Thursday, December 29, 2011

Little tabby cat

We've just taken in a tabby kitten with head injuries. He's about 6 months old and has no chip or collar—he's young enough that the lack of a chip may simply mean someone was intending to get it done when he was neutered.

Sadly, he's another perfect illustration of the added complications caused by the unreasonable antipathy some people have towards the RSPCA and the way this makes sensible decision-making more difficult for us.

He may not survive, whatever we do. Head injuries are unpredictable and there's little that can be done to treat them except provide supportive care and medication to keep the patient pain-free and to reduce swelling and inflammation. 

He has a broken jaw and will need to be tube-fed, which means inserting a feeding tube under a general anaesthetic. To avoid subjecting him to two anaesthetics it makes sense to wire his jaw at the same time, although this will be wasted money if the head injuries kill him in the end. Anaesthesia always involves some risk, so it's possible that he may not survive the treatment intended to help him, but there's no way to avoid this as he can't be left without food.

Because he's so young we want to give him a chance, and if he does survive he should be easy to place in a home, even if his current owner doesn't make contact with us. However, his chances are probably not much better than 50/50 and arguably the funds needed for his treatment might be better used to help other animals. It's possible that an owner may turn up, but choose not to continue his treatment or request to sign him over to us.

Basil was not much more of a hopeful prospect when he first came in, so let us hope giving little tabby his chance was the right thing to do.

If we had opted for euthanasia and his owner then turned up, there are people out there who would have made use of the situation as propaganda to discourage donations to the RSPCA and knowing that doesn't make decision making any easier.

Sad update
Unfortunately little tabby didn't make it. He deteriorated during the night despite being given iv fluids and the vets advised that it would be wrong to attempt to put him through surgery the following day.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More freakonomics

  • One of the most common reasons people give for not supporting the RSPCA is that we're not doing some task they think we ought to be—and often the reason we're not doing it is because we don't have enough support.
  • The second most common reason is probably an objection to one of our campaigns (or conversely objections because the campaign isn't being pursued sufficiently vigorously!)
Tony Woodley has a blog entry in the Huffington Post and the comments illustrate exactly what I mean.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Cats, Dogs and freakonomics

Freakonomics is basically about the use of ideas from economics to investigate how incentives shape the way people act—including perverse incentives that trap them into behaviour that benefits nobody, including themselves. I picked up a copy of the book in our charity shop recently, and I've been thinking about the ways in which these ideas apply to the world of animal welfare.

Lots of the issues we face are very clearly freakonomics-type problems:
  • The person on very low income who buys a £2,000 puppy and doesn't have £20 to pay for vaccinations, or £55 to pay for neutering.
  • Whether it's better for rescues to charge an adoption fee and lose some potential adopters, or charge nothing and risk rehoming to people who can't even afford the cost of a single veterinary consultation if the animal gets ill or injured.
  • If rescues don't rehome to people who can't afford veterinary treatment, what happens when those people get animals through other channels?
  • Does provision of low-cost, or free veterinary treatment for pet owners on low income mean some of them acquire more animals until they still can't afford treatment costs? What proportion of them?
  • Pet owners who can't afford the cost of spaying and are then faced with the cost of a caesarian or emergency hysterectomy, which can be at least five times as expensive.
  • Cat owners who put off spaying because of the cost and end up with five cats to feed instead of one.
  • Pet owners who simply assume free or low-cost veterinary treatment will be available in an emergency. What proportion of pet owners does this apply to?
  • Does provision of low-cost spay/neuter reduce the numbers of unwanted pets? It seems obvious that it should, but maybe it's not true for all species—for example most pet rabbits seem to be acquired from pet shops, and the primary reason for them becoming unwanted seems to be lack of knowledge about the amount of work and expense involved in keeping them. (It is very important to spay and neuter rabbits in order to be able to keep them in pairs which is vital for their individual welfare.)
  • What effect does education about spaying and neutering have on the proportion of dogs and cats belonging to pedigree breeds? Are the effects the same for both species? 
  • How do you avoid education replacing one problem by a different one? For example discouraging purchase of exaggerated pedigree dogs leading to a fad for crosses which may have their own problems.
  • Fads for particular breeds (during my lifetime German Shepherds, Border Collies, Lurchers and now Staffordshires have all suffered the effects of excess popularity, or popularity for the wrong reasons.)
  • Breeds becoming attractive to certain types of people precisely because they have a bad reputation.
  • Is there a way to encourage pet owners who would otherwise be a drain on the resources of animal welfare societies to contribute by taking part in fundraising, or other useful activities, thus potentially changing a vicious circle into a virtuous one?
Checking the link to the Freakonomics site, I came across this economics blog post which is horribly relevant to the problem of the family with maxed-out credit cards and a sick pet who won't make it through Christmas without treatment.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Clinic opening hours over the holiday

Tuesday 27th Dec: Closed
Wednesday 28th Dec: Closed
Thursday 29th Dec: OPEN
Saturday 31st Dec: Closed

The emergency out of hours service will be available throughout the holiday period - please phone the contact number on your registration card.