In an alarming move, the Environment Food and Affairs Committee has requested that the RSPCA (the world’s oldest animal rights organisation) take a less active role in bringing animal abusers to justice. Gudrun Ravetz, president of the British Veterinary Association, has said that the reasoning behind this is mysterious, since the RSPCA is responsible for 90% of all animal welfare prosecutions. “… it is unclear who else would have the resources to take on this vital role, Ravetz said.
Specialist investigators, not prosecutors
Neil Parish, chair of the EPAC Committee, said the decision was based partly on the RSPCA’s success at investigating cases of animal cruelty. However, he added that the committee believes the Crown Prosecution Service is in a far better position to prosecute cases. By dividing the responsibility, the RSPCA can concentrate on what it does best, which is look out for the welfare of animals, while prosecution specialists take care of justice.
Not in the interests of animals
However, criminal prosecutions for animal abuse in the UK are currently among the lowest in all of Europe. Surely dropping this level by 90% is not in the best interests of British animals? Furthermore, if the RSPCA is reduced to simply a reporting role, are the various legal branches involved in prosecution able to handle a 90% increase in their workload?
Not in the interests of the public
The RSPCA has welcomed several aspects of the report, particularly the new proposed legislation on the breeding and sale of animals. However, the organisation’s chief executive has stated that the most recognised British animal institution has no intention of relinquishing its role in the prosecution of animal offences.
The RSPCA has a prosecution success rate of 92%, which is much higher than the Crown Prosecution Service. Moreover, the fact that 89% of the British public supports its role in prosecution is basically a mandate from the people of Britain that this role isn’t reduced.
Other animal rights organisations, including Dogs Trust, World Horse Welfare and the PDSA, are unequivocal in their support for the RSPCA in its traditional role. They believe that many prosecutions for animal abuse would not occur without the RSPCA playing an active role. It’s also important to remember that the public supports the RSPCA through donations. It provides this key service to the UK public at zero cost to the taxpayer.
Breeding restrictions create a new problem
The report makes several good recommendations, including emphasis on communication and education regarding animal rights in general. Another positive aspect is the call for stricter regulations on the breeding and sale of animals. For instance, only welfare organisations and registered breeders are allowed to adopt out or sell puppies.
(This is all the more likely as it contains suggestions that make it more difficult for people to become registered breeders).
With nearly a million households a year seeking new puppies, demand is already outstripping supply.
Criminals are notoriously efficient at fulfilling demands that legal means can’t meet. Limiting the RSPCA’s reach creates the potential for an increase in backyard breeders, puppy mills and animal abuse.
In the first case you are taking away the people who do the most to eradicate illegal breeding and abuse. In the second, you are increasing the market for illegal pets. If you do both at once, you create a perfect storm of conditions that will lead to animal abuse.
The way forward
The government is obviously uncomfortable with a non-governmental body swinging a stick as big as the one the RSPCA wields. However, it’s clear that proposed changes would create a massive gap in the ability to bring animal abusers to book. Fortunately, the RSPCA has no intention of complying with the new recommendations. As the old adage goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.
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