Frozen 'duck' in Middlesbrough and scary 'snake' in Cumbria make RSPCA's funniest call outs of 2021

Credit: RSPCA

The RSPCA receives a call to help an animal in trouble every 30 seconds. In 2021, inspectors responded to more than 280,000 incidents.

While officers have to deal with a lot of distressing and shocking cases, they are also called out to some rather strange situations - often, many turn out to be a mistake.

Here are some of the funniest call outs the animal welfare charity says it had in 2021:

Get stuffed!

The dog in question turned out to be a toy tiger Credit: RSPCA

Inspector Dale Grant says he was concerned when he received a call reporting a dog squealing and crying, tethered tightly to a canal boat in London.

Dale says, “I was really worried that I could be walking into a dire situation involving a dog in a really dangerous predicament but it turns out I needn’t have worried,” Dale said, “The ‘dog’ in question turned out to be a stuffed toy tiger that had been tied onto the bow of the boat!"

What the duck!?

Frozen 'duck' in a pond in Middlesbrough Credit: RSPCA

With freezing conditions and snowfall across most of the north of England, RSPCA animal rescue officer Shane Lynn rushed into action when a report of a frozen duck stuck in an icy pond in Middlesbrough came in.

Shane says, “The caller claimed the bird had been stuck in the frozen pond for two days and hadn’t been able to move. As soon as I arrived and located the pond I realised my help wouldn’t be required as the duck was in fact a plastic ornament!”

‘Chair’s something in the water!’

A caller thought this plastic chair was a bird that needed rescuing Credit: RSPCA

A passing motorist contacted the RSPCA for help on 1 February after spotting a swan in peril on the River Stour in Dorset. RSPCA officer Graham Hammond was called out to help the bird said to be tangled in electric fencing on the water after the river burst its banks and flooded into neighbouring fields off New Road in Bournemouth.

He says, “I went out to check on the bird and had prepared to call out the water rescue team for back-up but, before they hit the road, I managed to get closer and get a good look at the ‘bird’ - which turned out to be a white plastic chair floating in the water!”

That’s hiss-terical!

The snake turned out not to be dangerous at all as it was made of plastic Credit: RSPCA

A member of the public called in the RSPCA and emergency services after spotting a snake on their roof in Pontefract, West Yorkshire. He said he couldn’t sleep as he was worried it might be dangerous and the responding police officer was concerned so advised calling in the charity. Animal rescue officer Ollie Wilkes attended the scene on 22 March.

He says, “It was difficult to see in the dark so the fire and rescue service used a long hook to pull the snake down and we very quickly realised there was nothing for anyone to worry about; because it was a headless rubber toy! I suspect a bird of prey had swooped down and picked it up before dropping it on the roof when it realised it wasn’t a tasty treat!”

Miss-taken identity

Inspector Kim Walters came to the rescue after a man in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, called the RSPCA about a large snake that was stuck in his sofa. The man explained he’d bought the sofa a few months earlier and he could feel the body of a snake under the cushions. Kim was doubtful about the snake but went out to assist the man who was very frightened; and discovered it was just a part of the sofa!

Toy-tally amazing

The snake turned out to be nothing more than a piece of sofa Credit: RSPCA

Dealing with potentially dangerous and unpredictable animals is all part of the job for RSPCA inspectors, however, on occasion some calls don’t quite turn out as expected, as RSPCA inspector Demi Hodby discovered. A man had spotted a 3ft-long snake while clearing the garden of his house in Prestwich, Greater Manchester, on March 30 but continued his work keeping a close eye on the reptile as he didn’t want it to disappear into nearby shrubbery which he had cut down. When the snake hadn’t moved two hours later he called the RSPCA.

Demi says, “When I arrived I had my grasping pole ready to safely grab the snake. It's really important to approach these situations to confine the animal as safely as possible, particularly if it’s suspected that the snake may be venomous. However, it didn’t take me too long to realise that this snake was the plastic kind.” The man, who didn’t want to be named, said: “I was just cutting back some shrubbery when I noticed it. It looked so camouflaged in the leaves and was curled around so it looked convincing. When the inspector came and we both realised it was a toy we had to laugh about it - it was such a funny moment.”

What rubbish!

This fly-tipped pile of rubbish threw one concerned passerby off Credit: RSPCA

RSPCA animal rescue officer David Holgate expected a sad scene after being called by a member of public to a rural spot near Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, on 15 April.

He says, “A passerby had spotted a number of black bin bags, one of which was split open and the body of a dead badger could be seen poking out. I thought I’d be investigating the suspicious death of a beautiful badger but I was quite relieved when I arrived to find fly tipped rubbish bags containing garden waste. The upturned contents of a flower pot - clumped soil and plant roots - did look suspicious from a distance.”

Is it a bird, is it a plane?

The caller thought it was a distressed bird tethered to the building Credit: RSPCA

Animal rescue officer Lisa Miller rushed to Woolwich, London, on 23 April after a member of the public called concerned about a bird that was tangled in a flag pole on the roof of a black of flats.

Lisa says, “The woman had spotted the bird caught in string and tangled with the flag pole. She said the bird had been trying to fly away but couldn’t free itself. When I arrived at the scene I quickly established that I wouldn’t need to launch a rescue mission; as it was a plastic bird scarer! She was very embarrassed but we had a giggle and I told her she should go to Specsavers!”

A piece of snake!

The snake turned out to be part of an art installation Credit: RSPCA

RSPCA rescuer Beth Boyd had a shock when she was called to rescue a snake that turned out to be part of an art installation. She rushed to an area of woodland in Cranham, Gloucestershire, on 27 May after a member of the public reported a dumped snake that wasn’t moving.

She says, “It was a really weird job! When I arrived I quickly found the snake which was in fact a taxidermy snake arranged inside a block as part of an art piece! I did have a chuckle. I suppose art is there to cause a stir, and this certainly did! I left a note attached to the piece to explain that the snake was not real and to avoid any further call-outs.”

Taxidermist and artist Polly Morgan created the piece - called Consider the Risk - to explore issues of containment, control and concealment, and alludes to the ‘distorting effect that social media has on our physical selves’. 

Pleasssse help!

Members of the public were concerned after spotting what they described as an ‘exotic’ snake abandoned on a footpath in Hockley, Essex, just days before Christmas. RSPCA animal rescuer Natalie Read went out to help and was concerned about the snake’s welfare due to the cold, wet weather on 23 December. The reptile had been described as ‘very weak and lethargic’, which was, perhaps, unsurprising given that she discovered it was a rubber toy! 


This reptile turned out to be one of the neighbours' childrens' toys Credit: RSPCA

A woman and her son were frightened after spotting a snake sitting on a garden chair in a Cumbria garden and called the police for help who alerted the RSPCA. Animal rescuer Martyn Fletcher was nearby and attended the Workington address on 23 June; but all was not as it first seemed…

He says, “It didn’t take me too long to realise that this King Cobra was the plastic kind - thankfully too, as they are deadly venomous snakes. Obviously we are trained to be able to identify snakes but it is not so obvious to members of the public - so I understand they may have been spooked by the sighting. It appears that the toy had come from children in a neighbouring garden - so the snake has now been returned to its home!”

A RSPCA spokesperson says, “No day is ever the same at the RSPCA and we get called to the weird and wonderful as well as the sad. One thing you learn very quickly in this job is to expect the unexpected! 

“While these calls certainly gave us a chuckle there is also an important message here: we’re stretched more and more each year and, while we appreciate that all of these callers were trying to do their best and help what they believed to be an animal in need, we’d urge the public to stop, think and check before asking us for help. 

“We’d hate to send an officer out to rescue a distressed dog that turned out to be a stuffed toy or an abandoned snake that was in fact a plastic toy and miss out on rescuing a real animal in need.”