We can all do our part to help roadside casualties
A READER, Janet, has written to me: I'm going to answer her in this week's column. She writes: I've come across a number of cats killed on the road.
In all cases the animals were dead so it was too late to help but it raises a lot of questions. If the animal was still alive but injured, I'd like to help but what do I do when it's night time, Sunday or a Bank Holiday? Is there anyone you can call to come out to rescue an injured animal, or is there anywhere you can take it?
Janet's questions don't just apply to cats: sometimes dogs may be found in the same situation, or even wild animals. What's the best way for members of the public to help?
In some countries, like the UK, animal rescue organisations may offer a comprehensive emergency service for situations like this. Day or night, members of the public just need to phone an emergency number. An inspector may be sent out to rescue the animal, or the member of the public may be asked to pick up the animal to take it to the vet, with the rescue group paying the vet's fees. Sadly, this high level of service does not exist in Ireland.
The problem is that resources are needed for the animal to be helped. Injured animals need to be transported to a place where they can be be examined by a vet, appropriate treatment including pain relief needs to be given, followed by transport to a sanctuary where they can be cared for until they are fully recovered. They then need to be relocated, either in their original home (if it can be found) or in a new home.
In the absence of a professional animal welfare organisation to carry out and fund these tasks, the job is left to concerned members of the public, assisted where possible by their local vet.
Vets work long days, under pressure, and there just isn't enough time for them to rush out to road-side incidents. If a vet happens to be in the area at the time, they will often stop and help, but it's more difficult for them to go out of their way to travel to the site of an incident.
Even if vets are able to attend, such call outs often end up being frustrating. I have often rushed out to reports such as Janet described, to find no sign of the injured animal. I have wasted many hours scanning roadsides and searching in bushes for a creature that's been reported to me. I've learned that there's little point in attending such calls because of the tendency of injured animals to move away into hiding as soon as possible.
So what should a member of public do? This takes me back to Janet's next question. How can I lift the animal without hurting it or doing more damage? Will it be okay to transport? The best answer is nearly always for the person who finds the animal to take charge of the situation This means picking the animal up and putting it into the back of the car, which is not always an easy task for someone who has never handled an injured animal.
You are unlikely to cause any harm, but the frightened animal may try to run away, or to bite you, so you need to be ready for that. A large sheet of material, such as a towel, can be useful, throwing it over the animal and using it like make-shift stretcher to lift it into your car. It's best to try to keep the animal in the same position as it is lying.
If you can imagine a person being lifted sideways onto a stretcher, then carried in a prone position to an ambulance: this is the type of action you are ideally trying to mimic. With a lively, frightened animal, you may end up with a situation more like catching a wriggling fish in a net. The most important task is to keep the animal secure and to avoid being bitten or scratched yourself.
You should then drive the animal to the nearest vet. It's better to phone in advance rather than just turning up at the door with a casualty: this gives the veterinary team a chance to prepare for your arrival.
What about the costs of veterinary care?
When there is no owner, this is a challenge: most vets will help out as best they can, but if the person finding the animal offers to contribute to the costs, this helps a lot. After all, why should the vet be any more liable to pay for the drugs and treatments than anyone else?
If the animal is dead, what do I do? Should I bring it somewhere to check if it's microchipped? And if the animal is not microchipped?
The most thoughtful action when finding a dead animal is to try to locate the owner. All vet clinics have microchip scanners and they'll be happy to scan any animal, alive or dead, for no charge. If the animal is not microchipped, you need to take other steps to find the owner. There are websites and Facebook pages for lost and found pets, so you can post details and hope that somebody recognises their own pet.
Roadside animal casualties are a common problem, and there are no state-funded answers: it's up to all of us to play our part in helping out.