Friday, March 6, 2009

Vet School family fun day: 21 March 14:00 - 17:00

Come and see a fully functional hospital for four-legged patients. Visit the Imaging Department, Small and Large Animal wards, Intensive Care Unit, theatre suite and much more. Guided tours available. There will be plenty of 'hands-on' displays but remember the patients are sick so you won't be able to play with them! No dogs, please.

The Queen's Veterinary School Hospital
Madingley Road

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All ages, no booking required. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

The Vet School provide our clinic's veterinary services, so this is an opportunity to take a look "behind the scenes". The family fun day is part of Cambridge University's Science Festival

The Feral Cat Manual

Published by the Feline Advisory Bureau, The Feral Cat Manual is probably the best and most comprehensive guide to helping feral cats available in the UK. It's used by SNIP International and other groups for their training workshops.

Puppies and dummies

This happens more often than you might think. Also here, here and here. The victims are usually puppies, presumably because larger dogs are either more cautious about what they swallow or more likely to pass something relatively small and soft through their intestines without getting a blockage. 

Unfortunately if the puppy does get an obstruction as a result of swallowing a baby's dummy or a bottle's rubber teat it will die if not operated on as an emergency and the operation is likely to be very expensive.

Another one this morning; a Jack Russell terrier. The puppy's too ill to wait for the clinic session tomorrow and isn't eligible for our clinic's emergency cover because he's not registered. Even with our maximum level of help the owner's now got a bill of £500 to cover. She may get some help from the Blue Cross and has now filled in a form to register with the PDSA (I don't know whether they might help retrospectively). 

Parvo again

Yet another rottie pup with parvovirus. Village Vets think there's a chance of saving him, so he's gone to their 24 hour surgery at Milton as an inpatient where they can quarantine him from other dogs. Blue Cross and PDSA are also chipping in as this kind of isolation nursing is horribly expensive.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Members and Supporters?

One of the links at the side of this blog goes to the page where you can apply for membership of the RSPCA. Adult members receive the society magazine Animal Life several times a year and have voting rights at both local and national level. Local branches are sent lists of members within their areas so that they can send out notices of their Annual General Meeting.

Confusingly, it is possible to have signed up to make regular donations to the RSPCA without ever having filled in a membership application. Unfortunately this means that significant numbers of people think of themselves as RSPCA members but don't get any of the papers which would keep them in touch with what's happening at grassroots level. 

If you make regular donations, but don't get Animal Life then you're not listed as a member and that's why your local branch has never tried to contact you. If you follow the link to the RSPCA membership page, you'll see that there are two types of members: ordinary and friend. "Friends" used to be the term for donors who hadn't registered as members. If you know you are a Friend and you'd like to become active in your local branch but they've never been in touch, you probably became a donor before the change. If you contact HQ at Horsham, they should be able to convert your status into voting membership.

Stray rabbit

ACO Kathy has just picked up a stray rabbit from Cambridge. She (the rabbit, not Kathy!) is a very pretty white and black Netherland Dwarf - looks young and is quite friendly. Janine is looking after her for the moment, but hopefully her owner will turn up.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Branch committees

If you think you might be interested in standing for our committee this year there's still time. Branch committees are elected each year by the local branch members at the Annual General Meeting. In our case, this is normally late June, as branch accounts and an annual report on the previous year have to be available at the AGM, and ours haven't usually been audited by our accountants until early June. 

To stand for election, you need to have been a member of the RSPCA for a minimum of three months prior to the AGM (this is mainly to make it possible to ensure there's time for everyone eligible to have got onto the membership lists and been circulated with the correct AGM papers.) Before the AGM the existing committee circulate a notice of the time and place to all branch members and include nomination forms so that members can put candidates forward for election. Members of the RSPCA automatically become members of the branch where they live, unless they ask to join a different one - for example the branch where they work.

To form a committee the AGM must elect at least seven and not more than fourteen people. As it's quite hard to get as many as fourteen volunteers willing to stand, most of the time we want the meeting to vote in everyone who comes forward and is prepared to work. It's not absolutely unknown for elections to be hotly contested, but it usually only happens where there is some point of principle at issue - for example whether or not to keep a particular branch facility open.

If you think you are a member of the RSPCA and have never been circulated with AGM papers it's likely that you are actually a "supporter" instead. In this case, if you want to become involved with your local branch, the best thing to to is to contact RSPCA HQ at Horsham and ask to be switched from the supporter category to the adult member one.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Working for change

There's a growing movement in the US and Australia to press animal shelters to adopt the principles of "no-kill": basically a rejection of the idea that the majority of "unwanted" pets will have to be killed because there are far more strays than potential homes. 

One element of the strategy is to encourage voluntary animal welfare organisations to relinquish what we in this country would refer to as "the stray dogs contract" unless they can realistically aim to place all, or nearly all, animals capable of being adopted. In other words, animal welfare organisations ought not to spend funds doing society's dirty work by killing unwanted pets and so diverting money from saving animals.

This became RSPCA policy in the UK some two decades ago, and is the default position for all its branches. It was possible because of our peculiar organisation structure which means that animal welfare policy decided by the national governing council can be imposed on the branches countrywide.

It hasn't meant that no healthy animals are ever killed because they are unwanted, but the evidence suggests that a much higher percentage of animals are successfully rehomed than in the US. The 2007 Animal Welfare Indicators report collating statistics on a range of animal issues records that the RSPCA (overall) rehomed just over 70,000 animals and put down just under 4,000 for non-medical reasons (the lowest figure for five years). [Pet animal welfare indicators]

Working at arms length from the local authority pounds and shelters has its critics and means that some people will be very unhappy because there is a group of very visible animals in need and the RSPCA is not taking all of them. 

Unfortunately this can result in a vicious circle in which the branch limits its intake of animals because it has limited resources but has difficulty recruiting helpers to increase its resources so it can take more animals because people are angry about the animals who weren't taken in. Two members of the Sheffield forum say:
Q. "Looking at this thread and the earlier one about the RSPCA do I assume that we the people of Sheffield, who support the local RSPCA branch have no say in its running, or how they spend the money that we donate, does this place not have a committie that leads/gives direction to the staff ?. could we not as either a group or as individuals, contact this committie and ask them to change their direction, does the overall RSPCA headquaters at Horsham direct the local branch to this course of action ?.

How does one get onto the local committie, to try and change things, or is it a closed shop like most of these societies seem to be, anyone know ?"
A. "I wish i did know Shytalk. All i know is that people should become aware of the things the RSPCA do and DON'T do before supporting instead of just what they DO do. I am not saying they shouldn't support the RSPCA but theres many small rescue centres out there that save 100s of dogs each year from being put to sleep when they have been in pounds for a long period of time on very low funds due to people not knowing about them as most of the time the rescues are only small and arent pleading for support on television, they make do with what they have and ask around for help, they get it and make the most of it.
I would love to know how to persuade them to help pounds and rescue centres. There's been no luck so far."
Ultimately if you don't like the way your local branch is being run, you can join the RSPCA and stand for election against us. Or you can join and stand for election to work with us. We're not a closed shop and no-one will object to newcomers who want to work to increase the number of animals we can help. What can be a problem is if new recruits have a very limited agenda and want to close down existing services to release funds for their particular pet projects. There isn't much point increasing rehoming if you abandon animals who already have owners but will have to be put to sleep if there is no available veterinary help.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Can a vet refuse treatment because an owner has no money?

Yes, and No. The RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) which sets standards for vets in the UK states:
17. A veterinary surgeon or a lay member of staff accepting telephone calls must not refuse veterinary attention because the caller is unable to make immediate payment for the treatment. Arrangements for payment should be discussed at an early stage, but immediate first aid and pain relief should not be delayed while financial arrangements are agreed.

18. The RCVS is aware that it may be appropriate to advise euthanasia to relieve suffering, if the owner is unable to afford the fees and is ineligible for charitable treatment.

19. The RCVS has no power to set the fees that a practice charges.
Basically, this means that a vet shouldn't refuse to relieve an animal's suffering in an emergency situation BUT they are under no obligation to provide expensive life-saving treatment if there is no likelihood that they (or their employer) will be paid.

In the old days, when most vets were self-employed, many of them would do what they could for an animal and hope the owner would eventually settle up. It is much more difficult for a young vet who may not have a job next day if he costs his employer money. Add in the crippling levels of student debt which most young vets will have after qualifying and you'll see that they are in an enormously difficult situation if a client turns up with a dog who really needs £800 worth of investigations and treatment but has no money at all.

One of these turned up at 3 am this Sunday morning. The client's dog had collapsed and was pale and shocked. They weren't registered with our clinic, so they had to go to a private vet. Because of the time factor they'd run up a bill of about £130 simply by virtue of walking through the door. They'd got no money at all, and at this point the vet phoned me. Sadly there's just no way we could cover £800 for investigations that might well just reveal treatment would be futile. I offered to cover £200 in the hope that symptomatic treatment might do some good — basically this would mean starting some supportive fluids and antibiotics, but about an hour later they phoned to say the owners had decided the best thing was to put the dog to sleep.