By Verity Maxwell

Adelaide, March 2003




77 year old pensioners Angelina and Sydney Levey were told by an RSPCA Inspector that their 19 year old cat, Sooty-Twinkle, had to be put down, because “it was half-starved, blind and had suffered liver failure”. Sydney phoned his son, Silvano, a senior lecturer at Keele University, who made a mercy dash to save his parent’s pet moggie. The vet they consulted told Silvano the cat’s only problem was that despite its daily shampoo, it had fleas. These were eliminated, and Sooty-Twinkle is still happily padding around the Levey house. The Leveys said that “Our pet would be dead now, if we had let her go with the inspector.”  Silvano said “I would just like to urge people not to have blind faith in the RSPCA just because they expect what they say to be true.”




The Sooty-Twinkle story is from the UK, where controversy has begun to swirl around the august institution of the RSPCA, and where this story is but one of many that people are collecting to build up a picture of the RSPCA as a bureaucratic and heartless organization. The RSPCA is very good at impression management and PR work, they say, but doesn’t deliver the goods. Their primary concern has become how to keep the money flowing. The RSPCA budget is almost entirely funded by donations. RSPCA staff are paid handsomely, and get free housing loans. The UK’s ‘Director-General” since 1991 is ex-Major General Peter Davies, who gets paid ninety thousand pounds stirling per annum. They have just built a new Head Quarters costing ten million pounds. Other newly built local facilities now house more staff and less animals.  Then there is the story of the RSPCA facility at Swansea. After ten years of fund-raising they felt ready to build a new and better center.  But the money ran out!  It now has excellent and spacious administrative offices, but room to keep just 27 dogs, whereas they had previously been able to house 140. Presumably the dogs that can no longer be housed will put down immediately, on the grounds of their age, unlikelihood of being re-homed, or some asserted (but unproven) defect?  Perhaps 27 dogs are enough to create photo opportunities for the impression managers. (See details at




A member of the British RSPCA Council, Margaret House, was expelled over ten years ago because she was asking questions about RSPCA priorities, and had begun to publish Watchdog, a newsletter circulated to RSPCA members, critical of the RSPCA. She was re-instated after taking her case to court, and she continues to publish. She is pleading for an investigation of the management of the RSPCA budget. “I believe that the Government should conduct an inquiry into the powers exercised by the RSPCA Council, and also into the use of the society's funds,” she said. (




In Wales the farmers reckon the RSPCA is made up of a bunch of “unreasonable extremists whose main aim seems to be the kudos gained from glamorous prosecutions”. They feel so strongly about the predatory character of the RSPCA’s relationship with the farming community that they have formed a Self Help Group (SHG) to defend themselves.  You can read what they have to say at : 


Agreeing with the observation that RSPCA is an extremely wealthy and powerful organisation, not at all under-resourced, they are most upset that this money provides the RSPCA with apparently unlimited funds to spend on prosecution costs.





They deeply regret that the ranks, the uniforms and the name RSPCA “serve to impress both members of the public and, unfortunately, some magistrates”.


RSPCA prosecutions, they say, are nearly always of fairly hapless individuals.




I am reminded of the sad case of Glynn Robertson here in Australia (briefly reported in The Australian on 11th October 2001. He was jailed for shooting an RSPCA Inspector in the face with a shotgun. This sounds terrible. We ask what were the preceding circumstances? And we discover that the RSPCA Inspector had come on to his property and simply shot several of his sheep. Well, we do need more information. But it seems likely that the RSPCA Inspector was over-bearing, rude and not of a mind to negotiate. We have to ask what kind of behaviour would prompt an average kind of bloke on the land to actually get out a gun and shoot.  It would also be interesting to find out what legal rights if any the Inspector had to be on the property. The story as reported in the newspaper includes the interesting information that Mr. Robertson died in jail, and that his estate was plundered by the RSPCA to the tune of $150,000.




So – is the RSPCA in Australia more interested in money than in animals, do they have excessively plush facilities and high salaries, and do they use prosecutions as an easy way of getting cheap publicity and a public image that is unsupported by what they actually do? 


Certainly in Australia the RSPCA still has a generally good reputation – they are seen as tackling a hard job, they have more wins than losses, and they are regarded as a bulwark against psychopaths who obtain pleasure from hurting animals. They may not be able to cope with every problem, but that is generally thought to be an issue of resourcing, not a fundamental problem of RSPCA priorities. Perhaps we need to look more closely.




One the main charges against the RSPCA in the UK is that they are hypocrites. In the UK they are especially upset about so-called Freedom Farms, which supposedly guarantee animal rights, but which critics characterize as ‘disgusting’.  The RSPCA gets a steady income from farms they accredit with the Freedom Farm label. This is important enough for the RSPCA to spend approximately ninety thousand pounds stirling, to investigate Council members and identify the source of the leaks that gave rise to a BBC program critical of the RSPCA-Freedom Farm link. (See details at

Perhaps the more telling datum is that they refuse to publish a list of ‘Freedom Farms” which have to be tracked down by clever sleuthing.


In Wales hypocrisy is also in focus – Welsh dog owners can’t see why the RSPCA prosecutes dog owners for tail-docking, while approving the equally nasty de-beaking of chickens. But the dogs are owned by individuals, and the chickens are on farms from which the RSPCA gets royalties. And all the RSPCA would need to do to call a halt to de-beaking is give the chickens a little more space – this would stop the pecking that prompts the de-beaking. 


In Australia we do see a steady number of prosecutions of individuals. We also see a failure to prosecute well-defended and/or powerful groups who perpetrate the most dreadful atrocities. The most notable instance here is provided by the live sheep trade.




We are well aware that the corporations and shipping companies who carry on the live sheep trade with the Muslim Middle East consign thousands of animals to death in hideous conditions in temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius. And while the RSPCA has spoken against this, it has done nothing effective to stop it. Certainly no-one has been hauled into court and made to pay massive fines.




In Australia the RSPCA has also remained silent regarding recent developments in the dairy industry, that have generated a significant increase in the size of herds. Dairy cows are now herded in numbers which preclude prevention of suffering by any cow that is off colour, or for any reason cannot keep up with the others, or with the daily automaticity of the milking-machine process. The bovine equivalent of having a headache is enough to get the defenceless milker sent off, in the equivalent of that ‘Animal Farm’ van, for slaughter as a ‘chopper cow.’ The problem of the size of the herds is exacerbated by the need to put them in the charge of employees, who have a lesser commitment to the well being of the animals than the owner who look after his own smaller herd. All the problems of factory farming have just appeared in this area. The RSPCA’s silence is deafening.




In Australia, the RSPCA’s unwillingness to offend the sensibilities of a relatively powerful religious community may be behind its grant of approval to the halal  slaughtering of animals – whereby the sheep is ‘stunned’ with a blow to the head to make it ‘lose consciousness’, and then has its throat slit, and is hung up so it can die slowly as its blood drains on the floor. How certain can we be that the sheep have really lost consciousness?  [The folk up at Waterford Corner where the proposed slaughter-house (Muslim abbatoir) will be located with council approval (because it is on land zoned ‘horticultural’) are less than impressed.]




Worse, we have instances in Australia when the RSPCA has moved beyond allowing powerful groups to get away with horrible abuse of animals, and itself takes on organizing large scale slaughters, or ‘culls’  – deemed OK so long as the way the animals are killed is deemed to be ‘humane’. These culls are normally explained as ‘necessary’ – to protect environments from over-population, and human activities from animals being a nuisance. 


Animal rights protesters campaigned in vain to save thousands of kangaroos said to be over loading the carrying capacity of the land at Puckapunyal, the army base in the southern state of Victoria. But there wasn’t even the ‘justification’ that the roos were eating grass that would otherwise have nourished sheep – not a wooly-back in sight at Puckapunyal !!!  Further, roos never breed in excess of the carrying capacity of the land – it is well-known that if there isn’t enough grass, Mummy Roo simply doesn’t give birth until there is.


Why then was the RSPCA promoting the kangaroo massacre – well, they stuck to their fairly thin and contestable opinion that there were just too many kangaroos around; but they sold the carcasses to the pet meat companies. You may make your own deductions.




Again in Victoria, animal rights protesters are fighting the RSPCA because of the organisation’s links with the egg industry. PACE farms have been the main focus of protest. The protesters say the eggs stamped as ‘barnlaid’ are a joke at the public’s expense – the barns are dreadful, and the hens kept in them are just about as badly off as the hens kept in the battery cages.  The problem is factory-farming, and the RSPCA has no business getting into bed with factory-farmers.         Why would they even think about doing such a thing? Well, say the protesters, they get a hefty amount of money from a royalty on each egg stamped by the RSPCA as barn-laid. (  and/or




Much of the public approval of the RSPCA derives from the publicity material they put out about how they find new homes for little puppies and kittens that would otherwise have no prospects. Yet their placement record is abysmal, and they have execution chambers in which every year thousands of puppies and kittens are routinely exterminated without compunction, as the RSPCA goes about its business of saving them from a life worse than death. Nationally, in Australia, in 2000-2001, apart from the dogs that were reclaimed by their owners, 20,936 were rehomed, but 25,911 were euthanased. Similarly, 63% of the cats received by the RSPCA were ‘put down’. The stats are summarised on




The RSPCA is even capable of a mass exterminations of adults dogs taken into care.  The most dramatic ‘incident’ I came across is from Wales, where Mrs. Bernice Jones spent a lifetime rescuing and caring for animals. She was secretary of the Gwent committee that ran the Newport shelter’s Ringland kennels in South Wales.  HQ determined that the Ringland shelter had too many dogs, and sent out a ‘hit squad’ that instructed the Gwent personnel that on no account was anybody to tell anyone what happened, and then proceeded to slaughter seventy dogs. They were binned before rigor mortis had set in. The kennel girls felt they had to check that they were really dead, and wept as they pulled the dogs’ bodies out of the garbage bins to make absolutely sure none were still alive. Several members of the Ghent staff were reported as feeling suicidal, and one took an overdose of pills. (




Let us go back to the claim that the RSPCA has a penchant for prosecuting hapless individuals. Why would this be their preferred modus operandi?  Observers say it regularly and predictably generates highly profitable cheap publicity that apparently provokes too many old ladies into leaving the RSPCA all their worldly wealth - on the grounds that they are doing a wonderful job of protecting animals from nasty mean human beings – who, ironically, often turn out to be fellow members of their own demographic sector!


The RSPCA, say the Welsh,  have “prosecuted, terrorised, and reviled innumerable people - most often ladies, especially those who live alone...”   (  


The Welsh have noted that individuals charged by the RSPCA are likely to be without adequate funds to obtain good legal advice. (Wealthy, powerful individuals are unlikely, there as well as here, for reasons enumerated, to be amongst those charged in the first place.)




In England Cyril Dixon (Daily Express, Jan. 28th 2003) reported the case in which a grieving mother was taken to court by the RSPCA for neglecting a pet rabbit, as she lay in hospital recovering from the loss of her unborn child. Distraught Elizabeth Vallis and husband Simon forgot to feed the white Angora when they were engulfed in sorrow after losing one of the twins they were expecting. Despite the couple explaining their dilemma, the animal charity decided to prosecute them for causing unnecessary suffering. ( How do we compare the situation of one underfed white angora rabbit with the situation of thousands of sheep dying inch-by-inch in the packed hell-holes of a cargo ship in equatorial regions.


  Elizabeth Vallis




Vulnerable individuals selected by the RSPCA for exemplary prosecution have their situation made worse because they find it hard to find anyone willing to speak on their behalf. 


“Potential professional witnesses (for instance) will often decline to even consider the case, on hearing that the RSPCA is involved.” 




The Welsh farmers are now aware of the legal framework and nature of the game-playing going on, and have pointed out to their Self Help Group that the RSPCA, has, in law,  “no rights of access, no rights to inspect animals, or to demand answers to their questions.” They go on to warn members to beware that “Nevertheless, their employees often act as if they have such rights, and proceed to ignore the civil and legal rights of others in pursuit of their ends.”


Dr. Barry Peachey has issued similar warnings regarding the way RSPCA ‘inspectors’ assume a persona and rights of entry, seizure, etc. which they do not possess. See Appendix 1.


Moreover, to be legally acceptable, seizure of an animal has to be with the agreement of the owner, or in the presence and with the agreement of a real police officer.




The British Equine Veterinarian Association (BEVA) had a Council meeting at which they discussed the way the RSPCA, in cases they knew about, appeared to prosecute cases more in order to generate publicity and gain ‘scalps’ than to look after the welfare of the horses.  They put out a statement calling for greater levels of competence in attending vets, and greater professionalism in the RSPCA. Inter alia they told their members to observe that RSPCA ‘inspectors’ had no statutory powers of entry to equine premises, stable yards or studs. . .

Full story :


There is an interesting twist on this problem with the vets. One needs to observe how the RSPCA gets ‘their’ vets to have the only professional and ‘expert witness’ voice in court either by using a well honed practice of destroying the evidence, e.g. by cremation of the animal, or the equally strategic practice of keeping the animal(s) in question in a ‘safe haven’ where the owner cannot get through the phone system (e.g. by being forced to leave messages which go unanswered) to arrange to get his or her expert to do an examination of the animal close to the time the animal was seized (and therefore with some chance of providing evidence deemed relevant by a court). A third option is, of course, to prosecute only those individuals innocent enough to think truth is an adequate defence, and that they don’t need, any more than they can afford, ‘experts’ to speak on their behalf.




In Australia ‘right of entry’ is predicated on ‘reasonable suspicion’.


But ‘reasonable suspicion’ is a shaky concept.  “Reasonable suspicion” can be generated with a single phone call from a malicious individual – or from a person, who for nasty hostile personal reasons is specifically interested in making life difficult for the target.


With the habit of inspections well-entrenched at local government level in Australia, the RSPCA has abrogated to itself rights of entry legally restricted to local government employees. Yet those rights have often been identified as the most tyrannical ‘rights’ employed by any level of government in this country. Instead of being spread around, they ought to be challenged, contained, safe-guarded and restricted.   


So the RSPCA has a well-established habit of pushing the legal boundaries to the maximum they can get away with, and relying on the vulnerability of those they target for prosecution to keep them safe from themselves being sued for unconscionable behaviour.




Other more subtle analyses of the legal abuses perpetrated by the RSPCA are now beginning to appear. I have put a sample briefing paper from Knights (solicitors of Tunbridge Wells) in Appendix 2. 




What legal rights, then,  do the RSPCA actually have in pursuing people as they do? The answer is - like the classic bully-boy, the RSPCA intimidates and threatens the vulnerable, distorts the facts, argues in bad faith, gets vets to lie, all with the aim not of preventing suffering – for which, as we have seem, they themselves are directly responsible in numerous other circumstances – but with the direct goal of ‘obtaining another scalp’, getting media coverage, improving their stats, and looking as though they are doing something really useful, so that donations will continue to flow into their coffers.  




What drives the emotional mainspring of the RSPCA inspectorate?  Well, yes, they want to keep the money flowing, and will do whatever it takes to persuade potential donors to continue funding their increasingly excessive and wasteful expenditures. If this means using well-honed techniques of intimidation, lying, victimization, and prosecutions designed to obtain media coverage, well, that’s what it takes. But is there is a deeper set of motives?


Let us disregard their PR hype about saving puppies and kittens (most of whom they kill) and re-homing strays (most of whom they kill) and caring for the sick and the wounded (most of whom they kill). Let us try and find out how the RSPCA staff really regard their work.


Interesting evidence is available from a BBC documentary (or ‘docu-soap’) made with the co-operation (or should we say collaboration) of the RSPCA in 1999. (I am indebted for my information on this to Peter Paterson’s TV Program Review of "Animal Police",  in the UK Daily Mail of February 9th 1999. Available on line at )


Let us start with the title. No subtleties here – it is called ANIMAL POLICE. So they do think of themselves as a police force (perhaps with the double charge of policing human interaction with animals, and of keeping the animals themselves in line – even when the only fault the animal might have committed is the fault of being needy.)


In the first episode the RSPCA explained how an RSPCA ‘Inspector’ is selected and trained. Now we know that ‘Inspector’ is their lowest, entry point rank. So we can start with noting an indulgence in title inflation. The next question is to what extent this indicates some felt need for personal clout. It looks as though we are dealing with an organization that provides a ‘legitimated’ expression of domineering and officious behaviour. (Insofar as this is exercised against animals, the animals have no chance of any kind of comeback. They are dispatched to the next world very quickly for the sin of not being able to cope very well in this one. Insofar as this desire to call all the shots is exercised against people, the RSPCA is usually pretty safe if it chooses vulnerable, socially isolated individuals for their exemplary prosecutions.) 


In the UK the RSPCA has 2000 applicants every year who aspire to become RSPCA Inspectors.  They select 20.  So the selection process does need to be fairly drastic. And indeed it is.  What is the first and primary quality an RSPCA ‘inspector’ must possess? Well, the entry test for a potential recruit is go to an abbatoir and shoot a cow in the head. Yes, an RSPCA ‘Inspector’ must be capable of quick clean killing. Those who fail this test are not suitable for employment in the RSPCA. Not surprisingly this thins the ranks of the applicants quite efficiently.


I am also pleased to tell you that most viewers of this episode were appalled, and that rather than prompting more donations, it is likely that the RSPCA miscalculated in coming clean with the BBC team, and many potential donors were alienated. 


“The RSPCAs pragmatic argument is that on a frosty morning on the Welsh hills, or on a motorway, an inspector might have to kill a large animal - a horse, perhaps, or a runaway circus tiger, so he or she had better be prepared, emotionally and technically,” notes Paterson.


“Most of these would-be inspectors are idealistic young people attracted by the idea of helping animals and ending cruelty. Yet, as well as personally having to kill a cow, they learn that the organisation they wish to join dispatches 90,000 animals a year 'most of them sick or injured' - and that, assuming they pass the course, they will often be expected to kill.”




The RSPCA’s penchant for killing is further documented in the story of Corky, a 14 year tabby who went missing. His owner reported him this to the RSPCA shelter in the neighborhood. He gave the RSPCA a full description. He called several times in the days that followed, drawing a blank each time – until six days after the original phone call.  When he made that last call the RSPCA staff told them that Corky had in fact been with them the entire previous week, but, they were so sorry, he’d been put down just hours before the last phone call. It seems that Corky had been picked up the day before he was reported missing and they hadn’t checked back prior to the initial report. “Well” , said the RSPCA staff member sanctimoniously, “it just goes to show the importance of having identification tags on your animals”. Full story :


Tommy, a valuable tortoise owned by Mrs. Barker since he was a wee thing 40 years before, was put out into the street by new neighbours who weren’t sure why he had tried to take a small stroll in their backyard. Another neighbour further up called the RSPCA and an inspector came around to collect him. There followed a saga of phone calls, rudeness, insistence that the ‘terrapin’ that had been collected couldn’t possibly have been the missing tortoise, and so on. Mrs. Barker was reassured that collected animals were not euthanased for at least seven days. But on the sixth day the RSPCA finally got back to Mrs. Barker’s concerned neighbour who had been helping her with all these calls, to say that the tortoise (still referred to as a terrapin) was dead. How was this possible!!!??? Outrage, anger – all were ignored as the RSPCA staff person calmly explained that the female inspector had given him a lethal injection the day she had picked him up. It seems she had put the tortoise in a cat basket in the back of her van, but the stupid creature kept trying to get out. So to save herself any further botheration she got out her injection kit and made an end of him. Full story :




The essential core characteristic for those chosen to become RSPCA ‘inspectors’ is clearly not a love of animals or a desire to protect or help them, to feed them when they are hungry, and bandage them when they are wounded. St. Francis would not have lasted long in the RSPCA, indeed would not have passed the entry test. Our RSPCA ‘inspectors’ are those who dress up a hidden, denied, and perhaps unconscious but essentially sadistic desire to kill with mealy-mouthed aphorisms about needing to be cruel to be kind.




We assume that the RSPCA understands to a degree how the nasty reality conflicts with the image they wish the public to have. They seem to think that asking for our sympathy will get the public on side. So in public they cry crocodile tears in bucketfuls, and beat their breasts in sorrow at the terrible things they say they have to do.  Occasionally the light reaches into the dark corners. Bernice Jones saw the truth when she witnessed the slaughter of those seventy dogs at the Ghent shelter, where she had worked for twenty-eight years, and was instructed along with all present that no-one should tell anyone about what was done that day.




One interesting anomaly is the RSPCA’s apparently firm belief that if killing is done cleanly and quickly then it is OK. To see how outrageous this is, consider our hypothetical confrontation with the dilemma of what to do about a two year old child.  Its parents, let us say, have just been killed in a road accident. There are no living relatives, or friends, or anyone else who was in a position to take care of this child. So we get an officer from the RSPCH (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Humans) to put a bullet into the child’s head. We are being cruel to be kind, we have to do this to save the child (from a life worse than death). It didn’t know it was coming. It died quickly without pain. All’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds. The RSPCH could find a lot of work to do in Rio de Janeiro – even though rumour has it that the ordinary police do in fact provide the street kids there with the kind of quick dispatch described.




Public awareness that an animal in a shelter is most likely to be in dire trouble has now spread far enough into the community that an organization has appeared in response. The acronym, CAPACS, stands for CAmpaign to Protect Animals in Charity Shelters. It works to protect animals from the protectors!!!  ( )




In a newspaper piece entitled “Gold gong for a dog's sad tale” Julia Thrift reported the RSPCA’s advertising coup, the winning of the top award for the best radio commercial in 2000. It takes 60 seconds, and purports to be a dog speaking : 


VOICE OVER: I'm not very well. At least I don't think I am. Actually I feel fine but I must be ill because I'm here. I'm where you go when you're not very well. I must be really quite bad because I've just had an injection to make me better. My friend brought me here which shows he cares. I didn't think he did at first. But on the way here he was very nice. Very nice. Feel tired now ..very tired, here on this table where they put me down. Put down ..tired ..make better ..injection ..very tired ………FEMALE VOICE-OVER: Every Christmas the RSPCA has to rescue thousands of unwanted animals. If you give a damn, don't give a pet.”


Of all the RSPCA atrocity stories I have come across in preparing this piece, this is the one that most churns my stomach. The sickening smarm of it. The cruel joke of calling a lethal injection a form of rescue. It is no wonder that those members of the public who encounter the RSPCA at work are ringing alarm bells everywhere. And here, again, we see the worm in the heart of the rose, and it is murder, killing, presented as ‘necessary’, as done ‘humanely’ (?!!) as demonstrating the responsible and caring nature of the RSPCA, even when they are ‘forced’ to terminate trusting, healthy animals. To see the full ad story follow the link from the animadversion page.





As an aside at this point, I’d like to draw attention to the strange linking of the ‘need’ to euthanase with the giving of animals (usually puppies or kittens) as Christmas presents.  The RSPCA and its followers argue that to do so invites the abandonment of the kitten or puppy at an RSPCA shelter at the end of the summer holidays, with euthanasia the commonest exit pathway for any animal left at a shelter. I don’t believe that members of the public who spend good money to buy their child a kitten or puppy at Christmas (which is after all the celebration of the birth of a baby) will abandon that kitten or puppy when school starts, or when they decide to go on a holiday or whatever. Basic commonsense suggests that parents who were so inclined would choose some other gift. Basic observation of human nature suggests that within a month or two of living with a puppy or kitten it becomes a loved member of the household. There is other evidence (see suggesting that the RSPCA would like to put pet-shops, and ‘backyard breeders’ out of business, in line with their political alliance with registered breeders and vets, and consistent with their own direct economic interest in selling animals from their shelters. These animals are publicised as strays, and described as a proper object of charitable impulse – but they are certainly not cheap, and the profit margin on each animal that is ‘re-homed’ makes this effort also a contribution of RSPCA coffers. I am not certain that this is the whole story. It has to be part of it.



Much of the positive reputation enjoyed by the RSPCA is entirely due to skilled Public Relations hype. Anyone wanting to do anything to add to the fortunes of the RSPCA should take care to inform themselves as fully as possible regarding the likely use of their funds. Don’t take this summarizing article as gospel. Look up the references yourself. Go visit their facilities. Ask questions. Check their stats – e.g. on the proportion of re-homed animals compared to the proportion who are ‘put down’.


Confronted with news of an RSPCA prosecution, try and read between the lines. Assess, for instance by noting the amount of media coverage generated, the publicity value of the prosecution to the RSPCA. Check the relevant social variables – e.g. is the person being prosecuted an individual living alone on limited resources, and unlikely to be able to resist the RSPCA juggernaut. Next time there is a large scandal about real cruelty to animals perpetrated by large corporations, or powerful individuals, or institutions, watch what the RSPCA says - and compare it with what they do. Look up their annual budget figures, and ask if they use the money they get wisely. How much goes on salaries, fancy buildings and other career pleasantries, and how much on feeding and caring for needy animals. 


Perhaps the best advice is – practice skepticism! 


Other web sites dealing with the activities of the RSPCA, especially in Australia, are planned. They should go up shortly. Look out for them.



The Law and the RSPCA


By Dr. Barry Peachey LLB(Hons), LLM, PhD, FCollP, MBAE, ACIArb, FETC


THIS ARTICLE is written in my joint capacities as Legal Adviser to a number of dog organisations, and Chairman of the Legal Aid Working Party of the British Academy of Experts.


I had been approached by a number of dog people, and by fellow professional members of the Academy, and asked to clear up a number of misconceptions about the RSPCA and the law that appear to be widely held and indeed publicly fostered by the Society itself.


*          The RSPCA is a charity.

*          The Inspectorate is NOT a public law enforcement body.

*          Society Inspectors have NO special legal powers whatsoever.

*          They have NO special powers to arrest offenders.

*          They have NO right to enter your home to inspect your animals or to demand that you answer any of their questions.

*          They have NO right of access to shows, fairs and markets other than as members of the public, and can only carry out any law enforcement function as an assistant to a police-officer, upon that officer’s request.

*          They have NO power to stop, obstruct or otherwise detain any vehicle carrying animals.

*          Whilst the Society’s staff issue criminal proceedings against offenders, they do so by way of private prosecution.

*          Members of the Inspectorate wear uniforms which make them as much like police officers as the law will allow. They are not. The LOWEST "rank" in the Inspectorate is Inspector (apart from Trainee Inspectors). Above that they have "Chief Inspectors", "Superintendent",  and "Chief Superintendents". None of these ranks are officers of the Crown, and have no legal significance whatsoever. They are designed to impress the public.


Members of the Inspectorate in senior positions have on various occasions stated in public that they have a cavalier disregard for the law, and the protections that it affords to suspects. On September 3, 1992, Chief Inspector John Paul gave evidence at Richmond-on-Thames Magistrates’ Court in the case of David MacKay. During cross examination, defense barrister Mr Thomas Derbyshire asked the RSPCA man: "Are you telling this court that you encourage your staff to flagrantly disregard civil and legal rights in the pursuit of your ends?" Chief Inspector Paul replied: "My duty is to look after the animals, and if that involves infringing people’s civil or legal rights then so be it. The animals cannot defend themselves so we have to do it for them."


It is a matter of public record that in this case the RSPCA had illegally entered property, and illegally seized animals The recent RSPCA television series Animal Squad – Undercover which appeared on, Channel 4 featured Chief Superintendent Donald Balfour, Head of the RSPCA Special Operations Unit. He was asked on camera by a police officer if he had any legal powers to do what he was proposing to do. His reply was "Officially no, but we do it all the time."……………





Knights, Solicitors of Tunbridge Wells, have put out briefing paper on the legal aspects of “DEFENDING RSPCA ANIMAL WELFARE PROSECUTIONS”. It makes for very interesting reading. Go to for the full article.


They point out that the RSPCA starts off with a great advantage in any case it chooses to run with, since ill-treating animals is a repugnant crime which the community rightly abhors, and because the accusation by itself is taken to be true. This, as Knights have pointed out, makes it peculiarly difficult to get a fair trial. “Many cases should not and would not have been brought had the subject matter not been about animals.” To establish the truth and assess what it might mean is very difficult in these circumstances of emotional hostility. In their notes, drawn up to advise solicitors who find themselves defending an animal ill-treatment case, Knights notes the way in which a court will quite often make a criminal of a well-meaning and caring defendant, just because his or her husbandry did not reach the standard insisted upon by the prosecutor   (or alternately, “because his or her husbandry did not conform to rules and specifications defined by the prosecutor as ‘normal’.”


In the course of analyzing the legal games played around prosecutions, after noting that “The usual procedure by RSPCA employees who deal with the majority of animal cruelty allegations is, upon the receipt of information, to visit the person and attempt to gain entry to obtain evidence and interview them.…………..”  Knights also observe that


“Animals which are seized are usually examined by a veterinary surgeon appointed by the RSPCA and thereafter usually disappear to a safe-haven and remain there until the end of the court case.”


“Contact with the RSPCA is difficult. They have a national telephone number for regional centres and only messages can be left there. The speed with which the RSPCA answers, if at all, is entirely in the hands of the RSPCA; the longer an animal seized by them remains unexamined by a veterinary surgeon appointed by the prospective defendant, the more difficult it is for the defence to prove the condition of the animal at the time of the alleged offence.”


“We find time and time again an attitude whereby a person is led to believe prior to interview that it is not a particularly serious matter and a little help would be appreciated to clear it up - and then the person finds just within the six month limitation on proceedings, a summons requiring him to defend himself in court, or admit that he has committed the offence. It is surprising just how long it seems to take from the time of an alleged offence to lay the informations: they tend to be laid a week or two before the six months' limitation expires. This, of course, has the effect of making it very difficult for a defendant to gather evidence because so much time has passed since the incident. With the new moves in the courts to hasten matters, the defendant is left with a very short time, often a matter of weeks, to decide upon plea and a matter of a month or two in which to prepare a defence if the matter is to be contested. The prosecution have had almost six months in which to prepare their case.”


It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the art of prosecuting has become a refined game in which the RSPCA is the experienced player and the person charged is lured into a series of no-win moves, essentially because he or she foolishly regards the situation as fairly straightforward – and especially if he or she does not feel guilty of any offence, misguidedly does believe that once the facts are on the table, everything will be OK. The target does not realize he or she has been selected for exemplary prosecution in order to get some good PR going for the RSPCA, that the RSPCA will lie through their teeth, will obtain veterinarian ‘evidence’ of extremely dubious veracity, will if possible destroy the evidence (e.g. by cremating the animal), and in every respect ignore every consideration of truth and justice in the effort to gain a conviction to boost their hit rate. Media coverage will generate public approval for the assiduous efforts of the RSPCA to protect our animals. And the figures which will adorn the year’s stats will also indicate what an excellent job the RSPCA is doing. A more cynical misuse of the legal system can in fact hardly be imagined.


Matthew Knight, senior partner in Knights Solicitors, in a separate piece discussing the legal situation of farmers and farm animals, made some comments that seem relevant to pet owners also. He wrote :  “Farmers are used to dealing with minor ailments themselves in the normal course of husbandry. Indeed, often they will have taken veterinary advice, either generally or specifically, and will be following that advice. They will be following the codes of conduct laid down in various government publications and doing their very best for the sick animal. Some RSPCA officers, however, seem to think that unless the farmer calls a veterinary surgeon to treat the animal then there is the commission of an offence of causing unnecessary suffering through an omission to call a veterinary surgeon. This interpretation of the effects of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 has yet to be tested in the higher courts and each case is usually decided on its own merits. It is certainly my view that many cases which reach the courts because prosecutions are brought by the RSPCA should not be taking up court time and certainly do the animal concerned no good. However, once in court, magistrates seem most reluctant to dismiss charges brought by this charitable organisation even though a shoplifter or burglar may be given the benefit of the doubt. The farmer prosecuted by the RSPCA seems not to be.” (See article in full at Animal Welfare.htm)


In Australia the same rule seems to apply, to pet owners as well as farmers, and the pet owner who does not run to a vet for advice and assistance to deal with perfectly ordinary health issues, for which a vet has no useful answer or input, is nevertheless held liable for ‘ill-treating an animal’.

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