Oct 262012

The public are being urged to report any misuse of fireworks in the run-up to Guy Fawkes Night on 5 November. With thanks to John Robins, Secretary of the Animal Concern Advice Line

It is illegal for fireworks to be sold to anyone under 18 and for persons under 18 to be in possession of fireworks in the street or other public areas. If someone suspects that a shop is selling fireworks to people under 18, or if they see a person under 18 with fireworks they, should report this to the police immediately.

People making bonfires are asked not to build the bonfire until a few hours before it is going to be lit. Piles of wood and other materials can attract hedgehogs, frogs and other animals looking for a place to hibernate, so it is best to store the material for the bonfire in a different area

Owners of pet and other animals are urged to make preparations for bonfire night. All animals should be kept inside from before sunset on 5 November. Having a radio or TV on can help distract the animals from the noise of the fireworks.

John Robins of Animal Concern Advice Line said:

“There is no doubt the changes to the law  introduced in 2004 have greatly reduced the number of nasty incidents involving fireworks, but we are still getting reports of fireworks being set off in the street.

 “Fireworks can injure or kill pet, farm and wild animals!

 “Ideally, I would like to see the private purchase of fireworks totally banned and their use restricted to licensed public displays. Until then we urge the public to report any misuse of fireworks to the police immediately. But the police cannot enforce the law if they do not know it is being broken.

 “If you witness a shopkeeper selling fireworks to under-18s, or if you see anyone under 18 with fireworks in the street or a park, call the police immediately, give them as much detail as possible and ask them for an incident number so you can phone back later to find out what action was taken.”

 “People who do decide to hold a private bonfire and fireworks party on 5 November should follow the fireworks code to ensure the safety of everyone involved and any animals in the area.  

“However – and especially when money is tight – instead of spending a lot of cash on a private fireworks party it is much better to go to organised public displays where, for nothing or a small donation, you can watch thousands of pounds worth of very powerful and spectacular fireworks being set off safely by experts.”

Image credit: © Anna Dobos | Dreamstime.com


Sep 212012

Suzanne Kelly reports on the results of some important research presented at the recent Science Festival.

Aberdeen Science Festival had an amazing array of lectures, talks, trips and cabaret events which thousands of visitors enjoyed.

One of the more important issues covered was the very serious subject of second-hand smoke and its effect on children.  I took the  opportunity to talk to Dr Stephen Turner ( pictured ) of Aberdeen University and Rachel O’Donnell of ASH Scotland on a promising initiative to attempt to tackle this complex problem.

You smoke, or your partner smokes; you have a couple of children and a cat.  No harm in smoking around them in the house – just open a window and the smoke can’t bother them.  Can it?

You close the window when you’re done smoking.  You don’t smell much smoke and you can’t see any clouds of smoke at all, so there’s no risk to anyone.

The truth is that ANY smoke residue can definitely harm your children and your pets.  Smoke that you can see and other chemicals in smoke that you can’t see or smell are injuring kids.   About 85% of cigarette smoke is invisible.

You might not believe this to be true, but please remember the old ‘canary in a coal mine’ story.  Miners would take canaries down into the mines and if the bird suddenly died, either the oxygen was running out, or there was something dangerous, but invisible and scentless.  Things you don’t see can indeed hurt you and your children.

REFRESH is an intervention aimed at reducing the exposure children get to second-hand smoke which was presented during the Aberdeen Science Festival.  Dr Stephen Turner and Rachel O’Donnell were available to explain how they worked with smoking families when they did their research.  They were not trying to make parents stop smoking, but instead were making people aware what the consequences can be on children’s lives.  The full details are written in a paper called ‘REFRESH – reducing families’ exposure to second-hand smoke in the home:  a feasibility study.’

Families where young children were living with regular smokers were asked to take part in a study which would measure indoor air quality in their homes.  The personalised air quality data were presented to the smoker, then a motivational interview was held and positive solutions were suggested for cleaner, healthier air for the child.

There were about 60 Aberdonian participants in this study with each receiving four visits.  At the first meeting a questionnaire was filled in to get a picture of the household members and their smoking habits; saliva samples were taken for chemical testing and monitoring equipment was set up.  At the second visit the indoor air quality result was given to half of the households in addition to the motivational interview.

The chart below shows smoke levels in one study household.  

Any quantity over 25 micrograms of smoke in a cubic metre of air space is harmful; the higher the figure, the more harm.

When the smoker was asleep, the levels dropped to non-existent.  When the smoker lit that first cigarette, the levels went up to between 500 and 950 micrograms of smoke in a cubic metre of air.

Throughout the day, the smoke lingered – even when the smoker assumed the room was clear of smoke.

This came as quite a revelation for the smokers.  Here is what some of them had to say:

“Seeing the results made a big difference.  It was like a shock because I didn’t realise.  Like I don’t sit here and smoke in front of my child, I do it in the kitchen, but for the readings to be high like that when I’m not like anywhere near it, if you know what I mean, it’s like a shock factor to realise what it can do.  So I think that’s the best thing that like helped me.”

“I showed them how high it was, and some of them was like – you’re  joking?  And I was like no…”

“For it (monitoring) to be done in your own home and for you to know that the level of smoke is so high and you’re putting your children at risk of asthma, emphysema, all kinds of things, it’s quite shocking.”

One comment in particular shows the strength of the motivational factor provided by caring about children’s health:

“For me I think my son’s health, that’s my priority.  So I would like to think that all mothers would think like that, that their kids come first no matter what.  My bad habits shouldn’t be put onto my child.  Because I can’t stop smoking doesn’t mean he has to suffer.”

After one month the research team revisited the houses, repeated the air quality measurements and, this time, gave all the households their results.  During the month the air quality had not changed in the houses where air quality data was not initially given but air quality had improved by more than one third where the graph was used as part of the initial motivational interview.

  personalised measurements of smoke in the home, while shocking, can also be very motivational

The trial was not large, but its results show that a future, large-scale programme would be beneficial.  Like everything else, budgetary constraints are a factor.  The vast sums that the NHS has to spend treating smoke-related illnesses should be sufficient to show that prevention should be actively pursued as one solution to the smoking issue.

The study has shown that lay people can most definitely engage with science and can understand complex matters when it is presented using clear, audience-appropriate, audience-relevant formats.   Crucially, the personalised measurements of smoke in the home, while shocking, can also be very motivational.  As the paper concludes:

“…in almost all participating households, indoor air (quality) approached a threshold considered unhealthy, suggesting a need to reduce indoor air (quality) in many households across the UK, and that many people would benefit from such an intervention.” 

It seems that this combination of personalised data, positive suggestions and active participation of smokers might be the way to tackle smoke exposure to children.  It is hoped this small study won’t be the end of the matter.  The research goes on but, in the meantime, parents who smoke can create smoke free homes and smoke free cars to protect their children from the harmful effects of second hand smoke.

Smoking is still a social norm for many families but in the same way as drink driving and not wearing a seat belt are no longer acceptable, in future smoking will be considered as not acceptable by society.

PS for animal lovers –  according to Dr Turner, the incidence of feline leukaemia is twice as high in cats that live in a smoker’s home than for cats that live in a smoke free environment.

  •  Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Apr 262012

Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly is on the subject of animal cruelty. She talks to Di Melville, who set up and administers a Facebook page which reunites families with lost pets.

At present, our local newspapers are filled with stories of animal cruelty –neglect, abandonment, abuse, dog fighting and so on.  A lost dog was beaten to death in the Rosemount area a week ago in a particularly brutal and sickening attack.
However some people are doing something about the many pets which go missing in our area and promoting responsible animal ownership.

Facebook can be more than a place to catch up with friends and have online conversations – for many pet owners it can be a means to help recover lost animals. 

In the Aberdeen City and Shire area, Diane Melville is the administrator and creator of the  ‘Lost and Found Pets Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire’ page, which provides a free, vital and successful service when an animal goes missing.

Sadly, not all animals are well loved and tended to, and we also have to be mindful of neglect and abuse.  The Lost and Found Pets Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire page can be found at:


When a pet is lost (or even occasionally deliberately stolen), the owner can post details of when and where the animal disappeared, along with photos.  In many cases, animal lovers from across our area pick up the bulletin from the Lost and Found Pets page, and where possible, actively go and look for the animal.  It is not unusual to see upwards of 50 people contributing to a single thread on this page, and fairly quickly at that.  It is a testament to the concern and kindness of people that this page is as effective as it is.

I had a quick chat with Di Melville, who had just returned from talking to a vet about an injured animal:

“Same old stuff, different day” she told me.

Diane Melville had this to say about why she started the page:

“There was a woman who lived near my grandparents who did animal rescue.  I helped her out, and got hooked.  I was once handed a kitten which had been found under a shed.  The cat needed medical attention and had epilepsy.  Well, she went missing and I had to find her as she needed medicine daily. 

“I had to go through the yellow pages and find all the telephone numbers – Cats Protection, Scottish SPCA, Mrs Murray’s Dog & Cat Home.  I had to figure out who these people were and if they could help.  We searched night and day.  I set up a list and got all these organisations linked into one page.”

This page has evolved into a Facebook site with over 260 members which have had dozens of successes in reuniting animals and owners.

“Losing a pet is like losing a member of your family” Di says, and I agree.

The Lucky Ones

Within the last few weeks alone there have been several success stories because of this web page.  Tia, a Jack Russell, was reunited with its owners very quickly.  A missing Siberian Husky which strayed from its owners near an Aberdeen petrol station was found safe and sound – thankfully quickly as well, for the dog needed daily medication.

Should you lose an animal, this page could be your best bet.   Go onto Facebook where you can search for the page under ‘pets Aberdeen’. Post a photo of your pet and the relevant details:  where lost, was it microchipped, did it have a collar on, does it need medication, and any distinguishing features.


Pets do go missing – and have been stolen from cars and from outside of shops, but there are some ways to avoid your animal disappearing:

  • Consider microchipping.  Animal shelters now check strays that are brought in, and you should be reunited with your animal if it is chipped.
  • Moving house?  don’t let your animals stray too far from your sight for the first few weeks.
  • Your dog should be kept on a lead.  in the past few years ‘normally well behaved’ dogs have killed dozens of lambs, even a few sheep – and tragically a horse – in our area.  Deer were attacked by deer hounds in an  Edinburgh park last week and the owners are still being sought.

As unpleasant a thought as it is, cats and even dogs can wind up stolen for use as ‘bait’ in the dog fighting industry.  Even older, unwanted cats and dogs that are advertised for adoption ‘to a good home’ are occasionally taken in by people and then turned over to dogfight trainers.  (You don’t want to know the rest).  Do not randomly advertise your pet for adoption if you can no longer keep it.

Please find someone you know and trust or a shelter to take your pet if you can no longer look after it.  Do not abandon it or give it to unknown people.

The Unlucky Ones

Unfortunately not all animals are found, and it is important whether we are pet owners or not to be watchful of apparent stray animals or any suspicious behaviour.  Very sadly some people are finding it hard to cope in this economic downturn.  The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports in its latest newsletter that it and other charities are swamped with animals which have been cruelly abandoned by owners on the side of the road – or even put out with the trash.

A gerbil in a cage was left in a bin bag near rubbish, and was only found by chance.  A 62 year-old woman put two kittens in a bag and threw them off of a bridge (thankfully she was discovered, prosecuted and banned from keeping animals).  Luckily the kittens landed on a path and though traumatised and slightly injured are making a recovery.

Ponies, donkeys and horses are also being abandoned and mistreated.  We have seen one of the worst cases of cruelty and neglect in the UK right here in Aberdeenshire, where a woman was convicted of cruelty and banned.  She had starving animals suffering alongside of dead animals.

Worst of all, dog-fighting continues to blight our area.  Two brothers were recently convicted who had been involved in badger-baiting as well as dog fighting.  Most people know that these activities are not only barbaric, for the record they are completely illegal.  Please report any suspicions or evidence to the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999 and/or the police on 0845 600 5700.

In all of these cases, if it were not for members of the public stepping up, getting involved and calling the Scottish SPCA with concerns and evidence, the cruelty and neglect would have continued.  If you know something, then please call 03000 999 999 straightaway.  Your details will be kept confidential.

Please bear in mind that our local shelters and sanctuaries are bursting at the seams due in no small part to our current economic situation.  If you can donate time or money – or if you can give an animal a loving home, here are some animal charities which could use your help

Until people think carefully about what pet ownership means in terms of cost, care and time, we will be needing these sanctuaries and agencies to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.  Please support them any way you can.