Today I had the complete pleasure of being able to explore behind the scenes at the RSPCA Central, West & North East London at their emergency fostering unit. Dream afternoon? Hell yeah....and I bet how it ends isn't a complete surprise.....
I've been seeing more and more people buying 'designer' pets recently, and although they've always been popular, our Instagram-led lives must surely have an impact. So it got me wondering why people 'buy' a new pet, rather than adopting one. With all of these questions and ponderances in my mind, I visited the 32 cat pods at the RSPCA unit to see what I could figure out.
The first thing I learned that surprised me was that each RSPCA branch is a separate charity, so the RSPCA Central, West & North East London branch (not snappy as names go but accurate!) are responsible for fundraising and running their own activities. So if you want to donate to the welfare of cats in your area, please do consider donating directly to your local RSPCA. Anyhoo....back to the cuties.
This wasn't my outfit of choice, they take the health and hygiene of their cat-mates very seriously. Each cat pod is fully enclosed, and has some magic air system that pumps in fresh air, not recycled air-conditioning, to ensure no cross contamination between cats. Each pod has clear codes on the door, instructing you about the cat, their personality, their meds and their needs. Many of the little guys need you to be fully covered, no shoes, and a full suit. Everytime someone enters, to clean or cuddle, they use a brand new suit. This makes the daily cleaning quite a slow task as you can imagine!
This is not an open cat rescue centre, you're not allowed to just wander in, or around. I was so impressed by how seriously they take their rescuing - if you want to adopt a cat or kitten, you're matched, like at a match-making service, with a cat that will best suit your requirements and expectations. You're then invited to meet maybe one or two options to see who steals your heart the most. This means you get the right cat for you and your home, and reduces a return rate. I was not in to adopt, I was being given a tour, to spread the word about adopting, not shopping. Let's just get that clear from the beginning.
As I sat and stroked a mum and her kittens, I reflected on the reasons people may shop for a new pet, rather than adopting one of the thousands that need homes. Here are my thoughts:
1. Wanting a particular breed/attractiveness - We all like cute things. We all get led by trends. But I wish more people would stop and think, before buying that brand new kitten on Gumtree. I think that perhaps they wrongly believe that the main issue with shopping for a new kitten is that some people raise animals in horrible conditions just to make money. Therefore they feel fine buying, if they've seen the owner, and the kittens had a nice home. But its more than this. It's about funding an industry that keeps unwanted cats in catteries. Unwanted cats with nowhere to go. Creating and funding an industry that encourages inbreeding, animals that are often riddled with health problems, and life long challenges.
2. Believing that you get to create the kind of kitten you want - I met those kittens today, and already their personalities were so varied. One was so confident, full of so much more engery than the others, and others were more reserved, or less keen on interaction. Why take the gamble with a brand new unknown expensive kitten, when you can get matched with a kitten or cat that has the personality that will suit your household? The staff get to see the animals, and they really want to make a pairing that works, they're not out for a sale.
3. Believing you want a kitten, and that adopting kittens is rare - Kittens are really cute. They're so teeny tiny and small and silly. However, they're a lot of work. I've always said that when I got a cat I'd never get a kitten. I don't have the energy anymore! But I get why someone may want a kitten. But the RSPCA, and other centres have kittens. Teeny tiny kittens, just waiting to be old enough to find their forever home. The RSPCA charge £65 to adopt a cat, and they come neutured, de-wormed, de-fleaed and vaccinated. This is much cheaper than when you take your brand new bought kitten to the vet for the same treatments. They come microchipped too! You're not only doing good, you're saving money! And yes, they have kittens. You may need to go on a waiting list, but this isn't always about a lack of kittens, just that the kittens need to be old enough to be re-homed. So they'll be ready in batches.
4. Worry about the home visit - I imagine some people are nervous about a home visit, imagining someone judging your home feels very invasive. I asked about visits, and they assured me it wasn't so much about judging a home, just getting to know the people, working out what cat would suit them, and helping advise the new cat owners how best to care for their new family member. They're on your side! They want the cats to have new homes. They want to approve you!
5. Wanting to be impulsive - Sometimes we just want what we want. We don't want to wait, and going through the procedures of adopting a cat may seem a bit too complicated, when you could just wave a Visa card at a breeder. But I asked this branch how soon someone can get a cat, and was told sometimes it may be just be 2-3 days, including a home visit! So no excuse! Other centres may take a little longer, as its pretty staff-heavy, but definitely worth the wait.
6. Wanting a kitten (part two) - As I said before, kittens are somewhat over-rated. There are so many cats, ranging from 6 months to senior citizens who are waiting for a forever home. Maybe they were unwanted, perhaps their owner moved, or couldn't afford vet bills. A few may have been treated badly, but many just stumbled across bad luck. Take this dude for example:
This handsome guy was abandoned at a tube station, which chronic diarrhoea. Turns out he has some rare contagious bug, and he needs some medications for a while. He's only about 8 months old, and my quick snaps through the glass don't do his stunning features justice. He looks mean, but he was just keen to say hello. He'll need some short-term fostering while he's on his medication, and then he'll be good to go, ready for his forever home. He'd make a fab pet, and although not a kitten, he's still a baby really!
Then I was introduced to this lady, and I went in for some cuddle time. She'd been sleeping in her little safety cage, but she instantly ran down for some strokes. I was told she was about 5 years old, and was suffering from some blood in her urine. The vets hadn't been able to find anything wrong with her, and they were worried it was just stress. That she just wasn't coping well with the environment, and she really needed a foster home, to see if she'd be happier there. Cats can't get rehomed when they've got blood in their urine, and cats also can't show off their best side when they're feeling anxious. So.....she needs a foster carer.....and she ran right up to me.........I think you can see where this goes.....read more tomorrow.....when I start life as a foster-carer.....