Saturday, November 10, 2012


Writing this at 4.30 am having had an emergency call to the branch helpline just after 4 so no point trying to get back to sleep as I've got to be up by 6 anyway.

Our clinic has out of hours emergency cover for animals who have been registered by attending a normal clinic session, meaning pets whose owners couldn't pay the £100+ unsocial hours fees which a private vet would charge have access to low-cost treatment instead of having to take their chances until morning.

What we can't do is provide transport; I can't really wake up one of our volunteer drivers at this time of night and it costs around £100 to call out the commercial animal ambulance. RSPCA inspectors are not there to provide a taxi service and in any case there simply aren't enough of them on duty at night for it to be practical to divert one of them away from other emergency calls because some pet owner has no arrangements for transporting their pets.

The 4 am call was regarding a large dog whose owner was doubtful whether she could get him into a car and is the third this month where the main issue for getting the animal treated was transport to the vet.

At reasonable times of day we can sometimes arrange for one of our volunteers to help but there really are limitations on what's possible.

Cambridge Evening News have kindly given some publicity to our survey about access to veterinary treatment and it's looking as though transport is a fairly major issue in stopping animals getting timely care.

Click here to take the survey

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Broken hip

In many ways the most problematic cases where owners have no money for treatment are those where an animal's life is not in danger, but he or she is suffering severe pain. A bitch with life-threatening pyometra fairly clearly has to be either treated or put to sleep, but in the case of less obvious conditions there is the risk that an owner may simply leave without the animal getting any useful treatment.

We had an example of this today: a dog who had been lame for some time and treated with pain-killers then referred to our clinic because the owner did not have enough funds for further investigations at the original private vet.

X-rays showed that she not only had a broken hip, but also an older injury to another leg - raising the concern that both legs might break down unless the hip was stabilised by operating.

This would cost £1000+ at most private vets and £300-£500 at our clinic meaning that the owner would be in a difficult situation even with our help. In the event, he said he had no money at all, so we offered to provide pain relief free of charge to give him a few days to think about it and a choice of raising the money to pay or signing the dog over to us for treatment and rehoming.

We can't be in the business of providing completely free operations with no sanctions on the owner or we will simply run out of money and not be able to treat any animals.

Equally, there has to be a safety-net so that dogs like this one don't simply go back home and suffer.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Local or National RSPCAs?

RSPCA branches cover the whole of England and Wales and are responsible for providing welfare services within their area. These would normally include:

  • Caring for and rehoming animals signed over via the RSPCA inspectors or taken in as a result of cruelty prosecutions.
  • Providing treatment, care and rehoming for injured stray or unowned animals.
  • Provision of low-cost veterinary care (or help with the cost of vet treatment) for pet owners on very low income whose pets might otherwise go without proper treatment or be put down.
  • Low-cost neutering to help prevent the birth of unwanted pets.
  • Low-cost micro-chipping to help to ensure strays can be re-united with their families.

Branches are normally run by unpaid volunteer committees elected by local RSPCA members whose job it is to decide what facilities are most needed in their area and then work to raise funds to pay for them.

If not enough members are prepared to stand for election or vote, then control of the area returns to the National Society at Horsham and the branch is run by paid employees until a volunteer committee can be recruited again. This naturally means the loss of local knowledge of welfare needs and the mix of skills provided by a group of people based in the branch area pooling their interests.

I don't think the people who originally set up the structure of the RSPCA intended branch elections to work quite like this, but they've effectively evolved into an annual referendum on whether the branch should be run by local volunteers or by the paid staff at Horsham. If you're an RSPCA member and you don't take part in the local democracy of your branch you're voting with your feet for the Horsham option.
If you love animals and want to keep the "local" aspect of your RSPCA branch: get involved! By joining the RSPCA you'll gain the right to vote to elect the members of your local branch committee and the National Council members who govern the RSPCA. If you can spare a few hours each month to attend meetings, do consider standing for election to your local committee. You may not think you have fantastic business or admin skills, but many important committee jobs don't need a huge amount of  prior experience and training is available. The most important things are willingness to work as part of a team, love of animals and being prepared to learn.

If you might be willing to join the committee of RSPCA Cambridge, email