Friday, January 30, 2009

Focus group

Spent Thursday afternoon at East Regional HQ being part of a "focus group" of RSPCA volunteers as part of BDO Stoy Hayward's strategic planning review for the society. I don't think I've ever been a focus group before.

I have to say that, from an initially sceptical position, I was very pleasantly impressed that they had obviously done a lot of background homework and had structured the session to work around the limitations of the fact that we were a fairly un-representative, self-selected group. Once again, I think it's a case of getting what you pay for, and it was probably right to go for quality advice that's useful rather than something that gets binned.

We won't know the final outcome until all the group sessions have been completed and the complete result has been presented to Council

Some points that came out of the session:
  • Nearly everyone felt management of the Society had improved over the past few years, with a better relationship between HQ and the branches and less of a tendency for HQ to try to micro-manage everything we do.
  • The inspectorate is very thin on the ground in relation to their workload. We need more inspectors, animal collection officers and animal welfare officers.
  • Inspectors' time may not be being used to best advantage, one example of this being the requirement that an inspector should periodically visit and examine any animals taken into care as a result of his/her investigations. This enables the inspector to report on any improvement in the animal's condition as something seen at first-hand, but might be as effectively done by an animal care assistant or vet at the centre where the animal is kept.
  • Urgent attention needs to be given to the position of case animals, taken into care as a result of a prosecution, but not signed over by the owner to the Society. In some cases legal proceedings can drag on for as much as two years. This may not be a problem for some species, but it is unacceptable for dogs to be routinely kennelled for that long. We urgently need to press for changes that would permit them to be put into foster homes.
  • Everyone felt there is a degree of isolation between the geographical regions, with branches only meeting within their own area.
  • Everyone felt there is a need for reappraisal of the role of the Branch Development Advisers (BDA). BDA's officially act as liaison between HQ and the branches, but they also have an enormous and unmanageable workload being expected to provide advice on all sorts of things and also to step in if a branch is unable to attract enough volunteers to form a committee. The general feeling was that the work they do should be separated into the advisory role (which should be reassigned to a team of experts with special knowledge rather than expecting one person to know everything), and the mentoring/management role which is most significant for assisting very new committees or recruiting a committee from scratch.
  • Everyone was concerned that we are not succeeding in recruiting young committee members at branch level to replace us when we dodder off into the sunset.
  • There was a general feeling that Council is possibly too large and needs to be reduced to no more than 15 members, but strong disagreement about how they should be appointed. Possible methods were: 
  1. Entirely by a national ballot of the membership.
  2. A mix of regionally and nationally elected members (the current situation); 
  3. A mix of nationally elected and appointed members (with the appointed members being co-opted by the elected members for their special skills or knowledge).
Personally, I would be very reluctant to see the regionally elected council members disappear. The argument against them is that the sitting candidate is rarely opposed because people are very unwilling to displace someone they know and like personally. So elections are generally only contested when the incumbent has retired and several people stand, or when there is a point of principle at stake (e.g. if the sitting candidate has taken sides in something contentious). Arguably this isn't democratic, but I'd say that the counter argument is that it means that people are kicked out if they're doing a poor job (or if there's serious disagreement with the stand they've taken on some issue), but there's no incentive for "political" point-scoring for the sake of it. Above all they are elected by people who know something about them and have knowledge of animal welfare work at the coal-face.

Ballot of the membership would be a more democratic option if the members had more genuine interaction with the candidates. As it is, in most cases all the only evidence ordinary members have to make a decision is the candidate's printed election address. The regional members do at least have an electorate with the knowledge to hold them to account if necessary.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cat facial recognition software?

Webomatica have been playing around with iPhoto and found that its face recognition component can apparently also identify cats from pictures of their faces. As you might expect, it doesn't work for all-black cats, but I wonder if there are potential uses for people managing large feral cat colonies or shelters trying to identify lost cats, and keep track of animals they've taken in. Taking a digital photo at the point of booking-in a cat would be a low-stress, un-invasive way to track that cat through the system.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rat brothers (slightly experimental)

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Some videos of the rat brothers who came in over the weekend. Not very good quality as they're only from my phone and I think the eco-bulb in my living room isn't bright enough. They are up for rehoming, but this post is mostly intended as a test to see whether video works at all.

Updates on Santa and Joshua

Unfortunately Joshua had quite a serious setback last week, due to slippage of the repair to his pelvis, which caused constriction of his pelvic canal, making it impossible for him to pass faeces normally. This means he's back in the Vet School and has had another operation to put the pelvis back and create what's known as a "false joint" to stabilise his damaged hip, which had dislocated again.

They've just phoned to say it looks reasonable so far and he's now more comfortable.

Better news on Santa, who had another operation to close his collar wound last week, and so far it looks as if the skin graft has taken. He's not out of the woods yet, as it could still break down again, and we won't know for sure for another two weeks.