Pet rescue! Kate Parker of the RSPCA tells Weekend about her job protecting animals
Every day Kate Parker is working to ensure animals are treated with the respect and care they deserve.
Whether it's checking that they have sufficient shelter, food and water or taking them out of harm's way in situations of cruelty and neglect, her job as an RSPCA inspector comes with many rewards.
"Seeing the improvement you can make to one animal's life is why I enjoy the job. It could be something as simple as educating an owner to give their dog shelter and then going back and seeing a dog all nice and cosy in a warm bed.
"Then there is the other side when I find a dog that is completely emaciated, it's taken away from the owner and rehomed with a loving family and has a much better quality of life - and that's just by me knocking on the door," the 26-year-old tells us.
Kate, who started working for the RSPCA in November 2014, responds to calls from concerned members of the public that are logged and sent to the different inspectors to investigate.
Covering a patch that takes in Shropshire, Staffordshire and the Black Country, she will go out to the addresses to check on the health of the animal as well as it's living conditions because all owners have a duty of care towards their pets.
"Most of the time it is a case of owners needing more education and help to take care of their animals. But people would be surprised by what goes on behind closed doors in their street and that some people don't know what to provide for their animal or just chose not to do it. We've had emaciated dogs where the owner has turned around and said 'I didn't feed it'.
"There is just no excuse for that. If they couldn't afford to feed their animal, they could take them to a rescue centre or a vet and they would help if they told them they couldn't feed their animal. Even a butcher would probably help by giving a few scraps of meat.
"One of the saddest things I have seen was a completely emaciated horse - it was the worst case I had seen where the horse was still alive - and it was stabled next to a full feed room. The owner had food but just wasn't feeding it," says Kate, who owns a 13-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier named Squidge.
"Rabbits get a very tough deal. Often people have put them in hutch at the bottom of the garden and forgotten them. They have gone back later to find out they have died.
"One of the most upsetting was a call we had from a member of the public about a cat that was completely emaciated in Telford.
"The cat had cancer of the nose and because it had been left untreated for so long it's nose had come off and there was just a bloody hole there.
"It was horrific, the cat had to put to sleep, there was nothing that could be done. But what made it even worse was that there was a grooming brush by the door.
"The owner had groomed this cat every day and not done anything about it. He told us it was because his wife had left him but that was 11 years ago. He was banned from keeping cats," adds Kate, who lives in Powys.
Another shocking case was that of a English Bull Terrier that was abandoned by its owners when they moved house in Abergavenny. The dog was left to starve for three weeks including over Christmas.
"A neighbour reported seeing the dog, the police assisted and we were able to get the dog out. The only reason it survived that long was because she has been able to get into the kitchen and they hadn't done the washing up. The dog survived by drinking dirty dishwater.
"When I interviewed the owners, they didn't even know where the dog was. They'd had a nice Christmas knowing they had left their dog behind to starve. The dog was rehomed and the owner was banned from keeping animals for life," Kate tells us.
Despite the job being all about improving the lives of animals, a large part of the 24/7 role involves dealing with people.
"My job can often be like that of a social worker. People think it's a job that just involves working with animals but a lot of time it's about working with people. I find that people are more willing to talk to me than they would the police," Kate explains.
But sometimes she will find that people are not so eager to talk and do not want her help. "You do get people that are very aggressive - both verbally and physically. You get people that hate RSPCA for some reason or don't understand what we do. Some people just hate uniform.
"At the end of the day I go home knowing it's not me, it's the uniform that's causing them to be aggressive. Sometimes you can go months without being abused and then it will be every day for a week.
"We investigate and knock on doors like the police but we don't have the same powers as the police. But if we need assistance to gain entry to remove an animal that's in a terrible and harmful situation then we can call them to assist us,"explains Kate.
In cases of cruelty and neglect, it falls on the inspectors to investigate and gather evidence for a possible prosecution. "We pass on all of the evidence to our prosecution team at headquarters.
"The legal team looks through all the evidence to see if there is enough to prosecute and whether it's in the public interest to prosecute.
"There will be three outcomes - no further action, an RSPCA adult written caution or the case will go to court. But it's not us on the ground that makes that decision," she explains.
Kate's job also sees her help out when animals have found themselves in trouble which has ranged from the unusual sight of a stray pig roaming a town's streets to a tawny owl that got stuck in a woodburner.
She is also member of the RSPCA's rope rescue team that go to the aid of animals such as sheep stuck on cliffs and a Swift Water Rescue team who use inflatable rafts to carry out rescues in floods.
For many of the animals taken in by Kate and the rest of the team of inspectors there are happy endings as they are cared for by dedicated staff at the RSPCA's Gonsal Farm Animal Centre in Dorrington, near Shrewsbury.
At any one time, Gonsal Farm provides temporary homes to more than 150 animals, many needing intense rehabilitation in preparation for rehoming and the chance to start new lives.
The centre has capacity for up to 57 dogs and 72 cats and array of other furry creatures such as mice and rabbits as well as horses and ponies.
Many are strays that have been brought in by members of the public or rescued by staff and will be rehomed.
But, sadly, there are many that have been subjected to cruelty and neglect - these remain at the centre until the conclusion of any legal proceedings against their owners.
When Weekend visited the Gonsal Farm, amongst the animals in its care, was one-year-old Vixen, who was recovering after getting herself stuck in the red-hot engine of a car in Stoke-on-Trent.
A member of the public contacted the RSPCA and fire services before Vixen was freed from the car and taken to a nearby vets.
Also being cared for is a white rabbit who has been given the Beatrix Potter-inspired name of Flopsy.
The stray was found out in the open wandering down a street in Oswestry. A member of public raised the alarm and she was rescued by the RSPCA.
While bringing smiles to the faces of staff was a litter of seven Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppies.
They were born at the centre after their parents, named Mary and Joseph by staff, were rescued from a drugs den.
The pups, now nine-weeks-old, were welcomed into the world on Remembrance Day and were named Churchill, Normandy, Arthur, Winnie, Winston, El and Miller.
"Mary has been absolutely brilliant mum and has really looked after the pups.
"She has done all of the hard work, all we have had to do is to look after her.
"They have done so well and are really healthy puppies who will find new homes," said Neil Richardson, kennel supervisor at Gonsal Farm.
Helping dogs on the road to recovery is what makes the job such a worthwhile one for Neil who has worked at the centre for 18 years.
"We see dogs come in that are incredibly skinny and very timid and nervous. We have to build them up and gain their trust again as they might be very wary of humans.
"Some dogs come in that have been beaten or starved or both, they have been through so much but they still greet you with a wagging tail.
"We try to reassure them that life is good and that there are nice people out there.
"Then they go off to new homes with loving families and you really see them blossom and their full character come out. We couldn't ask for anything better than that," he says.
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