Friday, February 13, 2009

Be A Zoo Vet (Using Maths)

One of a series of books aimed at children in the age range 8-12, offering examples of the practical application of maths skills in real-life scenarios. 

The text has been checked for factual accuracy by a practising vet, and the examples are calculations which might actually be used by someone caring for animals (for example calculating correct worming doses using the animal's weight): they are not re-hashes of the old "how long will it take to fill a bath" problems.

I might have preferred a scenario based around pet or farm animals, but I think that's me being picky. The text includes some strong welfare messages (for example the danger of feeding unsuitable items) and it would help to give an "animal-mad" child the motivation to learn maths as a pathway to careers with animals. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cat population part two

The Southampton cat population study led to a major rethink about tackling the problem of the number of cats coming into rescue. 

I can remember the first wave of projects, about seven years ago, when branches tried to adopt a scientific approach, based on the study's figures for the percentage of neutered cats needed for the population to be in balance. Ideally, this involved selecting areas which experience had shown were a frequent source of incoming cats; surveying local cat owners to find the percentage of un-neutered females and following up with a campaign to offer vouchers for spay/neuter in areas where the percentage of un-neutered cats was higher than needed to produce just enough kittens to replace cats dying from natural causes. 

This sounded wonderful, but in practice was so labour-intensive that hardly anyone actually managed to follow the whole protocol.

The second wave was less scientifically ambitious and just involved the branch identifying areas tending to generate incoming cats and targeting offers of neutering vouchers to those areas. 

The third wave evolved into the current series of Community Animal Action Weeks, which have been so successful and useful on many fronts, not just cat numbers, that they are probably the final, optimised version. 

The aim of Community Animal Action Week is to help pet owners by providing free animal care advice and discounted microchipping. Neutering vouchers will also be provided.

Local RSPCA officers will team up with dog wardens and police community support officers to visit as many homes in the selected areas as possible. The service is free, but anyone receiving help is welcome to make a small donation towards the charity's costs.
An additional bonus of the Animal Action Weeks is the way they give Inspectors, ACOs and volunteers a unique chance to work together as a team on something positive, rather than continual "fire-fighting" and to get away from the "us and them" view of the general public. Several people I know who participated commented that, even on supposedly "sink" estates, the vast majority of pet owners want to do the right thing and do look after their animals.

Bunnies everywhere!

The Eastern Region has just issued an appeal to help rehome another 56 rabbits! 

Once again, this illustrates what a major problem there is with impulse purchase of cute, furry babies who grow into adults who need at least as much exercise and space as a cat and have the potential to produce exponential numbers of babies.

If you are thinking of acquiring pet rabbits, please consider adopting a pair from a rescue organisation. Please, also take the time to research what rabbits need for a satisfactory life

Our branch rescue rabbits are fostered by our partner the Rabbit Residence Rescue whose website has lots of photos showing how much more interesting rabbits are as pets if they are given accommodation that lets them do more than a couple of hops in either direction in a hutch that is more like a prison cell than a home. 

If you are interested in adopting one of our rabbits, please make contact with Caroline initially by phone to make an appointment to visit. Her mobile number is 07904 397 378

Caroline also needs volunteers willing to help with care of the rabbits - and would also like to hear from any gardeners who can take away rabbit manure as this is surprisingly expensive to have removed by waste contractors.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cat population

Two interesting science articles about regulation of the domestic cat population size, tip Saving Pets.
"Each cat-owning household kept 1.3 cats on average, with the majority keeping one (75.8% households) or two (18.7%). For the 260 cats, the mean age was 7.1 years, the median 6 years, with a range of 3 months to 22 years. There were significantly more female (143; 55%) than male cats (117; 45%). Only seven cats (2.7%) were sexually entire, and these were all ≤6 years. Crossbred cats outnumbered pedigree cats by a ratio of 3.3:1." (Demographics and husbandry of pet cats living in Sydney, Australia: results of cross-sectional survey of pet ownership doi:10.1016/j.jfms.2008.06.010 )
"Recently, neutering of domestic cats has been encouraged by veterinary surgeons and rescue organisations as a means of population control for both the pet and feral populations. This is likely to have profound effects on cat population dynamics (and population genetics). In an attempt to quantify this, we have carried out population studies, by means of door-to-door surveys in Southampton and the surrounding area. The aims were to quantify levels of neutering, and investigate the recent reproductive status of the cat population.

The most comprehensive of these surveys was carried out in a 50 ha area in the Shirley area of Southampton (UK). Householders were interviewed from 949 (80.8%) of the 1175 residences in the area. This revealed a population of 315 cats, of which 21 were pedigrees (and were excluded from further analysis) and 294 were mongrels. Overall neutering rates were very high: 96.8% of adult males and 98.7% of adult females were neutered. The oldest cats in the survey had been born 18 years previously, so it was possible to examine trends in neutering over this time period. However, many females were allowed to reproduce before being neutered, so a more informative analysis came from relating lifetime fecundity (mediated by neutering) to year of birth. Mean lifetime fecundity could be calculated for each cohort where all the females had ultimately been neutered. The regression (Fig. 1) shows a dramatic decline in the mean number of litters born per female, from over 0.6 in 1978 to 0.12 in 1991–1992. With a measured median litter size of 4, 0.5 litters/female are needed to keep the population size constant; increasing neutering has meant that the cats in the Shirley survey area fell below this level of fecundity in the early 1980s. In 1994, owned cats in the area could only produce sufficient kittens to maintain the population at approximately 25% of its present level."
(Feral cats: their role in the population dynamics of Felis catus doi:10.1016/S0168-1591(99)00086-6)
So, a combination of education and help with costs where needed can prevent pet over-population and the need to put down healthy animals.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Report on pedigree dogs published

The independent RSPCA-commissioned report on pedigree dog breeding and the need for change is now available.

Cat with broken jaw

She was picked up as an injured stray over the weekend and taken to Vet24 for first aid. They established that she'd got a broken jaw and probable nerve damage or crack in one front leg, so they gave her pain relief and fluids and asked me to arrange for Nicola to take her to the RSPCA clinic in the morning.

Got it all sorted, then later that evening they phoned to say an owner had turned up and would do the transfer herself as she was already registered with the clinic. Next day, at lunch-time, Vicki phoned asking if the cat was still expected as it was past closing time and they wanted to go. Phoned Vet24 and they confirmed the cat had been collected together with her notes. Where is she?! 

They'd noted down a mobile number for the owner, so I phoned that. 

Weird conversation with the owner who was clearly now completely spaced out and unaware that her cat had basically just had pain relief; she might seem "fine" now, but she wouldn't be once it had worn off, and anyway she wouldn't be able to eat with her jaw flopping loose.

Phoned the NCC and asked for one of the local inspectors to visit and check what was going on. Upshot is that the kitty is now back at Vet24 and hopefully will be transferred (by us) to the clinic for her surgery on Thursday.

Stray dogs

From the South Cambs website:

"Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 any dog found wandering in a public place alone can be seized by the council as a stray and taken to kennels. Owners will have to pay a seizure and kennelling fee before the dog can be released. If the dog is not claimed within seven days it will be signed over to the kennels for possible re-homing and you as the former owner will loose all rights to its return.

From April 2008 Cambridgeshire Police no longer have any responsibilities for stray dogs and are not legally obliged to accept any that are brought to them. However, arrangements have been made for the Police to accept stray dogs on behalf of the council outside normal office hours and at weekends at Parkside Police Station in Cambridge.

It is a legal requirement that every dog in a public place must wear a collar and tag with identification. This enables anyone finding a stray dog to contact its owner."
This is an extremely helpful decision by Cambs. police. If your dog strays, be aware that the reclamation fee may be as much as £100 if the council has had to board him for several days, or used its out of hours arrangements. I've just had to refuse to help someone with no money and a £100 fee to pay. Unfortunately we just don't have enough funds to help with anything other than lifesaving treatment. In any case, I'm doubtful whether this would be an appropriate use of charitable funds; the council charges fees as a deterrent as well as a way to recoup its costs.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Australian Bushfires

RSPCA Victoria (RSPCA Australia in the State of Victoria), has an appeal page for donations.

Statistics for January

During January we rehomed five dogs and six cats, neutered fourteen dogs, thirteen cats and thirteen rabbits and provided veterinary treatment for 219 dogs, 124 cats, 9 rabbits and 11 miscellaneous small animals.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

RSPCA home-checking

Anyone who has felt offended by the checks we do before placing animals for adoption or fostering should read two news stories which broke over the past few days, as they show the kinds of situations home-visiting is designed to prevent.

The first comes from the US
Prosecutors said Chambers placed only six of the 28 dogs he received from the animal group, and three died from injuries that appeared to have come from fighting. Two other dogs were put down by police, and at least one dog that Chambers said had been adopted was found at the pound, according to court records. (via the Pet Connection blog). More on this story here.
Best Friends, the animal welfare group who placed the dogs, do seem to have interviewed Chambers and tried to get some background information about him, but it doesn't appear that anyone independent actually went and looked at his facilities to check that they were suitable. I think some of the comments about them are a bit harsh, as they probably did find that dogs who had been used to living in a "free range" domestic situation weren't happy being kennelled long-term and that was why they were so anxious to move them on for rehoming.

The second is a desperately sad illustration of why we ask apparently obsessive questions about whether the household will include small children (including ones who visit regularly), and what arrangements will be made to ensure that they will never be left alone with dogs.

Neighbours say the baby was asleep in his basket on the ground floor of the house when the dogs attacked.

They heard screams shortly after midnight as Wilson ran into the street shouting for help. They went into the house to find Jaden still being mauled by the dogs.
Dogs are large-mammal predators who would kill animals much larger than themselves in the wild. Even quite a small dog is capable of doing a terrible amount of injury. Normally our own dogs are socialised to us and would not harm us. BUT:
  • Babies may not be recognised by a dog as belonging to the same species as adult humans.
  • When babies or small children are only intermittently in a house they may not be seen by the dogs as part of their "pack" (wolves don't have grandmothers or step-mothers), and this may create a particularly risky situation.
  • If a dog has been accustomed to behaving as a dominant member of the family he may resent children who don't behave in a "respectful" manner.
  • A child may quite innocently do something which causes a dog to bite in fear - for example by falling onto a sleeping dog.
Bottom line: small children must not be left alone with dogs (and it must be remembered that an older child may not be in danger herself, but may not be capable of protecting a smaller one).