A day in the life of an RSPCA officer

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TWO things struck me most during my day with RSPCA animal welfare officer Kate Burris.

The first was the sheer size of her workload, and the second was that kindness is not in short supply when it comes to the welfare of animals.

The day began at 9am. We paid a visit to a house in Grantley Street, following reports from a neighbour that a dog was in a poor condition and the back yard covered in excrement.

Kate had visited the address previously and issued a non-statutory order advising that action be taken.

She told me: “I’ll give advice first to give the owner a chance to do the right thing. The problem is often a lack of education but it’s usually basic care. I try to educate and help people first.”

After giving a flea treatment to the dog and telling the owner he must be wormed and the back garden cleared, we were on our way to the next job.

As we drove towards a village called Twenty, near Bourne, Kate told me how far her patch stretches. She and her eight colleagues cover Bourne, Stamford, Melton Mowbray, Newark, Worksop, Lincoln, and around to the east coast, plus all the towns and villages in between. For such a small team, it is a massive area and explains why we barely made a dent in the 22 jobs on Kate’s to-do list.

Kate had been called to the village by environmental health at South Kesteven District Council, who were investigating a rat infestation. An officer had spotted animal pens in the back garden and wanted to make sure the conditions were acceptable.

Kate inspected every pen, giving advice along the way. The visit took a turn for the worse when she came across an injured muscovy duck. Deciding the best course of action was a trip to a vet, the duck was put in the back of her Transit van. Sadly, the vet decided he was too badly injured and he was put down.

Next on the agenda was a trip to Newark. By this time it was becoming clear that Kate covers hundreds of miles every week in her van. The charity does some amazing work but it has been hindered by the poor economic climate, resulting in a smaller team covering large areas.

While we were on the road, Kate told me about some of her call-outs over the past 12 years as an officer. She told tales of stranded porpoises, overturned lorries carrying pigs, cats up trees, injured pigeons, a stray wallaby and more.

She said: “How is this a job when it’s so much fun?”

Next, we had a call to reports of a crow caught in fishing line and hanging from a branch above the River Trent at nearby Farndon. We arrived and a few minutes later we found the poor thing hanging by a wing too far over the river for us to reach it.

Kate has to make tough decisions every day. Thinking aloud, she said: “Should I call fire and rescue or find someone with a gun and shoot it because it might be severely injured.”

I was pleased when a call to fire and rescue followed and five minutes later they arrived. I was half expecting the burly firefighters to scoff and say “it’s only a crow”, but they were happy to help.

They came up with an innovative way to reach the crow, using a make-shift float to catch the bird as the branch was sawn.

I was pleased when Kate said she thought the bird would make it. After losing the duck it was nice to have a happy ending to the day. Back in the van, we drove to Lincoln to the Weirfield Wildlife Hospital where staff will look after the bird until it is fit to be released.

It’s extraordinary the lengths people go to for the welfare of creatures large and small, from a member of the public making a call to the RSPCA, to the animal welfare officers and inspectors, to the firefighters who are happy to help. When Kate dropped me back at the Journal office at 5pm, I was cold and tired, but had a lot more faith in humanity.

l Information: www.rspca.org.uk