a list and theoretically can refuse their animals any further treatment until the debt is paid. If we don't make some attempt to get everyone to pay it isn't fair on those who do make an effort and live on bread and jam until their animals' treatment is paid for. The non-payers have already cost the rest the payment plan option. It's also pretty unfair on the volunteer helpers and clinic staff when one of the people on the list turns up and makes a scene because they're not allowed to register more animals until they've paid. Further knock-on effects are less money for the School to employ enough nurses, so fewer in-patients can be admitted, and so on.

I've asked for a breakdown of the total amount owed by RSPCA clients and left unpaid. In the interest of maintaining a high standard of service, we may have to offer to make a one-off payment to reduce the debt. We'll also be looking to write to all the outstanding debtors to explain that their actions have caused the withdrawal of the payment plan option for operations.

£200 is a lot of money. Probably the single most effective thing the individual owner of a female dog can do to reduce her risk of needing such an operation is to have her spayed during the first few years of life. Spaying costs £35 at our clinic and up to £150 at a private vet. It eliminates the risk that she will need an emergency pyometria operation (£200-£700) later in life and greatly reduces the risk of breast tumours.

Lost Cats

In this hot weather there's a high risk of cats being shut in sheds etc., so it's advisable to start asking neighbours to check sheds, garages etc. (anywhere that a cat might go in for a nap and get shut in) if a cat doesn't check in at normal mealtimes. Also ring round local vets in case he might have been injured and handed in. It's best to start this as soon as a cat's been away for longer than his normal habit.

Vet24 at Milton do most of the out of hours emergency cover for the Cambridge area, so it's particularly important to phone them as they're the most likely vet for an injured cat to be taken to over the weekend or evenings. Their phone number is 0845 500 4247. Injured cats reported to the RSPCA will normally be taken to the closest available private vet for initial first aid.

The Blue Cross cats home on Garlic Row would be the most likely place for an uninjured stray to be taken if found in Cambridge City. Their number is 01223 350 153.

It's also as well to get a missing cat logged  with the RSPCA National Control Centre (NCC). Their number is 0300 1234 999.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I do not believe it

We're in the process of making an offer for the lease of a shop in a busier location than our present retro/vintage charity shop. One thing the landlord requires is what's called a "status enquiry" (basically a reference from our bank to confirm that we could pay the first year's rent). We have to fill in a form and pay £8.50 to the bank and they should send the necessary information to the landlord's agent.

First attempt was just over a month ago. Agent asks, "Where is it".  I call in bank. No record of a form. 

Try again last week. Call in today. No record. Ask bank manager how this could have happened. The first go might have been lost in the post, but last week's try was handed in with my own hot little hand. Manager prods about a bit in the innards of their computer system. Looks worried. Finally confesses that our requests had been passed by the branch to their commercial customer centre which then sent them back to the branch for action, and so on in an infinite loop that is impossible to trace because the people who open post and redirect it at either end of the system don't do anything else. 

Have printed off another request form and handed it to the manager with a personal cheque for £8.50 to avoid more delay getting a second signature for a branch cheque. She swears she will personally supervise its progress.

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.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Another traffic accident

A four-year old cat with probable dislocated hip. Owners say they have no money at all, so they're signing him over to us for rehoming. He's currently at Isle vets on the far side of Ely, which will mean an early morning start for our long-suffering transport volunteer, if she's going to pick him up and get him to our clinic by the 10.30 deadline for admissions tomorrow.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Insurance musings

Guardian Money has an article on breed-specific insurance premiums:

Axa, the insurance company that provides the policy (and which underwrites well over half a million pet policies sold by a wide range of partners, including the RSPCA, the Post Office and John Lewis's Greenbee) has this month introduced a "selected breeds" category: they are bulldogs, estrela mountain dogs, German shepherds (alsatian), great danes, greyhounds, Irish wolfhounds, leonbergers, Newfoundlands, old English sheepdogs, rottweilers, Pyrenean mountain dogs and St Bernards.

Thinking about it, I'm not surprised that most of these breeds are bad insurance risks, but a bit surprised by the inclusion of greyhounds; I can only think they've got a higher than normal risk of expensive, but survivable, "athletes" injuries, such as damaged cruciate ligaments (which can set you back £1k for a repair operation). Breeds like the cavaliers' heart problems or setters' retinal atrophy are a problem for the dog and owner, but not so much for the insurer, because there isn't a ruinously-expensive treatment option.

I'd second their advice to shop around - not only for better deals if you own one of the high-risk breeds, but, crucially, to make sure you get a policy which suits your financial circumstances. If you don't have savings or a credit card, it is absolutely essential to check that your insurer will either pay the vet direct or be prepared to pay you on the basis of an invoice from the vet which you have not yet paid. If you don't have a credit card, some policies are virtually useless if you are on a very low income, because they assume you will pay the vet and then claim the money back.

Pet insurance isn't the answer to all veterinary cost problems, but without it a lot more animals would have to be put to sleep, or have amputations rather than effective treatment.

Our own webshop offers some links to insurers who pay us commission, as does the national site. We are encouraging insurance in general, and no individual insurer will be right for everyone.