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.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Basil off to his new home

Excellent news for Basil the little terrier who was found with terrible injuries to his front legs some weeks ago. Not only has he made an almost complete recovery, but he has a beautiful new home for Christmas.

All the family members are adults, so Christmas is a fairly quiet occasion for them and there should be no problems settling Basil in during the festive season.

The rather large plastic collar is to stop Basil licking at the scab on his right leg and he should be able to do without it fairly soon.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Late Night Shopping

As an experiment, we're going to open our shop at 61 Burleigh Street for late night shopping every Wednesday from 5-8 pm until Christmas.

Crossed fingers for good results.

We have lots of beautiful RSPCA cards and calendars, as well as plenty of items that would make really unusual presents - anyone interested in an antique earthenware hot water bottle?

Or a limited edition print of a racing car signed by Damon Hill.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A glimpse into the canine underworld

We've been concerned about the large numbers of animals being advertised on "Gumtree" and similar sites for a long time, and a call I took over the weekend gave me a very nasty insight into what can happen.

The caller wanted to find out whether the RSPCA could prosecute a man who bought a dog from him, and had the dog put down as dangerous within a few days of the transaction. Of course this wouldn't be possible because it's not illegal to have a vet put an animal to sleep—it's illegal to cause an animal to suffer, but not to kill.

If all the details of the story are correct, it appears that the purchaser changed his mind about wanting the dog, and possibly expected to be able to get his money back in order to buy a puppy (also, incidentally of a "status" breed). The seller couldn't have taken the dog back as his original reason for selling was friction with an existing dog (although he seems to have several other dogs and I wonder whether he is also breeding). He does appear to have left the purchaser a contact number when he sold the dog and offered to try to help solve any problems.

Background details of the various dogs involved are complicated, but there appears to be a whole ecosystem of people breeding dogs at home. Their motivation is probably a combination of the attraction of "cash in hand" income and a fairly genuine interest in dogs as a hobby. I wonder how much of it is driven by a desire to find a substitute for meaningful work that they can take pride in and whether an improvement in the job market would make things better.

An awful lot of dogs seem to be traded around like so many packets of sugar, with not much common sense about the presence of small children, or suitable facilities. Against this background our messages about not getting animals you can't afford to care for probably aren't going to make very much of an impact. 

The people we're trying to persuade are being lectured all the time—don't drink so much, don't smoke, eat more fruit, lose weight ... it's not hard to see why they're not going to pay attention to us.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pics from Mill Road Winter fair 2011

Ben (in the dog suit) got rather too hot, while poor Pat was frozen running the tombola outside the shop for most of the afternoon. Grand total raised was £354.91, £22.86 of this from  the collecting boxes, just over £50 from the tombola and the rest from shop sales.

It just goes to prove that this shop can make money if we can only persuade people to realise we are here and come in.

Many of the people who visited on Saturday said how impressed they were by the shop and the interesting books available and that they hadn't realised we had a shop here (this roughly ten years after we first opened!)

We need more volunteers so that we can open six days a week. If you might be interested, please call in on a Saturday, drop in at our larger shop at 61 Burleigh street, or email

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

6 am this morning...

Yet another call from the purchaser of a new puppy that's now very ill. At six weeks old the pup is too young to leave the mother and the seller very obviously did not tell the truth when he said it had been wormed as pup is passing huge quantities of them as well as bloody diarrhoea.

The RSPCA has an online guide with useful tips about getting a puppy to help prospective adopters avoid some of the pitfalls.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Veterinary treatment again

Maddeningly it appears that people are still not paying attention to our plea that they get their animals registered at our clinic so that they will be eligible for low cost treatment outside normal clinic hours in an emergency. Combine this with the fact that others are still allowing animals to breed without considering what will happen if something goes wrong, and yet another group are buying young animals, and you have a nightmare situation.

To give some idea of what this means: on Monday we had a frantic call from someone whose new puppy was now vomiting repeatedly and becoming unresponsive. Nearly all her spare cash seems to have been spent buying the puppy and she had no idea that intravenous fluids at a private vet would cost around £200. On Sunday night we had a call from someone with a litter of kittens who'd accidentally knocked over a video-player on one of their siblings. Last Thursday evening someone who did know about the clinic called us as an emergency because his dog was very ill but he hadn't taken him to the normal clinic session because he didn't have any money. The previous week we had another instance of a person with a  giant dog so ill that she could not stand simply demanding that we should pay to get a vet out to her because she couldn't be got to the vet.

If we don't help, animals like these will go without any treatment, and it's not their fault their owners are so thoughtless.

If we do help, it risks simply perpetuating the problem of people with not enough to do acquiring animals they can't afford.

There's a separate problem that's almost a mirror-image of it. When we rehome animals, we do careful checks of the suitability of the home. In fact it's comparatively rare for us to turn homes down; it's more about trying to steer people towards suitable animals. However we do sometimes tell people they simply don't have suitable facilities and/or arrangements for what they'd do if the animal was ill or injured, and it's highly probable that some of those we refuse do go out and buy instead. When they do, we may well end up providing veterinary treatment for the purchased animal or, indeed, end up rehoming the animal if the purchasers really cannot cope.

In many ways, what we ought to be doing is trying to draw in more of the people who desperately want animal companionship, but don't have enough money or skills and involve them in working to provide a comprehensive support service.

Sadly the puppy died two days later.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Spend at our shops and help keep animals in homes this Christmas

Reports of animals being abandoned or relinquished by owners who can't afford to care for them are coming in from all sides.

It seems that a toxic spiral is building up in which owners put off vaccination, spaying and neutering because of cost and then are faced with sick animals they can't afford to get treated, or with litters of unwanted babies they can't rehome.

Pumpkin, Little Owl and the three Shepherd cross puppies were all probably abandoned because they were ill and their owners were afraid of the cost of seeking treatment.

Some owners are so neglectful or so incompetent that  their animals are better off without them, but in the vast majority of cases it is far better to help animals to stay in their own homes than to spend funds keeping them in boarding kennels until they can be found new ones.  If animals are being relinquished because they are ill and the owner can't afford a vet, it's much more efficient to spend money on treatment than to spend money on treatment and boarding.

Times are tough, and we all need to spend our money as efficiently as possible. Over the next months—probably years—there are going to be more demands on our ability to provide help with veterinary care than ever.

Can you help us by diverting some of the spending you would be doing anyway in the direction of our shops? Most of us are going to spend something on Christmas cards and presents in the next few weeks. By purchasing some of them from our charity shops you'll be helping to keep our welfare services in action.

In the Alice in Wonderland times in which we live, prices for rags are good—to the point where we have to keep a sharp eye on the bags we're hauling out to the rag collector's van or they get nicked! If you're having a clear-out, we can turn clothes and other textiles into useful funds even if they are too worn to sell in the shop. Don't throw them out; drop them off to us. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pumpkin's Progress

When she came in

Hasn't she improved? The white, hairy mop is Marion's little Bichon, looking on.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Christmas is coming!

These are the pics from the Burleigh Street shop today.

Many thanks to Ben for providing superb publicity for our new Christmas display: all the children (and the grown-ups!) loved the dalmatian costume and it was a fantastic attraction to draw people in.

Ben will be visiting us again for the Mill Road Winter Fair on 3rd December, probably in a Border Collie costume this time—look out for him at our shop at 188 Mill Road.

These photos are a bit dark because I was taking them from inside the shop; I hope to get some better ones on the 3rd.

Christmas cards, Advent Calendars and 2012 calendars are now on sale at our shops, also lots of items that would make wonderful and unique presents.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Look out on Burleigh Street tomorrow!

Ben Pettit, who kindly collected for us at our dog show, is supporting us again this Saturday at our Burleigh Street charity shop. The picture below was taken at our dog show - those costumes are VERY HOT!

He'll probably be bringing the dalmatian costume this time and, depending on the weather, will either be in the shop welcoming customers inside, or walking up and down Burleigh street to drum up trade.

Watch out for Ben again at our Mill Road bookshop for the Winter Fair on 3rd December. Winter Fair collecting is usually very chilly, so Ben may be glad of his dog costume then.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Welfare assistance

The Wirral News reports that RSPCA Wirral and Chester branch is having to cut staff at its animal centre.
"THE RSPCA’s Animal Centre in Wallasey is making further cuts and asking staff to volunteer for redundancy as its financial struggles continue. 
Last November the charity’s Wirral and Chester branch closed its clinic in Birkenhead – which was running at a loss of £20,000 a year – after trustees decided to focus resources on its centre in Cross Lane. At the time the branch, which has been in existence for around 120 years, was said to have just a year’s worth of running costs in reserve. 
Now trustees have decided their only option is to reduce staffing costs and an animal welfare assistance scheme. From this week the scheme, which gives treatment for pets owned by people on low incomes, will be replaced by an emergency vet consultation. ... read more..."
Clearly the "newsworthy" aspect of this is the possible closing of the animal shelter and the effect on the branch welfare assistance scheme is glossed over in a way that suggests the reporter didn't understand that the branch previously offered help with the cost of treatment for pets of low income owners and now can only cover the cost of a consultation (meaning the owner must find the whole cost of the actual treatment). 

In many parts of the country RSPCA branches are the ONLY source of help available to people who can't afford to pay a private vet. In Cambridgeshire, our animal clinic is the only low-cost veterinary treatment centre for an area of 125 square miles, but in most cases a branch will support access to treatment by providing financial help for owners to use private vets. This is much more low-profile than having a facility of your own and something that's harder to publicise and fundraise for when times are tough.

Very few people allow their animals to starve—but I'm afraid quite large numbers of them simply do nothing about sick animals and justify it to themselves by saying they're not neglectful because they would take their animal to a vet if there was one whose charges they could afford.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Phone call yesterday evening from someone concerned that a neighbourhood cat seemed to be unable to stand. She very helpfully offered to transport him to a vet herself, rather than wait until an RSPCA driver could get there. Then, about an hour later, there was another call, this time from the vet's surgery, to say they had the cat and also a stray kitten who'd been handed in.

Sadly the adult cat didn't survive, but the kitten improved over night although she's very snuffly still and anaemic because she had so many fleas feeding on her blood.

Then began what you might think was a straightforward process of moving her for further treatment. Being so small, kittens can improve or go downhill very fast. Yesterday evening, the vets were doubtful whether she'd survive the night, but by mid-morning she was perky enough not to be really in need of inpatient care. Because of the snuffles, there was the added complication that vets don't really want a potential source of cross-infection to other ill patients unless it's absolutely unavoidable.

We don't usually end up calling round our foster homes while an animal is actually in a volunteer's car wondering where to go, but I'm afraid our new volunteer driver had some anxious moments wondering whether he was stuck permanently in transit with a sniffling kitten.

Thank you VERY much to our domestic bird fosterer for stepping in at about 5 minutes notice to provide a safe place with no animals likely to be susceptible to cat germs, and thank you to our wonderful volunteer driver for coping with something we don't normally land on new volunteers!

It does show how essential our volunteers are to making it possible to save animals, and also the importance of having as many individual foster homes as possible to minimise the risks of cross-infection.

If you might be interested in fostering animals for the branch, please email or

Friday, October 28, 2011

What a week!

We put out an appeal for help raising the final part of the £10,000 needed to safeguard the future of our animal clinic on Saturday. 

George the three-legged cat is looking for a  home
Thanks to the combined efforts of the Cambridge Evening News and Radio Cambridgeshire and the generosity of the public we've more than met our target, meaning we won't default on the agreed payment deadlines. Especial thanks to John Grieve and the staff of Cambridge Veterinary Group, who donated £3,000.

This doesn't mean our problems are over. We're now in a position to be certain we can pay the flat rate basic fee to keep the clinic open and that we will be able to carry on paying it in the next financial year.

We still have the awful dilemma of what we can do to help animals whose owners can't manage even the subsidised rates our clinic charges and animals who need emergency treatment outside normal hours but are not registered.

Fees for operations are paid direct to the University Vet School, who provide hospitalisation facilities for us. Charges are roughly a third of what the owner would have to pay at a private vet, but this may still represent an awful lot of money for someone who is on benefits of £70-odd pounds a week or already in debt.

Unless we can increase our fundraising really substantially, we dare not offer to provide extra help to cover the cost of operations because we can't justify putting the future of the clinic in doubt.

Our agreement with the Vet School means that registered animals can be seen outside normal working hours in an emergency, but animals who have never been to the clinic can't be seen and the only available treatment is at private vets. At the moment we will help in a real emergency that can't wait, but all we can do is to offer to cover the cost of a consultation — the owner must find the money to pay for first aid to stabilise the animal until they can go to the next clinic session. Again, we simply cannot do more than this, and we may have to say we can only cover part of the cost of a consult if fundraising dips again.

Many pet owners on low income seem terrifyingly unaware of how little help may be available if they can't afford to pay vet fees. Our clinic is the only one of its kind in the whole of Cambridgeshire, and the PDSA's arrangements with some private practices all require the owner to register before their pet becomes ill. Callers to our branch help line almost always say, "Can you tell me where to take him?" expecting that there will be free facilities in every town, and there just isn't. Getting this across to a frantic owner is incredibly stressful for the volunteers who run the helpline. Many vets will do their best to avoid putting down treatable animals, but at the end of the day they have to safeguard their businesses' viability or no-one's pets will get treatment.

I'm afraid no government is going to see pets' healthcare as something they are prepared to fund—if communities want their animal members to have treatment available they are going to have to organise and work to fundraise for it themselves.

This is why our shops are so vital, because the income they bring in is something we can increase by our own efforts. Please support them by using them when you shop for clothes; by donating saleable items and remembering to sign a gift aid form if you pay UK income tax.

We need more volunteers, to increase the rate at which we can process donated items and prepare them for sale, and to enable us to increase the shops' opening hours. If you might be able to help, please email or drop in at one of the shops for a chat with the manager.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New kitchen for Christmas?

These ex-display kitchen units were very kindly donated to our shop at 61 Burleigh Street by a local showroom and are for sale at £200 for the set of white units and £150 for the white and maple set.

Buyer collects. Very good condition except that they're a bit dusty after being in the showroom. They can be seen at the shop, but as you can see from these pictures they don't look exactly as they would when installed because we've had to stack them up so we can still sell other things.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

We're just...

£3,546.85 below the target amount we need to raise to assure the future of our animal clinic now.

Thank-you to everyone who's worked so hard to get us this far.

Just one final push!

You can donate online by clicking the donate button at the side of this blog, or using your mobile, by texting PETS00 £10 to 70070 to donate £10 to RSPCA Cambridge.

Sadly this won't mean we can stop and rest as we need to carry on fundraising as hard as we can to keep up with the daily calls for our services.

Please keep working on the ten point plan and support the hard work of our shop staff and volunteers in Newmarket and Cambridge.

With your help, WE CAN DO IT!

We've entered our clinic in the NatWest Communityforce grant bid. You can support us by going to and voting for us. You need to register on the site to prevent multiple voting and you have three votes, so please also vote for two of the other RSPCA branches which are asking for help.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Animal Welfare Statistics for September

During September our clinic treated a total of 233 dogs, 110 cats, 12 rabbits and 3 miscellaneous "small furries".

It's pleasing to notice that half of the rabbit visits were for vaccinations (compared with about a third of all visits for dogs and cats), so perhaps the message about the absolutely vital need to vaccinate pet rabbits against myxomatosis is getting through. The number of rabbits is still low considering their status as the third most popular pet after dogs and cats, so I fear many are still being treated as "expendable" creatures not worth the expense of veterinary care.

We rehomed two dogs and four cats: a slow month and probably still reflecting many people's feeling that this is not the right time to take on more commitments.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blog Action Day 2011 - RSPCA Big Sunday Lunch

I am proud to be taking part in Blog Action Day OCT 16 2011 www.blogactionday.orgFancy inviting some animal-loving friends to a veggie lunch on Sunday 30th October?

Why not sign up for the RSPCA Big Sunday Lunch and use the opportunity to raise funds for your local branch or animal centre?

Complete the form in the attached frame to register. You can choose to fundraise for the National RSPCA, your local RSPCA branch, or a local RSPCA animal home, whichever your feel most needs your support.

Note from the Big Sunday Lunch Facebook page:

We expect there will be many different types of Big Sunday Lunches being made for this event so we just wanted to address the whole issue around vegetarianism and choosing higher welfare meat.

The Big Sunday Lunch is for everyone including those who are vegetarian, vegan and those who eat meat. We are very aware that many people who eat meat are regularly ‘sleep shopping’, that is, just buying any type of meat from the supermarket without realising the welfare issues that affect farm animals such as cows, pigs and chickens. We're trying to reach out to people have little or no awareness about these issues so they can make more of an informed choice when buying meat.

A recent survey by the Food Standards Agency in 2009 suggests that the percentage of the UK population that is vegetarian is less than 10 per cent. People choose from their own free will whether to eat meat or not. We're trying to get through to that 90% of the population who do, to encourage them to be more aware of what they are buying and to give them the knowledge to choose higher welfare options. That way we have the highest chance of making a significant difference for animal welfare.

Many people are confused about the labelling on packs of meat and just don’t realise the welfare issues facing farm animals. That is why we would always advocate choosing higher welfare meat which is an assurance that the animal lived a better standard of life.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Injured cat - urgent

Has anyone in the Mill Road area of Cambridge lost a smallish mostly tabby un-neutered male cat? He's been taken to Companion Care Vets on Barnwell road after a traffic accident and found to have a microchip, but it's a foreign one (believed registered in the Netherlands) so they can't trace the owner.

If he might be your cat please phone Companion Care. Their number is 01223 243535

Hallowe'en at 188 Mill Road

Spent the afternoon setting up a hallowe'en themed window display featuring a selection of books from our horror, folklore, esoteric and children's sections.

Many thanks to the donors who brought more vampire fiction, as well as lots of other books in beautiful condition, this afternoon - most appropriate to the season.

Our current volunteers are doing a wonderful job keeping the shop running with no paid staff, but we could still do with more people to achieve our target of 7-day opening. We pay rent whether we're open or not, so every extra day's cover is all profit for the animals.
188 is also very important to us as "feeder" for the larger shop in Burleigh street because many donors find it more convenient to leave items here instead of going into town.

If you might be interested in helping at any of the shops, please email, or just drop in when we're open.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Do you recognise this cat?

She was found in Longstanton and reported to us as a sick-looking stray. We think she may be hyperthyroid, and she was very matted until the vets groomed her, but otherwise she seems to be old rather than ill. She's a bit wobbly on her back legs, but seems bright and happy.

She was wearing a new-looking collar, but unfortunately with no identification attached and she's not chipped. Someone obviously cared enough to buy her the collar fairly recently.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Priorities again

Events over the past few weeks once again demonstrate how difficult it is to prioritise in a straightforward way.

Nathan, an apparently young, fit cat who was recovering well, suddenly deteriorated and developed uncontrollable fits which didn't respond to medication. 

Saffron, much older, but with someone willing to donate towards the cost of her care turned out not only to have nerve damage and early kidney disease which made it probable that she wouldn't survive an operation on her pelvic injuries, but also positive for FIV.

Conversely, some of the very old cats are now doing well on relatively cheap treatment by medication.

Looking at our situation in a more general way: someone looking at our expenditure with no extra information would almost certainly say we can run our rehoming program or our clinic but not both. 

What that basic income and expenditure sheet doesn't show is that, if we closed the clinic, the rehoming program would almost immediately be overwhelmed by people wanting to give up animals because they couldn't care for them. If we closed our rehoming program, we would be closing the part of our activities which the majority of our donors want to support. Quite reasonably, a lot of them wonder why they should subsidise other people to keep pets they can't afford.

Essentially the rehoming program and the provision of veterinary help are complimentary to one another. We need to be able to say to someone who either can't or won't pay anything for their animal's treatment that we will help the animal by providing treatment and rehoming but we won't provide free treatment with no contribution from the owner. We ALSO need to be able to say to owners who are meeting us half-way that we will help them to keep their animals. 

And to to do all that there is no substitute for the long slog of fundraising. Please support our ten point plan to keep our clinic open. 

Just five minutes completing a gift aid form if you donate items for sale means we will raise an extra 25p for every pound the items sell for.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hopeful update on surviving pups

First test results have just come in and they do not have Parvo, Giardia: or Cryptosporidium, so they no longer have to be barrier nursed to protect other dogs from possible contagion, which is a relief and will help to keep the cost of treatment within reasonable limits. They're brighter and starting to be interested in playing, but still not eating well, so the next few days will be crucial.

If anyone would like to make a donation towards their treatment costs this can be done via your mobile.

Text the message PETS00 £10 to 70070 to donate £10 to RSPCA Cambridge. Your phone provider will add £10 to your bill and send £10 to our bank account. If you are a UK taxpayer and you complete the gift aid options we will receive an additional £2.50 at no cost to you.

Alternatively you can donate online using a credit card via

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Update on the abandoned puppies

They're still hanging on, although the smallest is very poorly with both vomiting and diarrhoea. The vets at the surgery where they were left have very kindly offered to contain costs at £400 for the whole litter so  that they can be given the best possible chance of survival. The fact that only the weakest puppy is vomiting gives a bit of hope that whatever infection they have is not parvovirus, which would be the worst scenario.

The pups look as though they are rottweiler crossed with something else, possibly German Shepherd. The person who left them did at least put them somewhere where they'd be likely to be found and given treatment, but this is yet another example of the potentially dire consequences of breeding animals without having the resources to deal with potential problems.

Bottom line: it is enormously more expensive to deal with any of the multiple things that can go wrong with pregnant or very young animals than it is to spay or neuter.

Update 7th October

Sadly the vets contacted us just after midnight this morning to say the smallest puppy had died.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Many thanks to the donor of about four hundred vinyl records. We started the mammoth task of getting them out on the shop floor today.  We're now about half-way through and have already raised over £70 from the first sales.

Thank-you also to Nicola and Michael who shipped the first two loads over to our Burleigh Street shop and to Anton for going through them checking for the most collectible ones which are likely to be worth more than the rest. I never knew before that some vinyls were made from white plastic instead of the usual black (they look rather like white chocolate) and are collectible because they're unusual.

We hope (if Nicola and Michael can bear it) to transfer the second half next Saturday and put them out on the shop floor at Burleigh Street on the Sunday.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Latest poster of branch animals

Please download and display if you can to spread the message.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Quarter day blues

You may have heard dire warnings on the news today that this is the "Quarter day" when most shop rents fall due and small retailers may not be able to meet their payments.

This applies to us too, and I have to admit my heart was in my mouth this lunchtime when I paid in our takings and checked our bank balance. Our shops make a profit for us, but it's a constant juggling act to keep enough money in the bank to be sure of covering their essential outgoings. 

Fortunately my own employer has paid  me this week, so by putting in a donation which I'll gift aid when I have a few free moments we should have just squeaked through. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Big Thank You to Hatton Park Community Primary School

I've just received a cheque for £317.59 which the children at Hatton Park Community Primary School raised last year for the RSPCA. This represents an awful lot of hard work by the children (and probably their teachers and mums and dads too!).

We are VERY grateful for all their effort.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pics of Sarah

This is Sarah who was found on Cherry Hinton road. We think she probably doesn't have any owner (or at least not someone competent) as she was extremely poorly because of her uncontrolled hyperthyroid condition.

Once her thyroid levels have been stabilised by medication, she should put on some weight.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cats, cats, cats

Patch had another checkup at the clinic this morning and she's doing really well, although it's worrying that she seems to be so allergic to fleas that even one bite means an itchy lump that she'll scratch.

She's still on hibiscrub baths twice weekly and is amazingly good about them—probably because they give immediate relief from itches.

In an ideal world she'd be kept in a home with no other animals where it would be relatively easy to make sure absolutely all biting parasites are eliminated. Being an entirely indoor cat would also help as she wouldn't come into contact with hedgehogs or other roaming cats. As things are, I'm upping the frequency of flea treatment for my own cats, and being rigorous about treating the pen she's living in, while being careful to air and dry anything treated with household flea sprays containing permethrin which is toxic to cats if they're directly exposed to it.

However the added complication is that she seems to be mildly incontinent and does sometimes wet her bed at night, which would make it more difficult to keep her entirely indoors. I'm hoping that it may be possible to work on the incontinence problem once her skin trouble is completely under control as the steroid treatment she's on for the allergies will also tend to increase thirst and consequently create a full bladder which then leaks when she's deeply asleep. She's less than a year old and a happy little soul in spite of her problems.

Sarah, the tabby found on Cherry Hinton road with very severe hyperthyroidism seems to have fallen on her paws as the helpful couple who noticed how ill she was and brought her in have offered to foster her for the moment. Younger hyperthyroid cats sometimes make an absolutely dramatic improvement once their condition is under control with medication, so let's hope this will be the case for Sarah.

Hayley, the other hyperthyroid cat, is probably quite a bit older and she seems to be anaemic as well which possibly means she has other underlying issues. She seems well and happy in herself (much brighter than Sarah was when she came in), so the vet's advice is to treat the thyroid problem; worm and de-flea her in case the anaemia is simply parasite related, and see how she goes.

The vets have advised amputation as the best option for the cat with a severe leg injury as they feel the chances of saving the leg are minimal so it wouldn't be fair to put him through surgical repair and possibly have to amputate at a later date anyway.

No news yet on the cat with head injuries sustained in a traffic accident.

If you might be interested in fostering cats (and sometimes other animals) who are recuperating after treatment, please emain for more information.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Someone using the pseudonym Richard Martin has been systematically putting in freedom of information requests to police authorities asking for details about data sharing between the police and the RSPCA inspectorate using the whatdotheyknow  website. You can see the progress of some of these if you search the site and responses are starting to filter back now.

The reply from South Yorkshire police is rather interesting (they're explaining why it would take too long to examine every record of communication between the RSPCA and the police in order to report whether information was being given to the RSPCA by the police or vice versa):

"Since 1st Jan 2005 there are 7354 incidents where the phrase 'RSPCA'
appears in the incident somewhere.

In order to ascertain if the incident relates to requests for information
would require checking the incidents.

There are over 380 incidents where the source name or the source location
includes the phrase 'RSPCA' indicating the call has come from RSPCA rather
than SYP requesting RSPCA.

To view the 380 would take over 30 hours based on 5 minutes per incident."
On this basis it appears that South Yorkshire police made about 20 requests to the RSPCA for every one request from the RSPCA to South Yorkshire. It probably doesn't represent a huge proportion of their total workload, but it does suggest that the RSPCA saves quite a bit of public money by dealing with problems that the police would have to pick up if we didn't exist.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why use volunteers?

This might seem entirely obvious — we use volunteers to make more money available to help animals — but it's currently a hot topic in general volunteering circles, with some people saying that it's better to cut services than to replace staff with volunteers, and others rather more sensibly arguing that half a loaf is better than no bread and it's preferable to keep a few staff supported by volunteer helpers than making everyone redundant.

From the standpoint of an animal charity I have to admit I find the repeated assertions that volunteers should never, never be seen as "free labour" a bit strange. Volunteers are donating their time and it makes no sense to insist on devising complicated explanations of why this isn't the really important bit of volunteering.

If you're a stray cat with a broken leg, you need a qualified, paid vet to fix it, but you need volunteers to raise the cash that pays the vet.

If you happen to be a merchant banker, it probably would be more useful to us if you bunged us the odd half-million rather than helping out in your leisure time, but, for most of us, volunteering is a way to give the charity a cash equivalent we couldn't afford to donate as actual money from our wages.

Our shops illustrate how this works: we need some paid staff to ensure we can open regularly at the times customers expect, but if all the work involved in running a shop had to be done by paid staff the profit available to use for animals would be minimal, if not non-existant — probably around the 5% received by charities who don't have shops, but get a percentage from commercial "charity bag" collections.

Fundamentally, money is a way of storing the value of work. Whether you do the work directly or donate it as cash, cat food or saleable items, we need your help.

Please visit our shops at 61 Burleigh Street, Cambridge, 10a Market Street, Newmarket, or 188 Mill Road, Cambridge and give us your support.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Volunteers needed at our 2nd hand bookshop

Many thanks to the hard-working volunteers who've made it possible to open our bookshop at 188 Mill road for two extra days per week—so we can now keep on fundraising on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We still need at least four more people so we can open on Monday and Tuesday, and ideally enough to try opening on Sundays as an experiment.

Mill road is never likely to become busy enough to generate enough income to employ paid staff and still make a profit to fund our animal welfare work (which, after all, is the reason for having a shop at all; there wouldn't be any point if it would actually raise more money if we closed it and I got a second job stacking shelves in Asda and donated the proceeds). However, because rents are low in comparison with more central areas, we can generate really useful funds on a "low input, low output" basis.

Books and CDs need proportionately less manual effort to prepare for sale than the more general charity shop stock, and it's relatively easy to run the shop using amateur enthusiasts. If you love books and reading, there's always something interesting to find among the day's donations.

Don't be daunted by the thought of having to learn to use the till; we arrange training either in the bookshop itself, or up at our main Burleigh Street shop, and there are also back-room tasks that need doing if you really feel it's not your thing.

If you might be interested in volunteering, please email 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Would you be more interested in flexible volunteering?

We realise most people are incredibly busy nowadays, and committing to turn up regularly may be a serious difficulty. 

Obviously our regular volunteers do have to skip sessions sometimes too when they need to fit in vets' appointments, holidays and so on (we're not slave drivers!)

If you think you can probably only manage to volunteer occasionally, there are still lots of useful things you can get involved with.

We need the regular volunteers to make it possible to stay open at the advertised times, but there are plenty of back-room tasks which can be started or stopped depending on the number of helpers available.

Behind the person at the till there is a busy team who sort, clean, price and shelve. If they can stack up plenty of items all priced and ready on days when many volunteers are available, one helper can keep up with the shelf-filling when we're short-staffed.

Extra helpers on a Sunday, when sales are comparatively slow, can really benefit the following weekdays by making it possible for Monday to open fully stocked and looking good.

We normally average over £20 per volunteer per hour for this collection, which comes round at the end of April each year. If you don't have time to do anything else in the year, just two hours volunteering would mean £40 we wouldn't otherwise have.

One-off stalls and events
Individual jumble, car-boot or table-top sales can raise useful amounts, although they need a fair bit of organisation and some way of transporting sales items.

Annual Dog Show
We need a team of people for the basic organisation, but there are plenty of useful things that can be done on the day itself if you don't have time to come to any pre-planning meetings.

If you might be interested, email

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Veterinary treatment again

We have to get our fundraising up to a level where we can give more help to owners who honestly can't afford the cost of treatment. Unless we can get on top of this, our rehoming effort is almost pointless, while animals who do have homes are dying because there's no way we can provide enough help to save their lives.

Every day our phone line gets desperate, crying owners that we can't help because they are way outside our area or who need far more help with the cost than we can possibly give.

We can't insist these animals are signed over to us, because that would still leave us with huge treatment costs we can't afford to cover. Some of the owners who come asking for help could raise the money if they really tried, but most of them simply don't have it and have no way to borrow because their income's so low they're not good credit risks. The same people are least likely to be able to afford pet insurance, or to have organised pre-registration with the PDSA or with our own clinic.

We can do our best to educate people about the importance of finding out what they need to do to be prepared for emergencies, but there will always be those who don't realise until too late. Unfortunately, the people with least money are likely to be those who are least able to cope with the complications of registering for charity help before their animal is desperately ill and needs immediate help.

Our shops are the best way we have to raise our income. They're already generating funds that cover all their fixed costs, plus the profit which we can use for our welfare work. This means that every extra hour spent volunteering in one of the shops generates money that can all be used to help more animals, because there are no additional running costs (other than the odd cup of tea).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Poole china set

Many thanks to the donor of this attractive set of Poole china.

£400 for the whole, or we could split it up. There's also a set of blue Midwinter china.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Saturday at the bookshop

Bulging stock room
Followed by nice, full shelves in the shop
Many thanks for the wonderful donations of books this week, including lots of out of print Penguins, which are very popular.

Stephanie and I are now bent double after hours sifting through sacks of books, but the RSPCA bookshop's shelves are promisingly full.

The shop is now opening Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but we still need to recruit more volunteers so we can cover the full six days, and possibly Sunday too.

If you might be interested in volunteering, please email

Friday, September 9, 2011

Calls about reptiles

Lizard by Lairich Rig

Common Lizard (Zootoca vivipara)
  © Copyright Lairich Rig and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

We're getting a slightly surprising number of calls from people who are concerned about finding lizards in their garden (or straying inside buildings), so I thought I'd try to find a photo showing what species these are likely to be. The only other British lizards are the Smooth snake (a legless lizard) and the much rarer Sand Lizard. 

They are entirely harmless to people (in fact beneficial because they feed on insects and slugs) and, at a maximum size of about 8 inches, have much more reason to be afraid of us than we of them.

All species of British lizard are protected by law, and it is an offence to kill or injure them. If one end s up indoors (perhaps attracted by warmth), the best way to remove it is probably to capture it by putting something like a jam jar over it, then sliding a piece of card or paper under the rim of the jar until the lizard is confined. Alternatively you could use a dustpan and soft brush to gently sweep the lizard up and then release it outside. 

Lizards have waterproof skin which is dry and scaly to the touch. Other lizard-like creatures you may find locally are various newts. These are amphibia (related to frogs and toads) and their skin is moist. They definitely ought not to be indoors as they will dehydrate and die, but may get in by accident, or possibly be brought in by cats.

SO1191 : Newt by Penny Mayes

  © Copyright Penny Mayes and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

As exotic reptiles become more common as pets, there's the added potential complication of escapees. If you find a lizard that's significantly more than 8 inches long, it may be a lost pet.