RPSCA Volunteering

Today I thought I would write about the RSPCA volunteering I started doing back in May to improve my understanding of kennels, cattery, small animal care and how rescue centres work. Whilst this “work experience” ticks lots of boxes, it’s also pretty fun and rewarding – and hard work of course but then we already knew I’m a sucker for punishment.

I started out doing 9-5 every Sunday but last month I asked if I could reduce this to once a fortnight. It’s a shame but I haven’t had any real time off work since Christmas last year and I felt like continually working six days a week plus evening experience wasn’t a good idea for my health. As my visits are quite spaced out it’s taking me a while to learn the ropes but now I sometimes have responsibility for a block of kennels which is the hard work I mentioned nice.

Depending on staffing I get assigned to kennels or cattery first thing. Although the animals, feeds, toys and layout are different the routine is pretty similar. Before the public can come visiting at 11AM we feed and water, clean all the kennels or cat pods, disinfect anything contaminated with urine or faeces, remove feeding equipment, wash floors and make the place tidy.

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Lots of cleaning but for a good cause!

I don’t know a lot about other places but the centre seems to have a pretty good set up, there are five blocks of kennels and 30 cat “pods” all with inside and outside access, isolation facilities, three pens for dogs to play in, kitchens, a bathing/grooming room, laundry, a meeting room which can also be used to socialise cats, several dog walking routes, reception, offices and lots of storage for donations, cages, food, cat litter and other supplies.

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One of the lovely dogs I’ve walked, rehomed several weeks ago now.

Once things are set up for the day volunteers can start walking dogs whose names are on the walkers’ boards. Each dog is graded red, amber or green for behaviour and we can only walk grades we’re trained for. The board also has notes on the dogs – for example, whether they can have treats, should wear a harness, need grooming after their walk or shouldn’t go in public spaces due to being from a prosecution case. In the cattery we spend time socialising kittens or take adult cats into the meeting space to stretch their legs and be made a fuss of.

Throughout the day there are also a variety of other tasks like sorting donations, cleaning and tidying, animal health checks, assisting with vaccinations or microchipping, laundry, feeding animals on multiple daily feeds, grooming, bathing, assisting in giving medication, sweeping, taking out rubbish, washing up… No it’s “not all puppies and kittens” as people like to say but it’s still 100% more puppies and kittens than my average day! We also help with enrichment materials for the animals such as frozen food, toys or time outside their cages. Being in kennels with a changing rota of carers, no matter how dedicated, is stressful for the animals but varied enrichment can help reduce this and prevent boredom issues.

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Some dogs are easier to photograph than others…

Once the public go home at 4 there is another round of feeding, watering and cleaning before the centre is locked up and the staff go home. Several of the team live on site so there’s sometimes scope to give the animals some extra time with outdoor access. You’d hope it would also deter people from abandoning pets but sadly there has been a spate of dumped cats recently. This means that pets on the waiting list who need to come to the centre and whose owners have followed the proper process have to wait even longer and it also puts the team in a really awkward position. However, to avoid ending on a sad note, here is a short clip of Mia who I last saw two weeks ago on the day she was ditched in a taped-up box. Then she just sat and dribbled from the stress – look how friendly she is now!

I’m going to keep at this volunteering for as long as I can until another type of animal experience takes over my weekends. It’s a great centre and open 11AM-4PM every day except Tuesday, so you should definitely go visit and put some coins in the donations jar! You can also donate pet food, cat litter, beds, blankets, towels, toys or treats – it will all go to a very good use.

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Cat family  ❤  one of many!

Thanks for reading and “see” you again next week!

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Reading List #1

Much as I’ve always loved animals, I’ve been a lifelong book worm too. Here are a couple of my recent animal-related reads which will hopefully also interest any readers out there.

  1. Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin.

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As anyone who reads my blog regularly knows, I am a huge fan of Temple Grandin’s work. I’ve just started on Animals in Translation and accidentally left it at my mum’s house – she returned it to me “in case you were getting withdrawal symptoms”. Dr Grandin writes in a wonderfully clear and informative yet personal style. She has done so much for animal welfare by looking at how animals think and applying this to farms and slaughterhouses. Her books are thoroughly referenced whilst still reading easily – I’ll stop now before this becomes a homage to Temple Grandin blog post instead of a reading list!

2. My Family and Other Animals, by Clare Balding.

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Clare Balding’s autobiography is again incredibly readable and a definite page-turner. The endoresement from Caitlin Moran on the cover (another author I love, although not in any way related to animals!) that “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want a horse,” rings true as you read the chapters each focussed on an animal from Clare’s past, bringing in the story of her childhood and adult life. It’s an emotional story but one you’ll want to read to the end.

Of course, the title is a play on Gerald Durrell’s “My Family and Other Animals,” which my parents bought for me as a child. I treated it as a license to bring any number of creatures into our house and I’m sure Mr Durrell played a big part in sending me off to uni to study Natural Sciences.

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3. The Truth About Cats and Dogs, by Emma Milne

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This is my other current read and paints the very sorry picture around pedigree dogs, especially brachycephalics and breeds with serious health issues. Dr Milne’s view on the veterinary profession has been strongly influenced by these problems and she provides clear descriptions of the different flaws we’ve bred into our pets. Although she definitely hammers home the downsides of becoming a vet her style is very chatty and readable whilst communicating the facts so I’d recommend this to other wannabe vet students like myself.

4. Down Among the Donkeys, by Elisabeth Svendsen

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I have a little area on my bookshelves that I think of as the “awesome inspiring women’s autobiographies” section. Clare Balding sits there, and Ellen McArthur, Caitlin Moran and Elisabeth Svendsen. The founder of the donkey sanctuary, Ms Svendsen has turned her hand to all kinds of things from running a hotel to working with disabled children to bring them the benefits of donkey time. Whilst reading this I was amazed over and over again by her positive “have a go” attitude. I know it probably doesn’t jump out as a gripping read but it’s genuinely interesting and helps you to believe that all sorts of things are possible if you just give them a try.

5. The works of “James Herriot”

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Okay, okay, I’m sorry. But after reading umpteen times “do NOT mention James Herriot on your vet school application,” “the admissions tutors don’t care if you’ve read James Herriot,” “EVERYONE HAS READ JAMES HERRIOT DO YOU HEAR US?” I thought I’d better pick them up and see what the fuss was about. Because surprisingly, I’d never read them (except, weirdly, one chapter about rubbing a cow’s udder with goose fat that I realised I must have seen somewhere before).

And they were fantastic. I knew in advance there was no such person as James Herriot – he was the creation of real vet Alf Wright – nor Siegfried or Tristam, and that Alf Wright was barely qualified in the setting of the thirties rather than hurtling all over deepest darkest Yorkshire, and that many of the stories need taking with a pinch of salt. And I realise that very few vets practice so generally anymore, with the profession becoming more and more specialised and unlike the role of Jim Herriot. But did that ruin it for me? Not at all. The charm and trials presented by clients, their mannerisms and generosity, drew plenty of similarities with my own rural chilhood experiences. There may be embellishment to the cases but it’s grounded in Alf Wright’s long veterinary career and the changes he saw take place over that time. As you can see I couldn’t stop after the first book – I had to get the sequels and I’m sure I’ll return to them to re-read again.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and picked up a recommendation or two – I may do another as I have been re-reading lots of books from my first time at uni recently also. Thanks for reading, until next time!

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Little Ham

This week’s blog post will be a little late, so here are two new photos of Little Ham to tide over any avid readers*. He’s needed his nails trimming recently which causes so much wriggling but luckily we are down to the last few claws… I do a couple at a time to avoid stressing him out but also for my own sanity!

Little Ham 1

Little Ham 2

*I don’t presume to have any of these, but two of my friends told me they had read my blog recently so thanks loads guys 🙂

Also in case anyone notices/worries: the lump on his front right leg has been seen by a real vet. He’s had it most of his life and it doesn’t seem to cause him any problems so we decided not to attempt risky tiny hamster surgery. The torn up ear is fine too, also a long standing feature!

An update on Olaf

Olaf had a vet appointment today as he hasn’t been improving as we’d hoped. Thankfully since moving here we’ve found a fantastic vet who has paid great attention to my small pets. I had worried about the “little pets aren’t so important” attitudes you hear of but this practice has been wonderful with one of my hamsters and now with Olaf.

Continue reading “An update on Olaf”

Routine treatments: Dogs

This is the first in a series of posts I’ve put together really for my own reference. My aim is to consolidate what I’ve seen of routine companion animal medicine in my placements so far. Although I don’t imagine I’ll be tested on it at interview, I think it’s probably a good idea to keep it fresh in my mind!

Routine treatments – dogs

Vaccination

The RSPCA recommend vaccination against four diseases:

  • Canine parvovirus
  • Canine distemper virus
  • Leptospirosis
  • Infectious canine hepatitis

Puppies are usually vaccinated via two injections at 8 and 10 weeks old, followed by a booster 12 months later. Most practices then recommend annual boosters although there is some debate on whether this is suitable for every dog. These injections must all be given by a vet.

Continue reading “Routine treatments: Dogs”