A day in the life of an RSPCA Inspector
RSPCA inspectors have to deal with all kinds of creatures – great and small – on a daily basis.
Chief Reporter Sarah Carey spent a morning with Inspector Graeme Petty to find out more about what the job entails.
"NO TWO days are ever the same – that's the beauty of this job. You never know what you're going to be doing."
And, after 21 years working as an RSPCA Inspector in South Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire, Graeme Petty should know.
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From rescuing animals abandoned by their owners and those suffering the worst kinds of abuse, to helping secure loving new homes for pets in need and providing information and advice to owners, there are many facets to the role.
In a typical day Insp Petty is given the details of up to 30 cases for his attention, of varying degrees of urgency – and, of course, an emergency call could come in at any time.
On the day I tagged along, our first port of call was to visit a Grimsby home after concerned member of the public contacted the RSPCA claiming the family's bull mastiff was "a bag of bones" and "barely able to walk".
As Insp Petty drove us to the East Marsh property, I tried to steel myself against what could be awaiting us – and asked him how he copes with the harrowing things he has to see.
He said: "You have to harden yourself to it for your own sanity.
"I have been doing this for 21 years now and there are always things which will pull on your heartstrings, but you have to remember the main aim is to get the animal that's suffering the care it needs, quickly and professionally.
"It's the only way to deal with it."
And the horrific sights of neglected or abused animals are not the only things RSPCA staff have to deal with.
Insp Petty has been assaulted by angry owners on more than one occasion and has also had to involve social services when it's become clear that there are also young children living in squalor.
He said: "We work closely with a number of different agencies. It can be hard sometimes, but you have to be honest with people and tell them you are concerned that they're not coping."
We pull up outside the house and, at first, it appears no one is in. However, just as Insp Petty is about to post a calling card through the door, a woman opens it and lets us in.
Insp Petty explains about the call – though he cannot disclose who it has come from – and asks if we can see the woman's dog.
She is more than happy to oblige and, after taking us through to the back yard, we are introduced to the well-fed, exuberant and extremely friendly Xena.
It's clear to see – to our relief – there's absolutely nothing wrong with the three-year-old.
However, Insp Petty explained that calls from people worried that mastiffs and similar-sized breeds – such as rottweilers – are underweight are not uncommon.
He said: "With deep chested dogs, you can see their ribs when they breath in. It's perfectly natural and healthy. In fact, the thick set shape you often see in these breeds is actually a sign they're overweight."
While we were there, he also gave Xena's owner some advice about ensuring her cat's litter tray was regularly changed and we were on our way again.
He said: "You sometimes find that when you get called out to a job, it's not the issue you were attending about that requires the most attention.
"You have to keep your eyes peeled for things such as exotic pets, which can be tucked away and suffering in vivariums in the corner without anyone but the owner knowing they are there."
As a cat owner, the next job on our list was one that tugged at my heartstrings.
It has been brought to the attention of the RSPCA that a man in his early twenties living in Barton is keeping six cats in squalid conditions in a back bedroom.
Insp Petty has previously visited him to warn him that his treatment of the animals – two of which are kittens – is not good enough and today our job is to check that standards have improved.
However, as soon as he opens the door, it is clear from the smell that they haven't – although Insp Petty is relieved to find that the kittens have been re-homed.
Mumbling that the kittens' new owner may also be able to take on the rest of the animals – and that he is being evicted in the morning – the man reattaches a door handle and lets us into the bedroom.
The litter tray is overflowing, the floor is dotted with urine stains and faeces and the half-bag of replacement cat litter Insp Petty gave him when he visited a week ago does not appear to have been touched.
When the man claims he has been cleaning the litter tray every day, Insp Petty makes it clear that he knows he is lying and that he will not stand for it.
In no uncertain terms he tells him that what he should be doing to care for the cats and that he will get in touch that night to make sure the cats have been re-homed.
Insp Petty also warns the man that if he simply turns them loose, he will be prosecuted.
They are all very affectionate, quite distinctive – as one was born with a deformity in its tail – and, as we put down food and water for them, we give them a few well-deserved scratches behind the ears.
One in particular, a tortoiseshell, is very loving and – were it not for the three I already have at home – would have been coming home with me. Clearly I need to work on hardening myself up.
Insp Petty explains he wishes he could take the cats away from the man, but there are no places left for them in local rescue centres, which are full to capacity.
He said: "These cases are the worst ones for me. I can sympathise with people who have fallen on hard times after losing their jobs or something, but the ones that let animals live in filthy conditions, just because they are lazy, really gets to me."
Before I have to rush off and leave Insp Petty to his work, we get an emergency request to collect a stray cat from another Barton address.
A woman has got in touch with the RSPCA after taking in the cat, which she has spotted has injured its leg.
The cat, an elderly black female, is clearly happy around people and lets Insp Petty catch her and examine her leg without making a fuss.
However, she is less happy to have her mouth checked and Insp Petty is concerned at how skinny she is, as the woman tells him that someone has been feeding her for the past month.
Fearing something could be seriously wrong, he makes her comfortable in a carry cage and prepares to whisk her away to the vet – all to the accompaniment of contented purring from his latest satisfied customer.
Insp Petty has since been in touch to update me on the fate of the animals we encountered.
The Barton man did manage to find an appropriate home for his four cats and they're now faring much better.
The elderly female cat is also doing well – and purring away – though she is puzzling vets, who have ruled out feline aids and leukaemia, but fear she may still have a serious condition that needs to be treated.
However, she seems happy to be off the streets, out of the cold and getting regular meals – all thanks to the RSPCA.
Do your bit
If you are concerned about the welfare of an animal, call the Cruelty Line on 0300 1234 999.