Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Millennium Volunteers, Big Society et al.

Politicians and political journalists seem to be in favour of volunteering, but it hardly ever seems that they "get" the nature and problems of existing voluntary organisations, particularly ones concerned with animal protection.

In my more embittered moments I feel they expect the RSPCA to solve any problem with the most tenuous connection with animals (pet cremation? dogfight? deranged cat? no money? floods? plague of frogs? frogs with plague?) while providing volunteering opportunties that train people so they can leave and get paid work as soon as they are trained. In spite of this they don't seem to expect to factor us into any of the new schemes for community volunteering even though it would be a lot easier to build on existing groups rather than reinventing the wheel each time. And on top of that a lot of them seem to have a grumpy view of animal protection as a drain on resources that ought to have been spent on humans.

The sheer volume of calls to the RSPCA phones illustrates the level of demand and the circular disaster of the attitude that says, "If you haven't got enough money, I won't give you another penny."

At the most basic level, service-providing animal charities like the RSPCA are putting serious amounts of money into local communities, helping to keep jobs at vets and kennels and improving the quality of life of very poor people who would otherwise have to give up their pets. We're neutering cats and dogs to prevent over-population from causing mess, disease and disturbance, and rehoming animals whose owners can't cope. It's the non-glamorous, hard slog end of animal welfare and we can't keep it up forever without more broadly-based support. Over the past few years we've been sucked into ever more desperate attempts to satisfy demand in the hope that giving what people want will eventually mean more help.

Many of the people who benefit from our services don't have any realistic prospect of getting into paid work so that they can pay their own vet bills, but almost everyone would be capable of doing something to help keep us going, whether it was collecting funds, helping at our charity shops, or donating old clothes for recycling. In return they'd get the sense of purpose, self-respect and companionship that's so badly needed to combat the pervasive depression and unhappiness.

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