Friday, September 26, 2008

Vicious circles and Virtuous ones

One reason why some people take on more than they can cope with is fear that the animals may be put down if they are handed over to an animal welfare organisation. Conversely, some welfare organisations argue that "limited access" animal shelters, where animals are never put down to make space for more admissions, may mean more euthanasia in the long run if owners decide to have their animals put down rather than wait until space is available. By US standards the RSPCA would be entitled to call itself a "no-kill" organisation — one which does not put down animals capable of rehabilitation.

Once things have got out of control, owners may be deterred from seeking veterinary help by lack of money and fear that approaching the RSPCA or PDSA might lead to prosecution instead. This is actually most unlikely — in about 20 years I can only think of two cases where our clinic reported an owner to the Inspectorate as a result of them bringing an animal for treatment. One was a case where the owner's boyfriend had deliberately broken their dog's leg and the other was a dog whose collar had been put on when he was a puppy and left until it had grown into his neck over a period of months. Someone who seeks help reasonably quickly would never be reported even if the vet might privately feel they'd been irresponsible or inefficient. Most of the time, someone who phones the RSPCA for help with veterinary treatment (rather than visiting a clinic) won't actually meet anyone from the organisation in person, but will be given help with the cost of going to a private vet.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Maddison has been rehomed (a big thank-you to her adopter for a generous donation in addition to her adoption fee) and Ben and Wee Man have been reserved. Poor little Ghost is still looking. Many thanks to dogsblog for organising national dog adoption month. Without their support it's very doubtful whether we would have easily found good homes for the two older ones. One Syrian hamster and two of the kittens (Lynx and Tiger) have also been rehomed.

The little dog in the photo is Titch, an elderly chihuahua, whose owner was a client of our animal clinic and sadly could no longer care for Titch because his own ill-health meant lengthy periods in hospital.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

File on Four last night

If anyone is concerned that we are all going round madly reporting innocent people for child abuse, I suggest they read the whole of the London Safeguarding Children Board's draft (repeat, draft) protocol for exchanging reports of suspected ill-treatment between animal- and child-protection professionals. Virtually always, child neglect reports by RSPCA inspectors relate to situations where they're called to investigate animals being kept in squalor and find that the family also has children living in the same conditions.

The program editors also didn't seem convinced of the truth of animal hoarding as a welfare problem. To put it in perspective, I suggest taking a look at the database of animal cruelty reports (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain). Select "hoarding" as type of abuse to view news reports of cases. (Their database seems to be most current for US cases and to have trouble resetting between searches of different countries unless you restart your browser).

The trouble with this sort of program is that it discourages people who do realise they need help with their animals from contacting animal welfare organisations.

Internet Resource

Continuing on the theme of things where we can learn from the US, there is a fantastic resource at the Office of the State Veterinarian of the State of Virginia which allows you to compare statistics from all state-registered animal shelters. Accurate data to find what is actually going on is at least a first step towards ending the euthanasia of healthy animals.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Update on Grace

Grace had her check-up at our clinic on Saturday and her heart rate's down from over 200 to 150 - almost normal. Her weight's up from 1.7 kg to 1.8, which is excellent progress after just a week on her thyroid hormone reducing tablets. Nothing at all wrong with her sight, but she seems to be almost completely deaf - which is why I can't get her to look nicely towards the camera by making squeaky sounds. However, the photo does show the unusual squiggly mark down the centre of her face.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lost and found animals

The experimental form for notifying us about missing cats has turned out to be a useful way to collect the information in one place, so I've now added two others: which is intended for non-urgent information about animals which may be strays (or are probably strays, but can't be caught). 

PLEASE DO NOT use this form for animals which are injured or in distress. If an animal appears ill or injured you should phone our control centre on 0300 1234 999

We will normally only check the database containing information collected from this form if someone contacts us to say they've lost an animal. It is not intended as a way to ask for help. is intended to notify us if you've lost an animal. It's important that you also phone round local vets and animal shelters and contact our control centre (0300 1234 999) as injured animals will usually be taken to the closest available private vet if they need first aid.

We take in large numbers of injured and sick stray cats and very rarely manage to re-unite them with their owners. One probable reason is that people whose cats go missing do not appreciate that animals picked up injured may have to be moved quite large distances to arrange for their treatment and follow-on care. If an animal is injured during the night or at weekends it will be taken to one of the vets who provide out of hours cover; so it's important to ask your local vet who provides cover when they are closed and check with them as well.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pet Food Politics - just out

Just finished reading Pet Food Politics: the Chihuahua in the Coal Mine - rather horribly topical in view of the current tragedy in China over babies dying of kidney failure due to adulteration of milk formula with the chemical melamine.

Pet Food Politics is a serious documentary which really does read like a thriller and explains how a combination of greed, dishonesty, incompetence and sheer inability to trace the complexity of global markets in food products led to the death of pets in Canada and the US. The villains of the piece used the same adulterating chemicals that caused the deaths of babies in 2008.

Fortunately pet food companies in the UK were either more careful, or just luckier.

Evidently it was "luckier" (update 5th Oct. 2008).

One very interesting observation which Marion Nestle makes is the potential value of the animal health data which pet insurance companies collect as a side effect of their business. One of the first pieces of real evidence that there was a problem with US pet food was the observation of one insurance company that claims for treatment of kidney disease in cats had soared in March 2007. Clearly there are all kinds of other posible ways similar information collecting could benefit pets - for example we could get unbiased evidence of the real extent of the problem with pedigree dogs.

Marion Nestle has her own blog at

Farm Animal Welfare Week 22-28 September

Calculate your Farm Animal Welfare Footprint here.

Hoarding re-visited

There's a very interesting explanation of how animal "hoarding" cases are dealt with in the US just out, which is worth quoting in full:

"If we receive a hoarding case that shows no intent.. that means the individual has mental health difficulties, then we're likely going to go with City Ordinance violation charges," said Director of Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control Belinda Lewis.

Those are mostly fine-based, and can limit that person's future legal animal ownership. Intent to harm, however, is more severe, and means the person wanted to abuse and neglect animals.

"We're going to look at criminal charges. It's not the most common direction because we rarely see intent with animal hoarding cases," Lewis said.

She says animal hoarding cases are usually the result of mental health issues.
Psychiatrist Dr. Jay Fawver explains that can stem from one of three things.

"A recent loss, such as a job loss, or a child moved away. Secondly, if there's a profound grieve from a death in the family," said Dr. Fawver.

The third involves neglect dating back to that person's childhood.

"You're trying to reverse that whole history by giving a lot of love and compassion to animals. They're well meaning when they start out, but the problem is they aren't able to keep up," said Fawver.

In Elizabeth Miller's case, they believe she didn't have intent to harm the animals, which is why she's only facing fines. That's the same situation for a case earlier this summer in Leo, where 212 cats were found inside a home. How things get so bad is largely handled in counseling, as is ways to prevent it from happening in the future.

They're apparently achieving this by creative use of a distinction between "criminal" activities and violations of local bye-laws, so it's not obvious that it would be possible to do something similar in the UK without a change in the law.

Tip: The Animal Hoarding Blog (mostly American)