Saturday, September 11, 2010

Branch animal welfare statistics for August

During August our clinic treated 257 dogs, 115 cats, six rabbits and two "small furries" and neutered eleven dogs and three cats.

We took in one dog and eleven cats who had been signed over to our local inspector for welfare reasons, and nine unowned sick or injured cats referred to us via the National Control Centre. We also took in two dogs and a cat whose owners were unable to keep them and had a previously rehomed dog returned to us due to his adopters being posted abroad.

We rehomed seven cats and one dog, however August is usually a slow month for homing because people are away on holiday and September's figures are already looking better.

Charity Shops Pt 2

So, now you have a shop, all kitted out with rails, hangers and shelves. You hope that people will start bringing in donations, and you will probably have done at least one collection so that you can open with a decent-looking amount of stock.

Customers are weirdly blind to new happenings on a familiar street. Even a year on people are still wandering into our 61 Burleigh Street shop in Cambridge and saying: "Ooh! I didn't know there was an RSPCA charity shop in Cambridge." There are people living on Mill Road who have never noticed our second hand bookshop at number 188 (after it's been there for 6 years!).

One of the reasons why I started this blog was to try to attract more publicity for our shops and other fundraising efforts. 

People don't look up—so the very nice signs above shop windows seem to be almost useless as a way of telling them we are here. So far the most effective signage seems to be A-boards (facing shoppers' direction of travel at roughly eye-level) and decals stuck at eye-level on the glass doors.

People no longer expect to push doors—and will conclude that a shop is either closed or being used as a display space to avoid the street looking full of boarded-up premises unless you keep its door open or install an automatic opening sensor system.

So, you achieve your initial target of selling roughly 100 items every day, around an average price of £3.50. Your  takings are £350 and you pat yourself on the back, BUT...

Around £200 of the £350 will be needed to pay rent, rates, staff wages, heat etc. Allowing for Sundays and bank holidays, you may hope to see a fairly steady £3,600 profit in a month. 

When you consider that our kennelling bill is at least £2,000 each month, veterinary services to our clinic average £6,000 and charges at private vets £2,000 you can see why we need several shops and must run them to make the maximum profit possible.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Charity Shops!

As there really seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for the proposed new shop in Newmarket I thought I would write something about the process of operating a charity shop from the point of view of a branch committee—there is a lot of frantic activity in the background and it is not simply a matter of finding an empty shop, paying some rent and moving in.

First find your shop:

Potential income from sales has to be balanced against costs, particularly rent. A smallish shop in a quiet area may cost about £11,000 in rent. Something similar in a busy shopping area may be more than three times as expensive, but may pay for itself by attracting a far greater number of shoppers. Very few people will make a special journey to a charity shop if there is nothing else in the location that they need to visit.

If you decide to go for a shop in a busy location you will need to achieve very high volume of sales to make it pay. It may be necessary to organise "trawling" (which is where you distribute collection bags one week and pick them up the next—filled with saleable donated items, you hope). To make a profit will need to sell at least 100 items daily; which will involve a hefty amount of physical work sorting donated goods, cleaning, pricing and putting out on the shop floor. Unless you can field at least two reasonably able-bodied volunteers six days a week it will be impossible to keep up without employing some paid staff. Even with the low sales volume at the old Newmarket shop it nearly finished off the two volunteers who wound up doing the bulk of donation processing in the evening and at weekends.

Once you settle on premises that seem suitable there will be protracted negotiations with the landlord's agent and solicitor. Their job is to get the best possible deal for their client—which means that, if they can persuade you to agree to take on expensive repairs or to ignore that suspicious stain on the ceiling, they will. You have to grit your teeth and rely on the experience and advice of your own solicitor and surveyor, and not let yourself be persuaded that being careful is unnecessary delay. Unlike a residential property commercial landlords have no obligation to pay for repairs unless this is specifically agreed in the terms of the lease.

The amounts of money involved are pretty scary: shop rent is typically paid three months in advance, so for a £20,000 annual rent £5,000 must be found up front. Many landlords will require another three months' rent as a deposit. Unless the shop is already equipped with suitable rails and shelving, there will be at least another £10,000 to pay for fitting out, so £20,000 may have been spent before the shop even opens.

Once you have an agreed lease, two committee members must sign it as "holding trustees". This means they agree to take responsibility for ensuring that the rent is paid and the terms of the lease adhered to. A shop lease is not like an ordinary tenancy of a flat or house—if things don't work out the charity can't simply give a month's notice and leave. I've been one of the holding trustees for three of our branch shops so far, and am not yet bankrupt, but none of this is something to do lightly.

The major attraction of shops is their potential for generating regular income that can be increased by simply working harder. Virtually all other sources of income are at the mercy of the whims of public opinion.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pioneers at Bath Cats and Dogs Home

In England and Wales, the term "non-destruction" is normally the preferred term for what would be referred to as "no-kill" in the US and Australia. I hope BCDH won't object to me reproducing the following timeline from their website:
• Three local animal charities unite to become RSPCA Bath Branch.
• Bath resident Mrs Bayntun gifts five acres of land and £4,000 (equivalent to nearly £200,000 now) enabling the new charity to set up a dog shelter.
• John and Mary Hobhouse join the Bath Branch committee.
• John Hobhouse becomes chairman of the Bath Branch (until 2000).
• After considerable arguments, the City Council concede that stray dogs can go to the kennels for re-homing rather than being destroyed.
• The Bath Branch is the first RSPCA branch to implement a strict non-destruction policy.
• John Hobhouse is elected to the RSPCA National Council.
• John’s five-year battle to form and chair a ‘Homeless Animals Committee’ is finally realised.
• The Homeless Animals Committee persuade the RSPCA Council to spend £100,000 to build or rebuild an animal centre in each major city. Within a year these new kennels were saving the lives of 10,000 dogs that would otherwise have been destroyed.
1969 – 1975
• John Hobhouse elected as chairman of the RSPCA National Council. 
• The Friends of Claverton is formed. A separate registered charity, the Friends raise funds through membership and legacies.
• After three generous legacy donations totaling £500,000 the Home plan a redevelopment of the dilapidated 50 year old buildings with modern facilities. 
John is elected Bath and District President
• The first two stages of redevelopment are completed, including four kennel blocks and runs, a cattery, vet suite, administration offices, visitor facilities and a new sewerage system. The cost of £2.2 million had been raised solely by donation and fundraising.
• The third stage of development is completed, with two circular kennels. The cost was paid for by the fundraising efforts of the Friends of Claverton. 
• John Hobhouse dies peacefully in Frome Hospital, Somerset, on Thursday 24 December, aged 99.
There's some more information about how BCDH works with the local authority dog wardens in this article. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Further thoughts on licences and dog wardens

I suppose attitudes to this are very dependent on whether your view of the role of dog wardens is that it's primarily for the benefit or detriment of dogs.

The majority of calls about uninjured stray dogs that we get at evenings and weekends are from people who've found a dog and want it to be collected and taken somewhere safe to be cared for until the owner is found. Their main concern is usually that the dog may get run over if left. Legally these calls should be the responsibility of the local authority, but very few of these employ dog wardens outside normal working hours.

We get some calls demanding that we come and collect a dog who has bitten someone or savaged another dog and these are really the responsibility of the dog's owner or the police. It's comparatively rare for us to be called about loose dogs because someone feels they are a threat.

If your view of dog wardens is that they are a positive element for animal welfare you will want more cover. If you see them as roaming the streets "seizing" dogs who would be safer where they were you will want less.

It may be helpful to look at some of the material on the website of the National Dog Wardens Association and, in particular, their comments on an earlier government consultation on introduction of  a compulsory microchipping and insurance system which for practical purposes would be similar to a dog licence system (part of the DEFRA consultation on Dangerous Dogs).
[Q27: Do you think that requiring all dogs to be covered by third-party insurance could have a significant financial impact upon individual dog owners? Why?]
It is estimated that 25% of car drivers in the UK have no insurance, so you would have to assume that 25% of dog owners would not adhere to any licensing requirements.  If this were to be so, any dogs seized and not having a license would only be released back to the owner after the dog had been licensed (the statutory government charge for stray dogs would be waived to enable registration to be carried out for a year) A lot of dog owners leave their seized dogs at the holding kennels rather than claim them because they begrudge paying the fees, this shows that possibly it is better for that particular dog to not be with such a person. Where an owner’s dog is involved in an incident and he is found to be uninsured, this would constitute a serious offence (as with cars). We would support reductions for pensioners and multi-dog households,
[Q28: Do you think that requiring all dogs to be covered by third-party insurance will have a financial impact upon welfare organisations/dog homes? Why?]
Why would it?  If a stray dog is rehomed by a Local Authority to an animal welfare charity, when that charity rehome the dog, they should have a legal requirement to make the new owner fill in the registration form for the area they live in.  Example being, a person is adopting a Labrador and they live in Manchester, the new owners come to collect the dog and they have with them the Dog License complete with insurance. Dogs’ homes/charities should have insurance for the whole premises rather than for individual dogs.

[Q29: Do you think that all dogs should have to be microchipped? Why?]
Yes but microchipping of all dogs is not the be all and end all it is made out to be!  Dog Wardens average about 40% of dogs with microchips handled by them having out of date, incorrect or no details at all on the microchips?  Who would enforce any discrepancies regarding microchips……Local Authority Dog Wardens, not Petlog, not the animal welfare organisations or even the police?  Do Local Authorities have the resources to carry out this work in the current climate with Local Authorities cutting the size of Dog Warden Services or downgrading the important work they do? Compulsory microchipping would work well in conjunction with the insurance requirement (see above Q.25), otherwise it is difficult to enforce on it’s own as most people who move or give away/sell their dogs forget to change the details

[Q30: Do you think that all puppies born after a specified date should be microchipped before the age of one year? Why?]
As Q29. I think microchipping/insuring puppies is important and, with this proof of ownership, would help to combat the puppy farmers and irresponsible back-street breeders. Puppies should be insured and chipped before they are sold – there could be a specific clause that allows transfer of ownership with the insurance policy for puppies that are intended for gift/sale; this would apply to private as well as commercial breeders.
[Q31: How do you think such a requirement could be introduced and enforced?] 
Who would enforce it, hard pressed Dog Wardens who as this consultation document points out varies from highly motivated, well trained and knowledgeable to poorly trained ones.  Many Local Authorities fail to appreciate the important role that Dog Wardens play in community safety and those who have downgraded their services to stray dogs being dealt with by Pest Control Officers/Community Safety Officers for example are not going to have individuals who are spending 100% of their work day dealing with dog issues. Any enforcement needs to be carried out by motivated, well trained and knowledgeable Dog Wardens who are fully supported by their Local Authorities and properly funded. Again, works best in conjunction with insurance where insurance companies would run the database. It would tend to be enforced only when a problem dog comes to light that isn’t insured which is why the penalty for non-insurance should be an adequate deterrent. Yes, this would initially require extra enforcement by Police/Local authorities but could ultimately reduce enforcement.

[Q39: Do you think the government needs to do more to raise public awareness of the existing law and what to do if you are aware of a possible breach?] 
I think the public are aware of the existing law but they are also hopelessly misinformed with regards to dog behaviour and responsible ownership. The government need to lend more support to Local Authorities who should be at the forefront of public education. Instead, more local authorities are cutting their dog warden budget or outsourcing their stray dog contracts.
Relocating control of dogs to the "Pests" department is not likely to improve their care!

I think there's a more general problem about the public view of animals being "seized" (by RSPCA, Police, dog wardens etc.). Most of the time this is reactive, as a result of a call from a member of the public asking someone to collect an animal, because it's thought to be ill, injured or otherwise at risk in some way. Sometimes an animal may not have been seized in any meaningful sense of the word: for example where the animal's carer has asked to sign it over to the RSPCA. We've had situations where a third party referred to us "seizing" a dog when we'd in reality been asked by an owner to take the dog for rehoming as an alternative to euthanasia.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What IS "responsible breeding", anyhow?

If you've been following the dog licence debate on Twitter, you may have noticed some acrimonious exchanges between @rspcalondonse and a few dog bloggers. (I think I rather resent the comments questioning whether someone who is "only" a volunteer spokesman for a branch should be allowed to express an opinion).

Anyone who thinks companion animals should simply be eliminated by neutering them all can stop reading now. If you think we should be aiming to reduce over-production so that no animals have to be killed because they can't be placed in homes, carry on.

First of all, we need to get over our hang-ups from the days when massive numbers of puppies were put down every year as a result of unwanted litters. In the UK this simply is not happening any longer; unless there is something seriously wrong with a particular puppy it will be relatively easy to find a suitable home.

Unfortunately the downside of this is that puppies have a commercial value and it is possible for unscrupulous people to make money by keeping bitches in dreadful conditions. The primary reason why this needs to be stamped out is the cruelty suffered by the mother dogs who may be producing litter after litter in situations that are literally similar to battery farming. Keeping dogs like this would be wrong even if it had no effect at all on the number of animals ending up in rescue. Dogs are our companions—would you want your friend's mother to spend her life in a dark shed and worn out after half her normal lifespan?

In fact, of  course, this kind of breeding produces puppies who are more likely to end up in rescue (because they may be ill, have behaviour problems, or simply have been purchased by someone who would not have been sold a puppy by someone who cared about dogs). The discarded bitches will either be killed, passed on to rescue organisations, or sometimes sold to unwary purchasers who think they are getting a cheap pedigree.

Pretty well everyone involved with dogs agrees that this kind of breeder is not "responsible" (although they may still get licences from the local authority if the LA is more interested in supporting local businesses than in animal welfare).

We then move on to all the others who breed dogs and it's here that the disagreement starts, because there's not much agreement about what a "responsible" breeder would be aiming to do.

On the one hand there are the fairly large scale pedigree breeders, who are primarily aiming for success in the show ring and produce puppies for sale to the pet market as a by-product. To be successful they will be keeping their breeding dogs in good, hygienic conditions, well-fed and the dogs who compete in the show ring will necessarily receive training, which is important for their mental wellbeing. They are likely to be reasonably knowledgeable about avoiding inherited problems by suitable genetic testing (although they may be fairly pig-headed about accepting the deleterious effects of inbreeding and a small gene pool). They may also be blinkered about defects which are inherent in the standard for their particular breed. Their dogs will be valuable and are likely to be sold with clauses requiring "pet-quality" puppies to be neutered.

For me, the faintly derogatory "pet-quality" phrase is the key; these breeders may genuinely be trying to do the best for their dogs, but suitable family companions are not their primary goal. Some pedigree dogs are selected for traits which are positively deleterious to them; for example who on EARTH in their right mind would think this is normal?

Pedigree breeders aren't necessarily only interested in how the dog looks: there are Papillons and Shelties who can compete successfully against Border Collies in Obedience classes.

Finally there are "hobby breeders" which may include owners hoping to make a quick profit who neither know nor care about health checks necessary for their breed; those who simply want to be able to keep a puppy from a well-loved pet and highly knowledgeable people whose dogs are primarily companions, but also want to compete. Some breeders do so as a sideline to running boarding kennels.

Clearly some breeders are more of a problem for rescues than others. I doubt whether there are many potential Staffordshire BT adopters who buy Chihuahuas instead, but SBT breeders certainly are competing for homes with rescue dogs. Anyone breeding dogs which will almost routinely need surgery (Sharpei, British Bulldog etc.) really should be questioning what they are doing.

Finally—what kind of dogs should a responsible breeder be aiming for?

Take a look at the fascinating Family Dog Project website (thanks to Cambridge dogs for the link).

Dogs evolved as animals who specialise in understanding human behaviour!

By reducing them to quasi factory farm "products" we risk throwing away thousands of years of evolutionary development which has produced creatures who are our companions and willing assistants, not only in traditional work, but dealing with completely new challenges, such as finding the nests of bumble bees and humanely relocating hedgehogs.