Friday, October 24, 2008

Congratulations to Hunts and March Branch

The Hunts and March Branch of the RSPCA opened its new charity shop on Market Hill, St Ives on Monday.

The branch has spent years looking for suitable premises and will now be turning its attention to another outlet in St Neots.

Trustee and manager Jane Newbery said: "Due to the escalating costs of animal welfare the St Ives shop will be a welcome addition for the branch." There are many ways you can help the branch and its new shop – call 01480 467 497.

Back to the Future

The Federation of Woodland Egg Producers seem to be replicating something very similar to the conditions on the early 20th Century Chivers farms
  • Planted with trees which cover at least 20% of the range
  • The trees are a mixture of fast growing and slower native trees which are indigenous to the local area
  • The trees are planted close to the house to encourage the hens outside to range
  • All farms are audited and approved by the RSPCA and conform to the RSPCA Freedom Food standard
Maybe this is the way to go to maintain standards in a time of financial hardship. Planting trees in areas which would otherwise be either grass or bare ground is a potential way of soaking up CO2 and eventually producing wood for fuel or construction, and the dual use of land answers the objection to free range that there is not enough available land to produce all the eggs needed to supply the consumer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Organic fertiliser free to anyone willing to collect

If anyone in the South Cambs. or N. Herts area could make good use of some manure (and is willing to collect it) Rabbit Residence Rescue would be delighted to hear from you, as their muck heap is growing and it costs money if they have to get it taken away by a contractor.


I've now got a new branch cheque book, so I can set the ball rolling to open an investment account with a local building society. 

The most straightforward logistics to achieve this seem to be for me to post out the application form to our Rehoming Co-ordinator (so she can fill in her details as Second Applicant).

She then posts the form on to our Branch Secretary.

Meanwhile I write out a cheque for the opening deposit and take it round to the Secretary for her counter-signature. She can also counter-sign the cheque for the deposit with the Co-Operative Bank at the same time.

Once she has the cheque, form and a copy of our Branch Rules, she takes them down to her local branch of the building society together with her ID.

And once that's been done, the Rehoming Co-ordinator can call in at the building society to prove who she is.

Meanwhile we need to take a copy of the signed minutes of this month's committee meeting and send it to the building society to prove we really did decide to open an account.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

RSPCA Prosecutions

I came across the RSPCA's evidence to the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' inquiry into the draft Animal Welfare Bill and I think it's worth quoting some of the detailed explanation of how the RSPCA Inspectorate and the Prosecutions Department go about investigating cruelty complaints. 

The passage into law of the Animal Welfare Act doesn't significantly change the way this works, although it has made it possible to intervene earlier where animals are being kept in unsuitable conditions. The transcript of the oral evidence puts it into one huge paragraph, so I've spaced it out to make it a bit more readable. 

If you page through the whole of the original source, you'll see some explanation of the Society's branch structure in relation to the Inspectorate (scroll down to find it), and some statistics on conviction rates which are relevant to the File on 4 allegations:

Mr Flower (RSPCA Superintendant Prosecutions dept.): Yes. All of the prosecutions launched by the RSPCA are as a private prosecutor. If the Bill becomes law that position will not change. We will still be a private prosecutor. You are probably aware that, although the Crown Prosecution Service was set up in 1985, the law specifically provided and allowed the preservation of the rights for private prosecutions to continue, and we are a private prosecutor. 

The way our inspectors work at the moment to bring about private prosecutions is this: generally we receive a large number of complaints alleging the cruel treatments of animals from the public—last year it was in the region of 105,000. 

Our inspectors investigate all of those complaints; they check on the welfare of the animals; they try and determine whether an offence may have been committed. In investigating complaints our inspectors require the co-operation of animal owners because the RSPCA inspectors have no statutory powers, so if an inspector wants to see an animal he is invited into the premises by the owner. 

If the inspector believes that an offence may have been committed because he is confronted with an animal in a very poor condition, then he will strive to take the animal to a veterinary surgeon for examination because we rely on the veterinary surgeon to provide evidence that the animal has been caused to suffer. 

If an owner is not co-operative and will not allow an inspector access or the removal of an animal, then we are obliged to enlist the assistance of the police, because the police do have certain powers under current law in relation to arrest and seizure of items of evidence, but we only need to call on the police in very limited circumstances. 

If the inspector then has evidence that there is a potential offence and the opinion of the veterinary surgeon is that the animal has suffered, the inspector will then proceed to investigate with a view to compiling a file of evidence. This will comprise witness statements, expert evidence, photographs, and the owner of the animal will be given the opportunity to be interviewed. 

The interview is conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, so the accused is cautioned and advised that they have the opportunity to seek legal advice before speaking. They are also told that they have the opportunity to have their animal examined by a veterinary surgeon of their choice in order that they have the opportunity to have an alternative opinion on the state of the animal. This is all done partly to comply with statutory provision, and partly to be fair to the accused. 

Once the investigation is completed the file of evidence is sent to the Prosecutions Department. There are five staff there who assess all of the cases that arise in England and Wales. The Prosecutions Department adheres to the provisions of the code for crown prosecutors when assessing the file of evidence. There are two principal tests, as you probably know. 

One is that there must be sufficient evidence to make a conviction more likely than an acquittal if the case is prosecuted, and there must also be a public interest in prosecuting, and all of the decisions that the RSPCA makes with regard to prosecution are based on those criteria. 

Although we are probably one of the biggest private prosecutors, prosecution is a very small part of our inspectorate's work. I mentioned that last year inspectors investigated about 105,000 complaints. The number of cases submitted to Prosecutions Department was about 1,400. Of that 1,400 we prosecuted about 700-800—about 50%, so I think this demonstrates that we are not, as some people may suggest, just out to secure convictions at all cost. 

We assess cases carefully and we apply the appropriate tests before we prosecute. That is why our prosecution numbers are so low. Although we are careful with our prosecutions, we do have a very high success rate. Last year the number of convictions we secured from our prosecutions was about 96% which is a significant success rate. 

I believe another criticism that may have been levelled is the fact that there is no form of accountability as far as our prosecutions are concerned. I think the example was cited that the police investigate offences but the Crown Prosecution Service decides whether to proceed and that is some sort of safeguard, but the position of the RSPCA is no different from any other non police prosecutor. There are plenty of them, from British Rail to British Waterways, TV licensing and local authorities will occasionally prosecute, but the CPS do not have responsibility for assessing cases brought by non police prosecutors. 

If a suggestion is made that RSPCA cases should go to the CPS to be assessed then that is a misleading suggestion because the CPS does not have the authority to prosecute for anyone other than the police. The position of private prosecutions was considered in 1998 by a Law Commission report and that concluded that there were adequate safeguards in place to ensure the right to bring private prosecution is not abused. Those sort of safeguards include the DPP having a right to intervene [if a prosecution has been brought inappropriately].


Really nice letter today from the family who adopted Maddison, one of the four German Shepherds, (not just because of the very kind enclosure):
"Please accept the enclosed cheque with our gratitude for allowing us to adopt Maddison. She has settled in incredibly well and won our hearts very easily. My other dog Chance adores her also because she will play with him continuously. When we lost Ziggy we thought our hearts would never heal, Maddison has proved us wrong"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Winter Fair 2008 on Mill Road

We'll be taking part in the Mill Road Winter Fair again this year, so look out for our tombola (outside the shop at 188 Mill Road) and book stall (location tba) if you're in the area on 6th December.

If you might be able to help with either of the stalls, please email The book stall is usually under cover, but the tombola is in the area in front of the shop, so we'd like to have enough helpers to give people a chance to have a break and get warm.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Entitlement culture

Long argument with a caller who disagreed with the amount she was charged at our clinic and grandly claimed that, "it's the law that disabled owners can't be charged if their pets need veterinary treatment". 

It is not.

Vets have an ethical obligation to relieve animal suffering under the terms of the oath they swear when they qualify. Unfortunately this doesn't translate into unlimited free treatment for owners who can't afford to pay. If an animal is actually in the surgery and is in pain, no vet will refuse to relieve this, and most will in fact bend over backwards to avoid euthanasia, but at the end of the day vets have to charge an economic fee in order to stay in business.

The PDSA have a strict policy to determine who is poor enough to qualify for help and they limit help to no more than one or two animals per owner. The people who meet their criteria do receive very generous help. 

We have a more flexible approach, but this means our help is spread more thinly and owners are expected to pay at least a third of what the treatment would cost at a private vet. This isn't an entitlement: if our funds run out we can't demand that the government tops them up.

This was a basically good owner (she did seek treatment and she did pay up) who had acquired more animals than she could afford in the belief that if things went wrong someone else would have to deal with it. 

The next step down the scale is the owner who essentially gives up and says, "The vet won't see my pet because I owe them money," and then doesn't do anything about getting treatment. In their mind it's now the vet who is responsible if the animal suffers. 

The New Hedgehog book

The New Hedgehog Book, by Pat Morris, is absolutely charming, but also packed with useful information about hedgehogs and what is known about their natural history and behaviour. Until his retirement, Pat Morris was a wildlife researcher and academic, but this is definitely not a coldly scientific view, and readers will be delighted by his evident fondness for his spiky research subjects — to the point of abandoning both clothing and objectivity and diving to the rescue when one of them was in imminent danger of a watery grave. 

Without overwhelming readers with information The Hedgehog book gives enough knowledge to enable them to provide real assistance to any wandering hogs which they may come across. It will also promote understanding of the point at which well-meaning help can turn into something that merely prolongs the process of dying if the would-be rescuer doesn't recognise their limitations.

Some aspects of this popular mammal remain surprisingly mysterious. Create a feeding station for stray cats and you'll end up with lots of cats. This doesn't seem to apply to hedgehogs: you may think there are a lot, but it turns out that you may simply have created a drop-in centre for hedgehogs from an astonishingly large area, rather than increasing the number living in your own garden. Food supply doesn't seem to be the critical limiting factor and we don't really know what is, although there are suspicions that tidier, smaller gardens with more fencing and fewer deciduous trees are bad news. 

The book provides an update on the controversy over hedgehogs on Uist and explains why RSPCA wildlife hospitals (like our local East Winch) place so much emphasis on measuring survival rates of treated animals after release to the wild. Careful follow-up of translocated hedghogs was able to demonstrate it was incorrect that removing hedgehogs and releasing them elsewhere was inhumane, and (to their credit) Scottish Natural Heritage were prepared to change their policy in response to the evidence.

The BBC has a video of another hedgehog tagging survey in action. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Continuing saga of the dog with the prolapse

She had her surgery last Wednesday but my sigh of relief was a bit premature. Owner phoned yesterday afternoon to say she was very dull and not eating or drinking. Unfortunately, because we got the op. done by the private Clarendon Street vet (as her owner didn't have any way to get to the Madingley road site) and it was now the weekend, the closest available cover was the 24 hour vet at Milton. Managed to arrange for her to be taken there, and fortunately it seems she's simply uncomfortable because of the double operation (to replace the prolapse and spay her to stop it happening again). This morning she's gone back home on stronger pain-killers and the vets say she's bright and lively.
Very relieved, as, although vaginal prolapse looks horrible, it's not actually life-threatening or hugely painful (although it's probably pretty uncomfortable). I would have felt really bad if we'd pushed the owner to get the operation done and the bitch hadn't survived.
Fingers and toes crossed that nothing else happens.
NB: this is why I need to have a mobile phone. MI5 are welcome to listen in, but they would be very bored after a bit.

Going down the tube fast...

If this turns out to be true, I'm not going to be able to replace the branch emergency contact mobile phone either - it's an elderly pre-payment Nokia mainly used by me to provide a means for clinic patients to contact us for veterinary help outside normal working hours. It's also the most convenient way to provide a 24/7 branch contact for emergency help with the cost of seeing a private vet. Bother, bother, bother.