It's nearly Christmas and throughout England and Wales the staff of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) continue to work exceptionally hard for the animals we care for, as we have done so for 187 years since our charity was created.
I'm often asked, "Is Christmas a special or difficult time for the RSPCA?"
The truthful answer is that Christmas for the RSPCA and the animals we care for is difficult and not very special. Last year the RSPCA rehoused over 80,000 animals including dogs, cats and other animals.
Over the last few years as the global financial situation has worsened, the RSPCA has been struck with a 'triple whammy' of economic and operational threats but through our fantastic network of over 7000 volunteers, local branches as well as national RSPCA centres we have coped with this extra pressure.
The RSPCA has seen reduced income through a downturn in property values affecting legacy values, reducing amount of individual donations (amount not frequency) as well as spiralling costs such as energy, animal food, diesel and veterinary costs. These economic pressures have a come at a time when many people are requesting our services even more than before. People are struggling with their own finance which means that pressure on our fantastic Animal Hospitals and clinics is increased as more people request subsidised veterinary treatment.
We have a seen a steady increase in animal abandonments over the last two to three years and I believe that many of these desperate and sad acts are as a result of the depressed financial situation.
However, it is not all bad news.
The RSPCA has at its core the unique, professional and dedicated Inspectorate. 410 Inspectors, Trainee Inspectors, Animal Welfare Officers and Animal Collections Officers responding to the 160,000 complaints about animal welfare, 130,000 collections and rescues of animals in need and offering advice, guidance and where necessary law enforcement...and all to promote and improve animal welfare. Last year the RSPCA took more than 4,300 calls from the public between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.
Last year our national control centre received 1.2 million phone calls, our enquiries centre dealt with 14,000 online requests and our officers drove 8 million miles for animal welfare...that's 15 times to the moon and back!
Here are two stories, direct from the RSPCA Frontline, with a Christmas theme...
It's Christmas morning 2010 at about 1.30am and a woman finds a tiny and very cold puppy on her way home after a pre-Christmas night out in London.
She knows the RSPCA is the animal emergency service to call. She calls the 24hr control centre and the details of the call are taken by one of our night team. Inspector Lynn Winter is the officer 'on call' for the area and is woken by the emergency call. Lynn takes the details and heads straight out where she meets the girl and collects the tiny puppy which she then puts in her van with a hot water bottle for warmth. Lynn starts heading to the RSPCA's Putney Animal Hospital where the staff are waiting for her but on her way to the hospital she spots a cat lying in the gutter. She stops her van and walks over to the motionless cat, it must have been hit by a car and appears dead.
Lynn starts heading back to her van but then "something inside her made her turn back to be 100% sure" (her actual words). She checks the cat...to find it is alive but unconscious. Carefully she places the cat in her van and dashes to the hospital. Both animals are admitted and given immediate first aid and treatment. Sadly the little puppy does not survive, it was just too cold and weak but the RSPCA was there to comfort and give it warmth. The cat which survives and is microchipped, is reunited with its owners in an emotional Christmas reunion.
The RSPCA helps animals...and often we help people too as our input may be a catalyst to help resolve a number of social issues.
In another of many stories from our front line, an Inspector is about to head home to his family on Christmas Eve but chooses to attend one last complaint which has come in. The complaint says there are two terriers being neglected at a small house in the town in the south west of the UK.
The Inspector knocks on the door of the small house which looks a little neglected. A middle aged man, we'll call him Keith, looking unkempt and unshaven answers the door. He sees the RSPCA logo and, unusually, breaks down in tears. When the Inspector is invited in he finds the small house littered with rubbish and quite dirty.
There is no food for Keith or the dogs anywhere in the house. The two terriers have fleas and long nails but are clearly utterly devoted to their owner as he is to them. In fact it transpires that they are all he has left. He has lost his job, his family left him and his house is about to be repossessed by the council causing him to be evicted. He's alone and about to spend Christmas with just himself and his beloved pets. The officer could've taken the 'hard line' and warned him about the condition of the dogs and insisted he do something immediately for them...Keith could even end up losing his pets.
You may find it surprising that RSPCA officers are recruited not for their animal skills and knowledge (we can train this) but for their 'people' skills. Between every animal and the officer there is always a person and our officers have to be able to cope and resolve many both positive and negative situations. They are a combination of social workers, police officers, vets and many other talents and this is what makes them so unique.
On this occasion our officer realised that the best place for the dogs is with their owner and that Keith needed his help. He heads to the nearby RSPCA animal centre where he collects a tray of dog food and some clean blankets. On his way back to the house he stops and buys milk, bread, biscuits and tea bags. The Inspector clips the nails on the dogs, treats them for fleas, gives the owner the supplies from the shop and has a cup of tea with him. The two agree to meet again between Christmas and New Year to see how the dogs are doing and, of course, so the Inspector can check on Keith. The result of this compassionate attitude is that Keith agrees to help from the local social services, he is not evicted and is helped to find a new job. Of course, he keeps his dogs and they keep him. The name of the Inspector...well, he's writing this.
No other animal welfare charity provides this type of professional, compassionate and comprehensive service for animal welfare. Helping animals and helping people to help animals.
So, when you are enjoying your mince pies and celebrations this Christmas, think of the animals in our centres, the staff and volunteers caring for them, the national control centre staff answering calls 24/7 and, of course, our officers 'out there' for animal welfare on the frontline.
Follow Tony Woodley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RSPCA_Frontline