Why I refuse to give money to the RSPCA Alice Thomson June 19 2013 A once great charity’s aggressive prosecutions

and campaigns risk undermining donations to animal welfare “A dog reflects the family life,” says Conan Doyle in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. “Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones.” Our family is finally getting a dog and no doubt its character will soon reflect our own. It has taken us years, graduating from Russian hamsters to leopard geckos and chickens but we now feel responsible enough to provide a happy home for a chocolate brown cocker spaniel who was born six weeks ago next door to us in Devon. All I can think about is dog collars, vaccinations and home-cooked dog food. I am not alone. Almost a quarter of households in Britain have a dog and nearly half of us own animals. Nearly a fifth of our charitable giving goes to animals, more than to the elderly or the disabled. And we were the first country to have a charity to protect, rescue and re-home pets, farm animals and wildlife. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded in 1824, was a great British invention, created even before the police force. Today this institution is the eleventh largest charity in Britain, enjoying an annual income of more than £100 million with £50 million in legacies from grannies wanting to remember their beloved furry friends in their wills. I once spent a few days with caring RSPCA inspectors and volunteers rescuing squirrels from trees and hamsters caught in drain pipes. It continues to do this work, rehoming 64,000 animals and treating 210,000 in its clinics. Its website still provides valuable practical advice about worming and neutering. But the charity seems to be losing its way, more obsessed by animal rights causes than animal welfare. In the last few years its membership has declined to 25,000 members, compared with 1.1 million for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Farmers who used to benefit from help with animal husbandry increasingly view the organisation with suspicion. Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, recently told the RSPCA it needed to be wary of muddling charity and politics. Under its new chief executive, Gavin Grant, a former PR man, the RSPCA has campaigned vigorously against farmers willing to help with trials for the Government’s proposed badger cull to eradicate bovine TB, which kills 28,000 cows a year in the UK. Calling on consumers to boycott these farmer’s products, Mr Grant said people would not want to “buy milk from farms soaked in badgers’ blood”. Last year the Charity Commission received more complaints about the RSPCA than all but two other charities in Britain, one of which was the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Under Mr Grant the RSPCA is now thought to be Britain’s most zealous private prosecutor. It pursues around ten cases a day at a cost of more than £8.7 million a year, double the number brought in 2008; yet if it loses, the taxpayer often pays the defendant’s costs. This week details of

discussions between the RPSCA and the Charity Commission emerged; the RSPCA said it used successful prosecutions as part of campaigns after it had won. Its highest profile case has been against the Heythrop Hunt in the Prime Minister’s constituency when the RSPCA brought 52 charges against four hunt members. Two were acquitted, two pleaded guilty to four charges of hunting a wild mammal with dogs, a charge so small it is classified as “non-recordable”. They were fined £1,800 and £1,000 respectively, and the hunt £4,000, but the RSPCA had spent £326,000 of donors’ money that could have gone to rescue centres. The district judge called it “a quite staggering sum” and said he imagined “members of the public may feel that RSPCA funds can be more usefully employed”. This isn’t just about hunting. The RSPCA pursued 4,000 prosecutions last year, some against callous and brutal animal owners, but others against the elderly or frail who could have been treated compassionately rather than as criminals. Pauline Spoor, a pensioner from Manchester, was convicted and tagged for not having her arthritic dog put down. She admitted that her actions were misguided but said she couldn’t face losing him as he was her only companion. A Bournemouth woman accidentally killed her beloved cat by trying to cure it with a paracetamol but was still prosecuted by the RSPCA. The organisation is acquiring a reputation for behaving unkindly towards humans in a way that would not be acceptable towards animals. Last month one of its former inspectors, Dawn Aubrey-Ward, a mother of four, was found hanged. She had becoming embroiled in a bitter dispute with the charity after accusing it of putting down pets without justification. The RSPCA had responded to her complaints by describing her as a “disguntled former employee who was subject to a disciplinary investigation for alleged theft of animals”. A single case of this kind, however tragic, is not evidence of endemic bad behaviour. But others have made similar accusations, including a barrister, Jonathan Rich, who says he has had to give up defending clients against the RSPCA. He claims he has now spent almost £1 million defending professional allegations made by the charity — and others working with it — about his conduct, all of which have been dropped, dismissed or struck out. He believes it set out to ruin him and has “little regard for humanity”. Unsurprisingly, few staff are now prepared to speak out openly but they do off the record. “We aren’t merely disgruntled, we are alarmed about where our charity is heading,” said one West Country inspector. The RSPCA is not alone in struggling for contributions, but its high profile gives it a special responsibility not to undermine Britain’s admirable tradition for charitable giving. “These big charities have to start behaving responsibly so people don’t lose trust in all not-for-profit organisations,” explained one animal sanctuary boss. The RSPCA may gain a few big donations from wealthy individuals who are anti-hunting or badger culling, but most of their traditional donors give in an attempt to save and treat abandoned or abused animals. Mr Grant says: “Any serious brand focuses on its reputation.” I agree, and I’d point out to him that I’ve donated to the RSPCA in the past because I still remember the starving pony its inspectors rescued from an old lady’s field with my ineffectual help. But I’m not subsidising an aggressive, litigious, politicised organisation. @AliceTTimes

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