“3pm”, she said sharply. “There's no one available to speak to you now.”
And then what? “Then you fill in a form.” Could I do that now?“No, because there's no one available to interview you.”
I glanced again at all the staff behind her. Maybe I could fill in the form and leave it? You know, cut out another visit? It was a three-hour round trip, after all.
“You have to fill it in with us.” Then what?
“Then they come and visit you at home, see if your house is suitable. And then you can come back and see the dogs...”
Which were? No one would tell me. I had to jump through their hoops first, with the almost certain promise of rejection at the end of it.
It's funny how many RSPCA refuseniks you come across once you become one yourself. There was the man who was told that he could have a cat only if he built platforms under the skylights in his London flat - in case the cat climbed across the roof and fell through the window. Or the woman in a rural area who was advised to heighten her fence to 20ft, because some cats like to jump high.
When you see the “Pet Adoption Week” campaign being launched by the RSPCA next week, with Badger the starving terrier who was rescued by a television presenter, remember these stories.
I wouldn't normally have bothered to remark on this. If the charity wants to put down more animals than is necessary, that's its business. Its, and the people who fund it: the RSPCA has an annual income of more than £100 million, and about £200 million in assets, plus many millions more in its 174 branches around the country (the one that I looked up, Solent, had £3.8 million tucked away). The British give more to animal charities than to charities for the disabled. One donkey sanctuary in Devon has higher income than all the main charities fighting abuse against women combined. Still, your business. Give money to what you like.
But now the RSPCA, in its joylessness, is telling schools that they can no longer have pets. Research by the charity has found that a quarter of schools own pets, ranging from a hermit crab to a horse. Hurrah! A small piece of chaos, of life, amid the regimented drilling that we call school.
Not for much longer - the RSPCA believes there is a danger that the kids might be too noisy, or the lighting conditions could be wrong, and that the classroom pet may receive variable care from different families at evenings or weekends.
This is no joke. They really do want to stop it. The charity has sent all schools a letter warning them of their duties under the draconian Animal Welfare Act introduced at its own urging two years ago. That Act imposed a duty of care on any adult in charge of a pet, or any adult responsible for a child who is in possession of an animal.
I went to a different animal sanctuary in the end. They sent over Dave to see whether I might be able to have a cat (I was running with the cat idea by then).
A morose individual, like so many animal obsessives, Dave carefully checked for feline dangers, telling me to be sure to keep the cat shut indoors at night in case it got run over. Isn't depriving a cat of the night a bit like depriving a human being of light? Night-time hunting is what a cat does.
But then, I'm just someone who likes animals. I'm not an obsessive. I think that's healthy. I like humans too. There seems to be a distinction between being a human and being an “animal lover” akin to the difference between riding a bicycle and being a “cyclist”. The militants are similarly at a loss for any sense of humour or humanity.
In the end, we bought a puppy. Please don't tell the RSPCA.