THE RSPCA has admitted its major new control centre has problems handling emergency calls after a woman tried in vain for two and a half hours to summon help for a desperately ill dog.
The woman, who declined to be named, from Loughton, near Milton Keynes, Bucks., found the stray black and tan mongrel collapsed and vomiting continuously in her garden one evening. She immediately called the RSPCA’s ‘hotline’ emergency number – 0870 5555999 – only to find it was continuously engaged.
She then called local vets, who said they could not treat the dog unless a registered RSPCA worker brought it in. In desperation she called the police, who said they could not help.
Finally the frantic woman found the number of the city's Pet Search charity, which reunites lost pets with their owners, and founder Pam Willis joined in the battle to contact the RSPCA.
"I had my phone on continuous re-dial until 10pm and still no-one answered. Meanwhile this poor dog was getting worse and worse. It was an absolute disgrace," said Ms Willis.
Eventually Ms Willis found the home number of a local RSPCA volunteer – who specialises in cats. The volunteer arranged for the dog to be collected within 20 minutes and a vet opened Walnut Tree surgery to put the animal on a drip.
"Thankfully it seems the dog will survive – but it could so easily have died," said Ms Willis.
An RSPCA spokeswoman admitted there had been "teething troubles" ever since the charity closed down its ten regional call centres in February and transferred to a National Control Centre in Doncaster.
Around 180 staff were made redundant in the modernising move which RSPCA bosses hoped would improve consistency and efficiency in dealing with the tens of thousands of calls each month.
But within weeks it became clear that the national centre could not cope – and re-opened three of the regional centres, re-employing the redundant original staff.
The spokeswoman added that "hindsight was a wonderful thing", saying that the delay was due to a computer crash earlier in the day, coupled with a high volume of calls on the day in question. "It was not good enough. This is not the service we want to give. But we are confident the situation will improve in the future."
Mo Davie of the canine charity A Dogs Life told OUR DOGS: "We are also having difficulty getting through to the RSPCA’s ‘cruelty hotline’ taking nearly four hours to report a disgusting breeding site in Leicestershire.
"The Inspector involved then had the gall to admit that the complaint would have to be delayed as he would be on holiday for the next month. I wrote to the RSPCA’s Director General Jackie Ballard, but received no reply until some weeks later.
"I can’t help wondering what percentage of the RSPCA’s £89m income last year was wasted on a redundancy pay out to the original Call Centre staff who will now be re-employed because the super new ’hotline’ cannot cope."