Friday, June 19, 2009

Lessons Learned

Firstly I should stress that the following are my own thoughts about the distressing case of Luna, reported to the RSPCA as an injured stray and subsequently put to sleep because there was no available holding accommodation for her. I am sure HQ will be holding their own review and seeing what changes should/can be made.

On policy:
  1. The current policy that we will not normally remove healthy adult stray cats from their current location needs to be re-affirmed.
  2. We need to clarify that cats who are reported to be sick or injured, but are found on capture to be perfectly well will be returned to their original location.
  3. The 7 day holding period for sick or injured stray animals who are not homeable, but don't need immediate euthanasia on welfare grounds needs to be added to the branch Minimum Animal Welfare Standards and made mandatory.
On practical issues:
  1. We need to recruit more foster carers as a cost-effective way of increasing holding spaces for animals.
  2. We need to plan what can be done in a situation where no kennel or foster space is available or the animal is not suitable to go to a foster home. This will cost money. Usually the only solution at weekends would be to transfer the animal to the veterinary surgery which is providing 24 hour cover for the district. Reasonably enough they will charge a substantial amount if an animal has to take up an expensive emergency care place.
  1. Microchip identification is not perfect, but the more we can encourage, the better the chance that a cat picked up as an injured stray will be reunited speedily with her owners. It's particularly important to chip cats who have some disability or condition which makes them likely to be reported as sick or injured (for example a permanently stiff leg following an injury).
  2. Educate the public that a cat in good body condition, with no obvious injuries or illness, who is "hanging around" is normally perfectly capable of returning home without help.
  3. Educate vets that we're not simply "putting off the decision" if we ask for an obviously terminally ill stray to be held the full 7 days so long as it can be kept pain-free.
  4. Educate branch members and volunteers that when they signed up to the RSPCA they effectively signed up to an open-ended responsibility for animals collected by ACOs.
The most practically problematic of these is likely to be number 2 of the first group. Legally we probably can't insist that a cat removed from a particular garden is returned there if the owner of the garden refuses permission. Returning as close as possible to the original site is probably the best that can be guaranteed, so once an animal has been collected it's probably safer held until claimed by an owner if it can't be returned to the exact site.

Number 4 of the last group is a real consideration. The RSPCA is an extremely complex organisation dealing with issues that would take several inch-thick manuals to describe properly. Normal people don't, won't and can't assimilate anything like this before they join up as helpers and this does mean that quite a lot of the time they're being asked to do something and really don't know why — or at least not why it's their responsibility when they're already doing as much as they're comfortable with and they're genuinely short of funds.

The money aspect is a genuine consideration. Money spent keeping an unhomeable cat for 7 days is money that's not available to help with another animal's veterinary treatment.

Further thought
I think we should ban the phrase, "he'll find his way home" when we're talking to the public about cats they want to report as strays, because it implies that the cat is lost and has to search for home. I don't have to find my way home from the shops — I know the route, and so does the average cat who's visiting a garden a few doors down.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stray cats II

RSPCA HQ have now put up a statement about the Mirror article, and the story behind what happened seems to be much as I suspected. Evidently the cat was originally reported as a sick animal whose owner wasn't known. I've been on the receiving end of calls like this, and there can be an awful lot of pressure to remove an animal, and insistence that it is in terrible pain. Once you've caught the cat, if the owner of the land where it was found is adamant that it mustn't be put back you are in a bind.

99 times out of 100 there's no problem and the cat is placed in kennels or a foster home and either rehomed or claimed by the owner. If the cat is unhomeable, most of the time it's at least possible to hold him/her for a reasonable length of time to give the owner a chance to come forward.

Until comparatively recently vets would normally be asked to hold the cat for at least 7 days if no kennel space was available. Now, most veterinary surgeries outsource their out of hours emergency cover to specialist 24hr centres and all their own staff go home overnight and at weekends. Some of them will stretch a point and get a nurse to come in briefly to feed and water weekend boarders, but most are unhappy about leaving animals unattended. That means they can't be used as a form of emergency space for holding animals. Kennels all have limits on their numbers set out as part of their licence conditions, so they can't "just squeeze in one more".

That leaves foster homes — and most of us would do our best to fit in one more cat in an emergency.

Do that too often, and you become part of the problem, not part of the solution. There's a numbers limit beyond which animals can't be kept in reasonably sanitary conditions, with parasites treated and veterinary appointments kept.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Update from our homing co-ordinator

Our cat numbers in kennels are now up to 21 and I've got various desperate messages from people wanting us to take cats and everywhere else seems full so it's quite a problem.
Clare (Inspector) phoned me about a 18 month old pomeranian that she got signed over as owner wasn't coping. It sounds as though it's destructive but I dont know much else. It should be very rehomable being small and a "breed" unless it has bad behavioural issues.
I agreed to take a rabbit from a home in Newmarket, again owners seriously not coping.
I had a call from someone who had 2 cats from us some time ago. One has since died and she adopted another from a different rescue. She has had an awful time. Her husband's been ill a while with a brain tumour so can't work and is now in a care home. They had to sell up their home to pay debts and now have to leave their rented accomodation as the landlord's moving into it having lost his main residence. She and the two kids are having to go to a hostel temporarily, which won't allow cats. She really didn't want to give them up but cant afford to pay boarding costs for ages. Bearing in mind that if they were given up for rehoming we would be obliged to at least take Ronnie back and we would possibly be stuck with him ages (he was a long stayer before she adopted him) I have agreed to have them with a view to her having them back when she gets a permanent home. Could be quite some time though!
Its a shame really as I was intending to take on a couple of oldies from the kennels but this will bung me up again!

Cambourne Youth Festival Fun Dog Show

June 27th 2009


1) Prettiest bitch (1-8 yrs)

2) Handsomest dog (1-8 yrs)

3) Golden Oldie (Males and females, 9 yrs +)

4) Cutest puppy (Males and females up to 1 yr old)

5) Childs best friend (Any age, any sex, handled by a child)

6) Best trick (Any dog!)

Entry fee per dog, per class, 50p or a tin of dog food. All proceeds to Cambridge and district branch of RSPCA. Prizes for winners.

Entry forms available on the day.

For further info/ class times, please pre-register at

Statistics for May 2009

During May, we rehomed six dogs, four cats and two budgies. We microchipped a total of 34 animals and neutered 24 (12 dogs, 9 cats and 3 rabbits). We provided low cost treatment at our clinic for 200 dogs, 113 cats, 15 rabbits and 6 miscellaneous animals and helped with the cost of treatment of 23 dogs, four cats and 2 miscellaneous animals at private vets. We tested three cats for FeLV because they were in high risk categories and of these two were positive and had to be put to sleep.

Stray cats again

Today's Mirror has a story which seems absolutely horrifying on the face of it. The National RSPCA's spokesman has simply stated that the Society is trying to find exactly what did happen, and they are clearly as gob-smacked as I am, because virtually everything that happened breaks normal policy on dealing with complaints about "stray" cats.

For the record, what would normally happen is as follows:

Caller phones in (sometimes direct to a branch or animal home, sometimes to the National Control Centre).

Caller: There's a stray cat in my garden and I want you to come out and pick it up.

RSPCA: Is the cat injured? Does it seem to be ill.


Caller: Yes - I saw the poor thing hit by a car - one of its legs is hanging off.
(What's wrong obviously varies depending on circumstances)

RSPCA: Can you take the cat to a vet and we'll pay for treatment? That would be quickest. If you haven't got transport we can send someone out, but that may take a while.....


Caller: No, but it's been hanging around for days and it needs rehoming.

RSPCA: Most cats like that do have a home and go back there when they're hungry. Don't encourage him by feeding him and he'll probably go home. If you're still worried, try putting on a paper collar asking the owner to phone you - or put up notices asking if anyone local's lost a cat.

Normally we're very resistant indeed to agreeing to pick up healthy, uninjured cats just because someone says they're stray - to the point where callers often get quite annoyed about it. It wouldn't normally be treated as a priority (because the animal isn't in distress) so it would be very surprising for an inspector to be diverted to collect the cat in the short length of time described in the article.

Of course micro-chipping would make this kind of event much less likely (although still not impossible if a cat is very difficult to handle in order to scan for a chip).

In any situation it's always possible that some individual may make a completely unreasonable and wrong decision or be over-persuaded by a caller who is totally convinced they're in the right. Possibly the explanation is that this cat was injured and the real argument is over whether the injuries were treatable or not.