I work for ... The director-general of the RSPCA

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The Independent Culture
Maureen Salter is PA to Peter Davies

I've worked for the RSPCA for 20 years, under six director-generals. I joke with them that it's either because of me or in spite of me that they keep changing; each one has been entirely different from the last. On meeting the current D-G I immediately realised that he was from a military background. He used to be a general and his mind is highly organised; he knows how to approach people, but doesn't suffer fools. He's also a strict disciplinarian and goes very much by the book. I wouldn't call him anything other than Mr Davies or Director-General, and I know that he objects strongly to people he doesn't know using his Christian name.

He is potty about animals, and has three horses and various dogs and cats. When the vet said that his poorly old lurcher should be euthanased, the D-G asked him to wait a few days, until he could be there to hold the dog's paw himself. I think that says a lot about him.

There's more cruelty towards animals than ever before, but in a position like this it does no good to get emotional; unless you became hardened to the stories you would lose your job. A lot of people phone us crying their eyes out about a dog that's

been run over and broken its leg, rather than doing something about it. We've had a lot more calls since Animal Hospital was first broadcast, but people don't see the really serious cases of animal cruelty; it would be too devastating.

I get here by 8.30am and I am lucky if I leave before 5.30pm. My first job is to keep Mr Davies happy by making him a cup of coffee, then I try to get him to deal with the mail straight away. If I were inefficient I simply wouldn't be here, but if Ido make mistakes I always go to the D-G and say, "I come to you on my hands and knees." If I pussy-footed around, he wouldn't like it at all. Similarly, when he left his mobile in the back of a cab he came to me and said "I've done something silly."

I organise all the D-G's meetings, including those with the Queen's equerry who brings RSPCA concerns to her Majesty's attention. He also likes to have meetings with ministers, which it's very satisfying to arrange. I'm also often in contact with celebrities who support the RSPCA, such as Jilly Cooper, Annette Crosbie and Peter O'Sullevan.

I have to vet all the incoming phone calls. When the caller is known to me I can almost always recognise his or her voice - it is a good way of building up a rapport. If callers have had a bad morning and want to let off steam, addressing them by name tends to floor them before they've begun. It's very important not to speak RSPCA jargon, and I have to be prepared to talk to anyone. If I were an introvert, I wouldn't be here.

The worst aspect to the job is having to listen to streams of abuse from emotional customers complaining about injustices. They don't realise that the RSPCA doesn't have the right to break down doors. It isn't easy to put up with the insults, but once they have wound themselves down they are usually ready to say something intelligent. I am also careful of what I say about the RSPCA outside of work; I don't want to raise an emotional response when I'm in the middle of a nice glass of G&T. But I can't understand why people would be happy for fox-hunting to go ahead. I'm not a vegetarian but I do believe that it's wrong to put animals under stress. Farm animals never seem to cause so much emotion as companion animals and furry creatures. I don't have any animals myself, because I think that they need company during the day; instead I have a noticeboard near my desk which I've filled up with pictures of cats. I have to keep on my toes 100 per cent of the time, but I like to have some respite during my free time doing activities deliberately unconnected with the RSPCA, such as narrowboating and sailing.

There's a quiet loyalty about my boss. He's not effusive in his praise but he knows that he has my confidence. He rarely has to ask for things, because I like to be miles ahead. PAs are stuck in the background; people seem to think that the D-G gets

from A to B as if by magic - but it gives me great personal satisfaction to know that I have achieved the organisation. It's challenging work carrying enormous responsibilities, but if I didn't enjoy carrying them out I wouldn't be here.

I think that the role of a PA is becoming a lost art. Whereas I worked my way up the ladder, young ladies these days tend to come out of secretarial college believing themselves to be fully qualified. But if the DG were to ask them to find out the name and details of a contact he'd met at a cocktail party the previous night, where would they start? You can't be a successful PA until you know all the wrinkles and have the contacts at your fingertips.

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