Thursday, November 28, 2013

Lost and Found

The way calls to the RSPCA about lost or found animals are handled has changed. Instead of recording these on the central computer (along with all the other things the National Control Centre deals with), anyone who contacts the RSPCA wanting to leave details of lost or found animals will be asked to go to the PetsLocated site instead. 

PetsLocated is an independent, commercial site which automatically matches records of animals reported lost or found. The advantage of this compared with the old system is that it doesn't require a human being to run a manual search and it doesn't tie up the RSPCA emergency number while details are collected via the telephone. There is a £10 fee to register lost animals, but found animals can be added to the database free of charge.

Under the old system lost and found calls would be taken by the control centre but, because of their comparatively low priority, callers would typically have a long wait to get through. If they gave up and tried to call the local branch the person answering might take their details and pass them to the national control centre, or something quite random might happen—particularly if the call was taken by a charity shop or somewhere else that's not really intended as part of frontline activities. I strongly suspect details were sometimes noted on Post-Its and simply lost. Once passed on, so far as I can understand, the details would be entered up in the computer, but would probably only be used for anything if a branch or animal home called in requesting a manual search on an animal they'd just taken in. Very few branches would have the time or energy to keep phoning in to check whether someone had subsequently realised their pet was missing and called in the details. Entering details over the phone was very time-consuming and tied up an NCC operator meaning real emergencies might not get through.

I can't remember ever locating an owner through the old system, although we have had successes with publicising found animals on facebook and our website.

I tried the PetsLocated site earlier this year, when my neighbour's Siamese went AWOL, and was favourably impressed that the system returned partial matches which might possibly have been her cat (who in fact knew perfectly well where he was and came home when he felt peckish). The old manual RSPCA system didn't do this effectively and depended on loser and finder describing animals in the same way—is this a black cat with white markings, or a white one with black markings? Persian, or just a bit fluffy?

None of this is a substitute for microchipping (which means you can be contacted instantly if your pet is picked up by a dog warden or taken to a vet), or for calling local vets and checking with neighbours if a pet goes missing. Dogs found straying must by law be reported to the council dog wardens, so anyone who loses a dog needs to contact them.

Many (possibly most) "lost" cats have in fact suffered some mishap which means they know where home is but can't get there. Worst case scenario is that they've been injured, but often they've simply got shut in somewhere and will be released if neighbours are requested to check garages and sheds.

Predictably, the "usual suspects" are complaining, but this really is a sensible change to make matching up of lost and found animals more efficient and to release resources for animals in need of immediate help.

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