MP calls for reforms in RSPCA policies
THE RSPCA came under attack again last week, following a BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme which questioned certain ethics followed by the Society when dealing with alleged cases of cruelty.
Whilst the world of pedigree dogs and exhibitors remains dumb-founded by the ‘mutant’ comments of RSPCA Chief Vet, Mark Evans, the programme aired on Tuesday, September 23, questioned many aspects of the RSPCAs codes of practice, and included an interview with an MP, a barrister, as well as the RSPCA’s Prosecution case Manager, Phil Wilson and Chief Officer, Phil Wass.
The question put to the panel was based on fears that many feel that the RSPCA is too zealous in its prosecutions, and while the charity prides itself on freeing animals from cruelty, there are critics who believe pet owners are becoming victims of allegedly overzealous investigations and prosecutions policy.
According to barrister Nick Tucker if a recent case had succeeded, ‘every child who did not take their sick pet to the vet could have been prosecuted’. He says this was the implication in the case of a 15-year-old girl who found herself in court after following her father’s advice not to take her injured pet cat to the vets. The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, found her cat had a damaged tail, her father suggested waiting a couple of days to see if the wound healed. The cat was reported to the RSPCA who then prosecuted the girl’s father - who admitted an offence of neglect - only to see his daughter accused later of the similar offence, with the RSPCA saying she had a duty of care to the cat. This case was rejected but the RSPCA took it to the court of appeal, which rejected its case.
Phil Wilson made no apologies when asked about this case by the programme’s presenter: ‘We only went to court for one reason to seek clarification of the law, which we now have.’ The decision in this case is an important precedent.”
The RSPCA in England is responsible for bringing its own, private prosecutions. Barrister Jonathan Rich told the programme that he felt this failed to match the standards of prosecution that the Crown Prosecution Service applies to criminal cases and argued that ‘in prioritising the interests of animals it means other people are prosecuted alongside those who genuinely mistreat animals.’
Mr Rich said: "It might sound attractive to prioritise the interests of animals but look what it means for a farmer who is looking to retire, whose cattle have not had the right treatment for a day or two - is it really in the interests of the public for him to be prosecuted for cruelty?"
The RSPCA said it only prosecutes in the public interest after taking advice from independent vets and it only prosecutes around half of the cases presented to it
Chief officer of its inspectorate, Tim Wass, has said new animal welfare legislation and more inspectors would help the RSPCA intervene to prevent animal cruelty and this would help lower the number of prosecutions.
However, Annette Nally believes she received bad treatment at the hands of the RSPCA.
Ms Nally, who looks after rescue dogs, was caring for an Alsatian bitch, Holly, who suffered from a long term and incurable gastric problem which restricted her diet and meant she would never gain much weight. The RSPCA seized the dog in 2006, claiming she was not treating it dog properly and Ms Nally was prosecuted.
Ms Nally told the programme that, despite constant reassurance from her that the dog was lean owing to the nature if its illness, RSPCA officers insisted on visiting her premises weekly and throwing food over to Holly, which in fact made her more poorly. In Ms Nally’s words it ‘felt like harassment.’ She cont-inued: ‘it just went on for months and months, they’d be dropping food in and then two days later they’d be back complaining about the mess which Holly had made as a direct result of them feeding her. I pleaded with them not to do it to no affect. They just kept leaving welfare notes.’
Wrangling over the disclosure of prosecution documents delayed the trial and she was not able to discover her pet’s fate. Ms Nally’s defence convinced the court that in the time the RSPCA kept Holly, it had not treated the dog any any more effectively than its owner. She was cleared but only discovered Holly’s fate when after an order from the judge, the RSPCA’s lawyers admitted the dog had died in their custody. ‘I was absolutely devastated, the whole idea of going through this was to get her back," she told the BBC.
However, Mr Wilson defended the decision, "There was sufficient evidence to take this case to court. There was a case to answer. I accept the reason why she was acquitted - it’s the proper function of the court."
Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead, also appeared on the show to speak of his fury at the recent prosecution of a 71-year-old woman in his constituency, who ran a voluntary animal shelter.
Mr Field, who backed the woman in court, told File On 4 that the creatures she looked after "lived the life of Riley" in her care.However, the RSPCA said the woman ignored a written warning and had refused help.
Pat Seager admitted charges relating to animal neglect earlier this month, though Mr Field took the unusual step of writing on her behalf to the court.
Not the way
Mr Field told the BBC that he felt the pensioner had done ‘a lot of good work for animals over the years’ and he had witnessed this at first hand. "The whole thing makes my blood boil…it is so unjust," he added. he also said that her case was not uncommon. "We need organisations like the RSPCA to properly protect and promote animal welfare and this isn’t the way to do it."
Mr Field said RSPCA members needed to put pressure on its council for a change in policy otherwise it ought to face an external inquiry. Readers will recall that Our Dogs reported in our August 1st edition on the number of prosecutions being taken out against disabled people as reported in Disability Now magazine, especially people with mental disabilities.
Phil Wilson told the BBC the woman had been prosecuted as a last resort.
"She was offered free veterinary care, we offered to take animals into our care," he said.
The MP’s concerns however were again echoed by Jonathan Rich who said he was very troubled by the sort of defendants who were becoming typical of RSPCA prosecutions.
Last week Our Dogs received a call from a Bedlington Terrier owner who had tried to report a puppy farm to the RSPCA, but instead of action being taken by the RSPCA against the puppy farmer, she found herself on the receiving end of a number of calls by the RSPCA. Telling her that if she did not let them into her property they would be back with the police they gained access. The woman, who wishes at this time to remain anonymous, told Our dogs the RSPCA inspectors always called in pairs and were ‘very aggressive and threatening’. While she was speaking to us on the telephone the door bell rang and we suggested she might like to attend to her caller. She replied she was now far too frightened to answer her door in case it was the RSPCA again.
The inspectors told her that her water bowls were too small, yet Bedlington terrier breeders she has asked have visited her property and said the water bowls are fine. Other accusations levelled against her include the fact that she does not walk her dogs every day, as she pointed out they have free access to a large garden and a one acre paddock daily, accused of having kennels smelling of urine she told Our Dogs the kennels are washed out thoroughly every day morning and evening.
Another visit the RSPCA made saw them single out an elderly 17 year old jack Russell type terrier the lady had ‘inherited’ when an elderly relative died, they claimed it was limping and had a lump on its nose. When the inspectors left the lady immediately made an appointment with her vet who examined the dog thoroughly and said he could find no lump and often and old dog might be stiff when first getting up out of its bed. Her vet is willing to write a letter supporting her as to the good care she gives to her animals and that in his opinion they are in good health.
Our Dogs has put this lady in touch with the EDDR and through them with Tina Haye the solicitor, now making her mark defending dogs and dog owners, hopefully they will be able to help to sort this case out and get a happy outcome.
the RSPCA spent £8 million bringing around 1000 prosecutions last year.
The OUR DOGS Online forum soon picked up on the airing and again showed the strength of feeling against the RSPCA from exhibitors and reputable breeders following allegations made in the BBC1 programme, Pedigree Dogs Exposed.