We are ambitious for animals...
A blog from Michael Ward, interim chief executive of the RSPCA.
I feel proud and privileged to be interim chief executive of the RSPCA, a charity which has worked tirelessly for 193 years to improve the lives of animals.
This year marks ten years since the Animal Welfare Act came into force, which is a chance to reflect on what it has achieved and what more needs to be done to stop the cruelty and neglect seen day-in, day-out by our frontline staff.
We continue to see calls flooding in to our 24-hour cruelty hotline, with one call about cruelty or neglect received every 27 seconds – we are needed now as much as ever.
Our inspectors see animals beaten and abused, drowned and stabbed, tortured and neglected, yet still the most appalling cases of cruelty under the Act receive, at most, a six-month jail term. This is not enough.
We’re urging the new UK Government in England and the National Assembly for Wales to introduce tougher sentencing and bring penalties for the worst acts of neglect and abuse in line with Northern Ireland where abusers can receive terms of up to five years in jail.
A focus on education
However, as our name suggests, for the RSPCA it is about preventing cruelty not just about bringing to justice people who abuse animals. For this, education is key so we can prevent cruelty before it happens.
Educating pet owners
Before the Animal Welfare Act came into force, action could only be taken once an animal had suffered but now our inspectors can intervene when an animal is at risk and crucially can advise and work with the owners to improve their care.
We know that most people don’t mean to inflict suffering on the animals in their care but poor understanding of their needs or the owner’s own vulnerability or circumstances mean that they sometimes aren’t able to do their best for that animal.
We also know that our advice is successful in over nine out of ten cases, meaning we don’t have to take any further action. The welfare of the animal is improved and the animal’s owner understands the needs of the animals in their care.
Prosecutions for animal cruelty are now lower than ten years ago. The Act is working.
Launch of a new prevention programme
However, we need to do more, to educate owners before they get an animal, to help those most in need. Which is why this year we will be launching our new prevention programme, which includes:
- reaching more young people through our schools’ work and convincing the Government to put animal welfare on the national curriculum
- working with young offenders to understand the root causes of cruelty, and how we can better target our educational messages to those who need them
- working with vulnerable people, such as those who hoard animals, so that we can help them
- making the owning of animals a responsibility rather than a right by getting better standards and information into legislation for those that buy and sell animals.
We want to be on the front foot rather than just picking up the pieces. And yes we are ambitious for animals. Our goal is to see a 25 percent reduction in animal cruelty and mistreatment by 2021.
Tackling the abandonment of animals
We want to do much more to tackle the thousands of animals abandoned every year by owners who can no longer care for them or simply no longer want them. The summer is our busiest time, with one pet rescued every hour by our frontline staff. These figures are shocking.
Our rehoming centres do an amazing job rehabilitating these animals, many of which are incredibly poorly or traumatized by abuse or neglect, and finding them new loving homes. But it places an incredible strain on our resources.
As well as educating people about what it takes to care for an animal, promoting neutering and microchipping, we need to do more to support people to keep their pets.
We know that people’s circumstances can change quickly and is a key reason why some people feel they can no longer keep their animals. So we need to work with key stakeholders, such as housing providers, to make it easier for people to keep their pets with them when their circumstances change, such as moving house.
Building on the Animal Welfare Act
The Animal Welfare Act was a landmark law and meant that we could do so much more to help animals and their owners. It works, but now is the time to do more to prevent people breaking the law, before that call is made to our help line.
Ten years on, there is so much more that we want to do and I plan to drive forward our aims to change the lives of millions of animals. We are the voice for all animals and by promoting better and more targeted education, underpinned by effective legislation and enforcement, we will make sure they are heard.
We rely the animal loving public to support us to do our best for animals We want them to join us in this journey – whether it’s volunteering, rehoming a pet, joining our campaigns, or donating to our vital work.