Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Update on Myxomatosis vaccination

If you have rabbits and live in the UK we strongly advise that you consult your vet about vaccination. Myxomatosis is carried by biting insects and your pet does not need to be in direct contact with wild rabbits in order to be at risk. Cambridge is a very high risk area because of the large numbers of wild rabbits living on the beautiful commons and fen areas scattered through the city and along the river.

It used to be necessary to vaccinate rabbits at 6 month intervals but more modern vaccines should give twelve months protection. 

If you are on means tested benefits (which does include working tax credits) and live within a 19 mile radius of Cambridge you would be eligible to use our clinic at 1 Pool way. Rabbit vaccinations cost £17 per rabbit (used to be £7 for the old 6-month vaccine) and provide protection against both myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic disease.

The clinic is open for general treatments on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday between 8.30 and 10.30 am. There is also a vaccination and micro-chipping session on Wednesdays at the same times.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

This weekend...

Help requested for cost of caesarian for bitch having her 2nd litter, not registered with any vet owner has no money at all.

Help ditto with cost of treating a litter of 8 pups with parvo-virus (who would have had protection from their mother's antibodies if she had been vaccinated).

Two requests to collect dead cats (sorry, no, we have to keep our resources for the living).

Five requests for help with injured birds.

Two requests for help with hedgehogs.

Request for help with very sick cat, again not registered with any vet.

Six requests for out of hours treatment by owners who had been pro-active and registered at our clinic.

Thank-you to everyone who donated items to sell at our shops this weekend: they have never been more needed.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Animal welfare in a democracy?

It seems to me that one of the most important things we need to know in order to press for welfare improvements is how other people feel about animals — in particular what percentage of the population have particular views.

There have been some academic studies of this e.g.

but most of them seem to have been looking at particular groups (e.g. college students) and trying to find out, for example, whether there are differences between men and women or between students with agricultural and non-agricultural backgrounds.

There have been studies of the percentages of vegetarians in different societies


and also market research studies of willingness to pay for/modify purchasing for welfare reasons


Considering all these results together and looking just at the UK  it looks as though objectively about 50% of people don't care enough about welfare to modify their choices at all; around 40% are prepared to make some changes and 10% are willing to make very significant changes.

This immediately poses some difficulties for legislators; when they get lots of letters about animal issues how can they tell whether these are coming from the minority who care a lot or from the roughly half who care either a lot or just a bit? If they make changes as a result of lobbying how will these impact on the half who don't care at all (for example changes that might make food slightly more expensive)?

The answer possibly is that they can't tell — and that they also can't tell whether opposition to change is coming from a very active minority who nearly all write in or reflects the views of a majority who mostly don't get round to lobbying.

What does this mean for animal welfare?

Firstly, anything that helps to move people from the "don't care at all" group to either "care a lot" or "care a bit" is likely to make legal changes easier to achieve because even a small degree of shift would mean that a majority of the population cared. How you do this is more problematic because there's evidence that education doesn't have much effect on whether people care or not—you can teach people who already care about animals what constitutes better welfare (for example not keeping rabbits in hutches) but caring itself seems to be the result of socialisation rather than intellectual learning.

Secondly you can probably achieve more change by focusing on what the "care a bit" group do than by concentrating all your effort on trying to expand the "care a lot" group.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Grounded Swifts

Most fledgling (i.e. feathered) young birds are best left for their parents to look after, but young swifts are an exception. Swifts cannot take off from the ground and young birds who fall out of the nest or crash-land on their first flight do need help.

Swifts have a very characteristic rounded face with tiny, but wide-gaping beak so they are easily identified: Action for Swifts have several good photos on their website. There is a list of swift rehabilitators on the Swift Conservation website and they may be able to help or advise if you find a grounded Swift.

If a specialist Swift organisation cannot be contacted, the RSPCA will do their best to collect and rehabilitate swifts - call the national helpline on 0300 1234 999. Make sure you explain to the person answering the phone that the bird you have is definitely a Swift and not any other species. 

The recent bouts of torrential rain seem to be causing problems for Swifts, either because they're being beaten to the ground by the sheer force of water or because water rushing along house gutters is causing damage to nests.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Source: Wikimedia Commons
Very pretty and we get a surprisingly large number of calls from surprised people who have woken up to find either a peacock or a peahen in their garden.

Peafowl can fly (they're really best looked at as similar to a pheasant) and unless they're hurt or trapped in some way any attempt by us to take them in is likely to result in a definite Peacock: 3 RSPCA: Nil type result.

For some reason, Wrexham council also seem to have lots of complaints about peafowl and they've produced a help-sheet for potential owners and finders.

If you're thinking of keeping peafowl you need quite a lot of land and very tolerant (or out of earshot!) neighbours.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Elderly Cats

The lovely weather that we've been having recently seems to have tempted several older (sometimes very old) cats to come out and enjoy the sunshine.
This is nice for them, but can be a headache for us when they venture further afield into neighbours' gardens. If the neighbour is a cat-lover they will immediately clock:
  1. This is a cat they've never seen before.
  2. This is an extremely thin and poorly-looking cat who needs their help.
As a result they will often either take the cat direct to a vet thinking that he or she is a sick or starving stray, or else contact us, and they may do this without any serious attempt to ask around locally to find the cat's owners.

Obviously if a cat is injured, then seeking veterinary help straight away can be a life-saver and is the best thing to do, but cats who are simply thin or very old-looking very often do have a caring owner — who may not be aware that the cat ever leaves their garden.

The best solution would be for all cat owners to get their pets micro-chipped, so they can be returned quickly if they are picked up with the best of intentions, but it's also very helpful if anyone finding a cat checks with their immediate neighbours before taking further action unless the cat is in need of immediate veterinary attention.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Follow RSPCA Week on Twitter

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

RSPCA Mythbusters Infographic

RSPCA Mythbuster Infographic
RSPCA Mythbusters - An infographic created by the RSPCA

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Canine over-population? It's complicated

This amazing infographic shows how a multitude of factors impact on the numbers of dogs in rescue in the UK. It was produced as a result of a scoping study done for the RSPCA by The OR Society's pro bono section. Four volunteers from DECC did the actual research and you can download the report here.

The main "take-home" message is that the solution to so many unwanted dogs is not simply "neuter your dog" (although that obviously helps) because so many other factors are involved.

(You may need to zoom in to see the graphic properly).

Friday, April 4, 2014

Medical Detection Dogs

One of the volunteers at our second-hand bookshop is helping organise this event.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Where will it all end?

Several cases this week have made me wonder what we're drifting into. We're seeing more and more animals owned by people with multiple problems who are struggling to look after themselves, let alone an animal, yet they are also the ones whose social isolation means pets may be their only friends.

Our clinic is subsidised from branch funds, but is not free for users and at present we would struggle to provide a higher level of subsidy, even if we disregarded the concern that making charity vet treatment too cheap may encourage people to take on more animals so that the final situation is no better than the one we started with.

However for some individuals paying for even low-cost treatment can potentially dig them into a financial hole from which they can't escape. I've always been a bit concerned that some of our owners might take out payday loans to fund a beloved pet's treatment, but even normal banks can create a situation where the borrower pays several times the loan amount if they take an unauthorised dip into the red and end up racking up daily penalty charges.

Pets are not seen as a priority for over-stretched social services, so owners can wind up with no money to buy food or pay their rent. One of the frustrations of what we see is that at least some of these owners are possibly capable of doing very light work which would give them an outlet, and help get away from the worrying scenario where their lives revolve around their animal because they really don't have anything else to live for. I say, "possibly capable" because most of them wouldn't realistically be able to compete for jobs with workers who don't have problems.

We can't fix society, but we can try to identify the owners who desperately need extra help and do what we can to keep their pets going for them.

We're struggling; the same few people try to raise funds, answer the phones 24/7, rehome animals etc. etc.

If you would like to be part of the solution, please consider joining the RSPCA. Membership details are at www.rspca.org.uk/membership/http://www.rspca.org.uk/membership/

Sunday, March 23, 2014

How to pick an animal charity to support

The Cause4Opinion site has an interesting post reporting Animal Charity Evaluators latest research on selecting effective animal welfare organisations to support.

I have to say that I find it slightly ironic that ACE's take on the RSPCA is:
"The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is the United Kingdom's leading animal welfare charity. The organization rescues, rehabilitates, and finds homes for hundreds of thousands of animals each year, offering advice on animal care while campaigning for protective legal reforms.
While the RSPCA has campaigns that are focused on some cost-effective interventions in helping animals, the vast majority of its resources are spent on suboptimal companion-animal issues." (Animal Charity Evaluators: 2014)
This might come as a surprise to the people claiming that we need to return to our "proper" role of protecting domestic pets instead of "wasting" funds on campaigning and prosecutions (or possibly not as I suspect some of them are very well aware that effective campaigning and practical welfare go hand in hand).

At first sight the idea of convincing people not to eat animals seems an “instant” way to prevent suffering and save life. This won’t necessarily work as intended and the UK inadvertently performed a natural experiment demonstrating this as a result of the horse meat scandal. This removed the market for horses which were being exported and re-imported as meat falsely labelled as beef almost overnight. We now have a situation where horses who would have been slaughtered are simply abandoned to die, causing enormous welfare issues.

Essentially Vegan Outreach is trying to prevent the production of animals whose lives are worth avoiding, while the RSPCA tries to increase the chance that animals will have lives worth living (J. Yeates, "Is ‘a life worth living’ a concept worth having?" Animal Welfare, 2011.

Choosing between promoting vegetarianism vs improvements to the way farmed animals are kept also depends on what you think are practical goals in terms of changing the behaviour of large numbers of people. If the majority are not going to change then it’s more effective to promote gradual improvement rather than revolution. If the cost-effectiveness of interventions is measured in terms of the cost to improve the life of an animal the impact of the RSPCA’s spend on the Freedom Food scheme is actually slightly better than that of the leaflet campaign evaluated by ACE.

Which species are we talking about?
Some of this is a bit like saying we shouldn't support UK children's charities until every child in malaria zones has an insecticide-treated mosquito net because the net costs pennies in comparison with the cost of supporting a child with a genetic condition. People just don't think that way, and it's not reasonable that they should have to. Single-species animal charities exist because people want to help the animals they feel most empathy with.

As Nathan and Jennifer Winograd point out in their book, American Vegan, we have an opportunity to encourage people who already love their pets to expand their concern to other animals as well.

Shouldn't animal charities leave law enforcement to the state?
In practice, government funding for animals is always liable to be treated as a lower priority than other things.

The recent ITV program, Dangerous Dogs, highlighted the work of local dog wardens and, perhaps unintentionally, revealed the lack of proper training and support which makes their jobs more difficult and dangerous than they ought to be. National Dog Wardens Association have issued a statement on the program setting out the improvements that are needed but also illustrating how much councils rely on being able to hand over possible abuse situations to RSPCA inspectors (at no cost to the council).

How effective are animal charities in terms of companion animal welfare?
This is the question that interests the "average" person who wants to decide which charities to support and its answer is not straightforward as charities will make different decisions about which interventions are most useful. It's often misleadingly posed as a straightforward question about numbers of animals rehomed without any attempt to look at the bigger picture:
  • Do owners of relinquished animals simply replace them by purchasing more?
  • Is it preferable to support "good enough" owners to keep their pets rather than rehome them?
  • Does focus on numbers rehomed as the measure of impact encourage "cherry-picking" whereby only the most rehomeable animals are taken in?
  • How many animals are put to sleep by their owners when they are not accepted because shelters are full?
  • Is it more effective to spend funds on low-cost spay/neuter to prevent unwanted animals being born in the first place?
If rehoming is taken as the measure of charities' commitment to animal welfare as it is understood by the person in the street—not necessarily a requirement to spend funds on nothing else but something the charity must do to have credibility—it's possible to do some crude measurement.

Animals homed for each £1million of income:

Cats Protection: 1,250
(note that Cats Protection also does a very large amount of work on cat neutering)

Shelters responding to Nottingham University PUPS survey: 714

Wood Green Animal Shelters: 500

Battersea cats and dogs home: 435

RSPCA: 400

Blue Cross: 250
(but note that the Blue Cross spends roughly half its income on provision of veterinary treatment)

Dogs Trust: 200
(but note that Dogs Trust provides free veterinary treatment for dogs owned by homeless people and runs a neutering scheme in certain areas of high need).

Probably the only reliable conclusions that can be drawn from this are that cats are cheaper to look after than dogs and that none of the charities is doing an outrageously low amount of rehoming in relation to income.

Monday, March 17, 2014

RSPCA branch organisation

Not exactly a thrilling subject, but some recent discussions have made me think it might be useful to re-post something about the way the RSPCA branch structure works.

The RSPCA was originally founded in 1824 to enforce the new Act for the protection of livestock and to promote improved treatment of animals by a combination of education and parliamentary activity.

The original society was based in London, but over time other groups were set up to promote animal protection in their own local areas. The London Society offered local groups an option to affiliate and pay for the services of a trained inspector who would be deployed to serve their "patch". By the 1940s this had produced a network of branches covering the whole of England and Wales, each fundraising to support their own inspector.

Branches were (and still are) managed by committees elected from the local RSPCA membership by vote of all branch members who attended the annual general meeting. RSPCA branches elect 10 of the 25 members of the National RSPCA Council, with elections taking place on a regional basis.

Originally, the individual branches could keep all the funds they raised once the Inspector's salary was covered and they used these funds in diverse ways to address the particular problems of their own locality. Some (like our branch in Cambridge) set up clinics for low-cost treatments, others ran animal homes, tried to save oiled seabirds and so on. In the meantime the National Society continued to press for better legal protection for animals and operated its own projects, such as strategically placed hospitals, regional animal homes, and equine facilities.

As branch activities, such as rehoming animals taken in by inspectors, became more important and funds directly raised by the National Society increased, so the requirement for branches to fundraise for inspector's salaries became less justifiable and currently the majority of branches receive considerably more income as grants from the National Society than their token payment to central funds. (Currently our branch pays an annual contribution of £350 and receives an annual grant of around £20,000).

Branch committees have genuine power to affect the way the RSPCA operates in their area—for example if the branches where RSPCA adoption centres in Pets at Home stores are located weren't convinced the scheme was being managed in the best interests of the animals concerned they could veto  it. Of course the other side of this is that it imposes an obligation on the branches to provide enough volunteers for quick and effective home-checking to make it work properly.

Anyone with a genuine concern for animal welfare can become an RSPCA member. Details are at http://www.rspca.org.uk/membership/

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Branch Animal Welfare Statistics for 2013

Breakdown of reasons for animal intake

In 2013 Cambridge branch rehomed 9 dogs, 95 cats and 54 miscellaneous "small furries" — a total of 158 animals.

The branch provided a total of 3,531 welfare assistance veterinary treatments for owned animals: 2,434 for dogs, 956 cats, 81 rabbits and 60 small furries.

In addition the branch chipped 343 animals and neutered 277.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Interesting take on the flood situation via twitter

The ponies shown in this picture may be wishing the rain would let up, but there's really no indication that their welfare is seriously at risk (no standing water, good grass cover, field not even muddy enough for the PCSO's wellies to sink in). 

This may seem trivial, and probably isn't a problem in an area where there aren't any genuine flood problems. BUT every call asking the police or RSPCA to check animals who aren't in danger uses resources needed by ones who really do need help.

One of the worrying features of the current situation is the extent to which various groups seem to think they can ensure "their" particular concern gets priority by what's essentially pester power.