Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dog Show Helpers needed

These are some one-off volunteering opportunities which might suit people who don't have time for regular volunteering. We will be holding this year's dog show on Saturday 9th July as part of the festivities in the week of the Great Shelford Feast.

We need to recruit:
  • "Runners" to take class entry details from the registration desk to the judges.
  • Registration desk volunteers to take entry money and book dogs and handlers into the right classes.
  • Helpers to set up and take down the show arena and stands.
  • Rosette clerk to see that the judges have the correct rosettes and other prizes to hand.
  • Before the day we need people to help with publicity: making and distributing posters etc. to local vets and other places where dog owners are to be found.
  • Helpers to run stalls, tombola etc. and generally brandish collection boxes at people.
  • Anyone with a large car or other vehicle suitable for transporting tables from Cambridge.
If you can put up a poster in a local shop, works canteen etc.  it would be a great help to us. Email if you would like some posters or fliers.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Phones and phone calls

Give the UK public a phone number and they will call it—except when they are suspicious that it is a premium rate line, when they may phone to ask me to call it for them.

The RSPCA National Control Centre takes over a million calls every year. That's roughly two calls every minute, and, since these won't be evenly spread over the 24 hours it gets hammered at peak periods. This is why calls take some time to be answered and why the control centre staff may sound unsympathetic—they can't spend time on anything besides getting down essential details that will enable the field staff to evaluate and deal with the issue.

Judging by the number of calls we get direct to the Cambridge branch, the total number of calls to all the RSPCA branches combined probably amounts to another million.

Altogether that's a LOT of phone calls. We try to deal with it in various ways, none of which are entirely satisfactory. Some branches have set times when calls will be answered, some have rota systems of volunteers, some have a phone that's permanently on answerphone and will sift calls and return those they can help. The nearest thing to an ideal setup is probably a rota of volunteers with other tasks that they can be getting on with between calls, although it does mean a lot of interruptions, and most branches simply don't have enough volunteers who can be available during the 9-5 period when most people are at work.

Then there's the vexed question of whether there should be a single branch number for everything or several numbers that can be treated differently, such as an emergency mobile number that's answered immediately, and an enquiry number that's answered when someone happens to be about.

This would probably work except that callers to the enquiry number tend to get fed up because no-one answers and try the emergency number. If you happen to be the person with the mobile in their pocket and you are on a bike this can make your journey a bit of a frustrating process.

Even for the National Control Centre with its staff who are employed to do nothing but answer RSPCA calls, there have to be trade-offs between various factors to generate a "least-worst" solution. The core staff work all the year round and develop a lot of background knowledge. At busy times of the year they are supplemented by pulling in extra people from the parent call centre company in order to keep waiting times before calls are answered to acceptable levels. These staff are trained, but they give slightly more of an impression of working to a script because they don't have the same depth of knowledge. The trade off here is between the need to keep down costs by using only the number of staff who are really necessary and the risk that animals will suffer if waiting times are too protracted and callers give up. At the end of the day it's pointless having a super-efficient system for taking calls if it doesn't leave enough funds available to actually deal with the problem once it's been reported.

Similar trade-offs apply when it comes to taking action following the phone calls; there is no point employing so many animal collection staff that there's no money left to pay the vet bills for the animals they collect. This is why we always ask callers whether it would be possible for them to take injured animals direct to the closest private vet, as this means the animal gets help more quickly and we can afford to spend more money on the actual treatment instead of on the process of getting the animal to the surgery. It's also why it's more cost-effective to pay for the use of private vets' existing facilities than try to set up lots of RSPCA hospitals which would all have overheads.

This can be upsetting for both ends of the incident—witness the usually calm RSPCA_Frontline's uncharacteristically sharp reaction to a follower who simply will not accept it's not possible to get a collection officer to her address instantly: "For animals in need - call 0300 1234 999. Swearing is unacceptable on Twitter and this account is also followed by children."

Ultimately the only solution is to increase our fundraising.

If you think you might like to volunteer to go on our phone rota, please email 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spread the word about our animals who need new homes

Roxy is looking for a home

If you use social networking sites like facebook or twitter, or have a website or blog, you can help advertise our animals by embedding our Rehoming Widget.

This automatically updates to show photos of the latest animals in need of new homes.

To get the widget code, click the "get widget" tab on the icon below.

Copy the code it offers and paste it into your blog or web page, or use the buttons to spread the word on facebook, twitter and other social media.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Volunteer opportunity: transport organiser

This is the first of a series of posts I'm going to run on the various volunteer posts we are trying to fill within the branch:

We often need to transport animals (mostly cats, but some dogs and other small animals) at short notice. This will usually be from a veterinary surgery where the animal has been given first aid, going either to our own clinic for further treatment or to kennels or a foster home to be boarded until rehomed.

This transport is usually done by volunteer drivers, but it can be time-consuming phoning round until one who is available at the time can be located because of the unpredictable nature of the need. At present the task of phoning round is done either by me or by Janine, our rehoming co-ordinator, but this is starting to be problematic because we both have full time paid jobs so we can't easily do the phone calls until the evening.

We would like to recruit someone who would be willing to take on the task of linking up the volunteer drivers with the driving jobs needing to be done.

This would involve the volunteer being available to take emails or phone calls notifying them that transport needed to be arranged and then phoning round the volunteer drivers to find someone who was available.

If interested, the volunteer might get more involved in trying to recruiting more drivers.

If you think you might be able to help with this, please email

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why do people hate the RSPCA?

Opening of the Cambridge RSPCA clinic 1936
The Telegraph's Pete Wedderburn has a column with the provocative title, "Why do people hate the RSPCA" to mark RSPCA week. Coming from a country where there is no strong, centralised animal welfare charity, he's clearly baffled by the amount of bile directed at a voluntary organisation which last year:

1. Answered 1,163,240 calls
2. Investigated 159,686 complaints of alleged animal cruelty
3. Issued 86,354 animal owners with welfare improvement advice
4. Rescued and collected 130,033 animals
5. Rehomed 64,086 animals
6. Treated and helped 210,970 animals in its hospitals and clinics
7. Spent almost £4m on veterinary care
8. Microchipped 67,388 animals
9. Admitted 16,429 wildlife casualties into its four wildlife centres
Opening of the Eddington RSPCA Clinic 1955

The number of foaming-at-the-mouth comment posts following the column illustrate what he means. However only a few weeks earlier the RSPCA achieved a pretty respectable 7th place in the Reputation Institute's annual survey of charities; comfortably ahead of household names such as Oxfam, Children in Need and the National Trust.

Why the discrepancy? I think it stems from the distinction between the attitude of the public in general and individuals with passionately-held special interests. Someone who is in favour of wild animals being permitted in circuses and someone else who thinks all kinds of animal keeping or training should be eliminated will be equally fed up about the existence of a large, middle of the road animal protection organisation which the general public likes and looks to for guidance. 

I suspect this also explains why, every year, we have such difficulty making the most of RSPCA week, because the general goodwill that puts two pound coins in tins isn't matched by willingness to go one step forward and volunteer to help us do the collection. 

Maybe there's more to it, though. I wonder if there's a more general problem that's not just confined to animal issues. Because I'm trying to encourage more people to volunteer with our branch, I try to keep up with news about social participation and volunteering initiatives. One thing that's very striking to someone coming from an "old charity" perspective is how very negative much of it is—to the point of being more about destroying community rather than building it. Virtually everything is either about stopping something or about lobbying for someone else to do something and there's almost no sense that a group might decide they need a facility and then just go ahead and set it up. There's also a weird over-complication of some things—for example if our 1930s branch committee had needed to master this diagram before they started they'd never have opened the clinic. I can't help wondering if that's also why there are so many complaints about ordinary people feeling powerless; because they're never really allowed a sense of having achieved anything. There's something very seductive about the bonding effect of being angry together (I think this explains a lot of the "hate the RSPCA" activity), but it doesn't really lead to long-term satisfaction.

If people are encouraged to believe everything is run by some mysterious, elite "them" it does make it more difficult to persuade them that they only have to step forward and they will find most things are actually run by "us".

I think this is the root of the infuriating way in which the instant reaction to a branch which is having to make cuts in order to stay solvent is, not to help, but to waste more of the committee's time and energy by getting up petitions and making personal attacks on individuals. Some of this is pure Alinsky politics (though I bet they've never heard of him) and it doesn't work simply because there's no point flogging a willing horse. 

If you are an RSPCA member, please do consider putting your name forward for election to the branch committee. If you can, please attend your branch AGM to vote for next year's committee of management, and please vote in the forthcoming postal/online elections for the National Society's governing council. If you're not a member, please consider joining the RSPCA or volunteering, or both, and helping to create better services for animal protection.

Susie, over at the RSPCA Manchester and Salford branch explains why it's such a problem if members don't have enough of a feeling of involvement and ownership to motivate them to turn out to vote.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Volunteers Meeting this Thursday

At the Corner House Pub, Newmarket Road, Cambridge, starting at roughly 7.30pm.

Post-mortem on RSPCA week and planning for the Gt. Shelford dog show which is now getting alarmingly close.

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday at our Burleigh St shop

Ffiona and Teresa have created an amazing "floating handbag" display.

We took £183, making this the best Sunday so far. Many thanks to the donor of the writing bureau which sold for £50.

Please keep the donations coming! We sell over 100 items in a typical day, so we need to receive at least 100 items to keep the sales area well-stocked.