Meet the strong women who dedicated their lives to fighting for animals

Meet the strong women who dedicated their lives to fighting for animals

A blog by our press officer, Hatti Mellor.

The RSPCA has been shaped by pioneering women throughout our history, from the Victorian age right up to the present day. Without them, we would never have been able to rescue the animals that we have.

RSPCA women throughout history

Many people know that Queen Victoria bestowed a Royal Patronage on 'SPCA' in 1837 - whilst she was still Princess Victoria - and in 1840 gave the charity it's Royal Warrant. She also played an active role by writing letters through her private secretary expressing concern for the 'protection and safety' of cats and talking of her 'horror' at animal suffering.

But it wasn't just Queen Victoria who played a vital role in shaping the RSPCA into what we know it as today. Angela Burdett-Coutts became Vice Patron of the RSPCA in 1839 and 1870. Later, along with Catherine Smithies, she founded the Ladies Committee at the RSPCA too. The original minutes still exist at our headquarters today.

The committee set out to improve the welfare of animals by encouraging children and young people to sign up to a group known as the 'Band of Mercy'. Burdett-Coutts realised that education was key to improving the lives of animals and she wanted schools to teach children about humanity towards animals, something we still campaign for today through our Generation Kind work.

In 1871, she became the first woman to be a baroness in her own right and in the same year she was the first woman freeman of London. She died in 1906, having dedicated her life to philanthropy, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

68% of our frontline staff are female

Fifty-years later in 1952, we appointed our two first female 'patrol officers' Ninette Gold and Pat Jones. A news report from the time shows the first female patrol officers (whose roles were equivalent to that of inspectors) congratulated on their appointment by our vice-chairman at the time, Wallis Power. Ninette Gold, aged 19 had been a ballet dancer before joining the RSPCA and Pat Jones, aged 32, had no previous occupation. The RSPCA currently has 102 animal rescue officers, 274 inspectors, and 32 chief inspectors, of which 68 percent are female.

Right up to the present day, we have so many female leaders and role models to be proud of. Inspector Herchy Boal has been on the team for 20 years - she has taken part in the Channel 5 series The Dog Rescuers, has continued working throughout the pandemic, and takes on many extra duties such as performing animals inspector. She's also one of the leading frontline experts on the puppy trade and has two rescue dogs of her own.

Inspector Herchy Boal tells us about her life as an inspector

We caught up with Herchy to talk about her career to date. You can also follow Herchy's day to day work on Twitter @HerchyBoal.

How has your role changed since the pandemic started?

There have been some very obvious changes - wearing a mask and limiting visits into people's homes. This can include asking someone to bring a dog to the door for example - although this can be difficult with cats who don't always like doing what they are told! It's important to regularly clean your hands anyway when handling animals but we're now more conscious than ever of sanitizing regularly.

One of the hardest things has been seeing the human difficulties brought on by the pandemic as well as the impact on animals. I remember one chap had six or seven cats, but as he was suffering from COPD, he couldn't get out to the shops and found it really difficult to get the food he needed for them.

I was able to help by bringing food for his cats. I've also had people in their 80s who need help getting their animals to the vets for check-ups or picking up prescriptions and so I've stepped in to help transport their animals when needed too.

How do you see your role changing over the coming years?

The last 20 years has seen so many changes, particularly when it comes to social media and the rise of camera phones. It has revolutionised the way people report animal welfare issues to us and can be incredibly useful. Social media also has its downsides and one picture doesn't always tell a full story, so issues can get misportrayed.

I would always advise people to think carefully before posting anything. I am looking forward to seeing how the RSPCA continues to adapt in these changing times and I hope to continue to work here for a long time to come.

What do you wish more people understood about the work the RSPCA does?

The dedication of the people who work here. It's a 24-hour job for lots of us - you don't switch off from caring about animals. I was on holiday in Mauritius when I heard a noise coming from a car and realised there was a kitten stuck in the engine, which I then rescued.

All my neighbours know what I do for a living and I have often been out in my pyjamas and wellies to free trapped animals. However, sadly, the RSPCA cannot do everything - we are a charity with limited resources - and that is especially true at the moment. Often we're tied by what we can do legally and it isn't the case that we don't want to be helping.

You can read a full interview with Herchy in the upcoming edition of Animal Life magazine.

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