A career rescuing animals in distress
JONATHAN Silk is very honest when he is asked what he will be most remembered for after 40 years with the RSPCA.
Of course, the 63-year-old hopes he will have been regarded as a good friend by his colleagues as well as a tireless campaigner for animal welfare in his various roles.
But Jonathan, who stepped down as the regional manager of the RSPCA earlier this month, knows that a rescue he performed in Bristol will be first and foremost in many people's minds.
"I may as well tell you," he says, with a mixture of resignation and relish, "So we got a call to say a swan had become trapped in ice on a lake in Bristol. I got to the location and crawled as carefully as I could towards it – trying not to panic the animal but also to ensure I didn't fall through and risk my own life.
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"It was only when I reached the swan that I realised my mistake. It wasn't a lake. It was car park with a really thick layer of ice."
Having spent several years working with animals at wildlife parks, he answered a small ad in the Daily Telegraph in 1972 for a vacancy with the RSPCA.
Initially based in London, he was offered the chance to return to his native South West, and wife (then wife-to-be) Liz, as an inspector in Bristol.
Jonathan worked in this role for five years and was involved in many rescues, including retrieving a pelican from the Ashburton bypass, before being asked to return to the RSPCA headquarters to help train other inspectors.
And in 1989, when the charity began to regionalise, the father-of-three jumped at the opportunity to become the south west manager, a role which expanded 10 years ago when regions were merged to include areas such as the Isle of Wight.
His base has been at the Little Valley animal shelter in Exeter and he is sad to be stepping down at a time when the charity's resources are being stretched to breaking point.
He said: "The sort of cases we have had to deal with have changed a lot over the years. 15 years ago we had a big problem with greyhounds being abandoned, now its Staffies and similar breeds which are very difficult to rehome.
"It has become a lot easier to buy a pet from cats and dogs to horses. I would say that 30 years ago, the only people who owned horses were people who had the knowledge needed to care for them. Now anyone with land wants to own one but they may not have the experience and education that is needed to ensure they are kept properly.
"The RSPCA currently has 800 horses in its care, more than ever before, and it costs £15 a day to keep each one."
He added: "I think deliberate cruelty is rare now. I think there is a lot of irresponsible pet ownership which leads to animals becoming distressed. If people just take the time to find out more about an animal before taking it on, the RSPCA's job would be a lot easier." His retirement will see him spend more time with his wife and Chutney, who he describes as a "sort of cocker spaniel thing", and his fondest memory of his time with the RSPCA will be seeing the hard work that the paid staff and volunteers carried out daily.
"It was an absolute privilege to work with so many good people," he said, "Particularly the volunteers who do so much to keep the local branches open. And whenever you make a donation to somewhere like Little Valley, you can always be sure that your money will be used locally to support animal welfare, as well as rescue and rehabilitate hundreds of animals."