Is the RSPCA spending its money wisely? - Veterinary Practice
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Is the RSPCA spending its money wisely?

continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern

THE RSPCA has been a much-
respected organisation over many
years for the good work it does in
rescuing animals from cruelty and
providing veterinary treatment to
animals whose owners are in need.

It has kept millions “entertained”
on prime-time television with Rolf
Harris fronting Animal Hospital and one
can also applaud the efforts it is making
in trying to improve the lot of farm
animals through its Freedom Foods
accreditation schemes. So far so good.

There are signs, though, that the
organisation is perhaps losing its way a
little. The latest of these signs is the
news that the RSPCA
recently spent over
£300,000 bringing a
prosecution against the
Heythrop Hunt for hunting
and killing foxes with

Regardless of which side of the fox
hunting debate one sits on, that
quantity of money appears to be quite
ludicrous. A view that was also
expressed by the sentencing judge.

One could argue that it is a matter
of principle that dictated the need for
the RSPCA to bring this prosecution. It
would send out a clear signal to others
that breaking the law in this way would
not to be tolerated. However, the
Hunting Act 2004 is notorious for
being a complete minefield to enforce
to the point where many police forces
appear to have given up.

Far from sending a signal to others
that killing foxes with hounds will not
be tolerated, the adverse publicity given
to this case is more likely to embolden
them. Because of the various loopholes
and exemptions within the Act, each
alleged breach needs to be assessed on
its merits and with the burden of proof
being on the prosecutor, getting unequivocal evidence of a breach is
certainly not easy and, as we have seen,
very, very expensive.

When such a vast quantity of
money is used to pursue a matter of
principle, there are two ways of looking
at it. The first is that it is justified from
the Deontological ethical school of
thought. If something is wrong, then it
is just plain wrong and shouldn’t be

The second option is to consider it
from the Utilitarian viewpoint which
states that the course of action to
follow is that which results in the
greater overall good. It is generally the viewpoint that I concur with except in
the most exceptional cases of ethical


If we look at the RSPCA’s actions from
the Utilitarian position, one can only
conclude that far more animal suffering
could have been prevented in the long
term by using such a vast quantity of
money in a different way.

Which leads me to believe one of
two things: either those at the top are
guilty of a serious case of
misjudgement; or the organisation is so
flush with money that it really doesn’t
know what to do with it all.

Either way it does not fill me with
confidence in the RSPCA’s ability to
best use all that money that comes its
way from tin rattling and the legacies of
caring but perhaps misguided people.

There are other occurrences in the
very recent past that have given me
cause for concern as to the RSPCA’s motives and judgement.

One such is the threat
from its chief
executive, Gavin Grant,
to name and shame
those farmers and
marksmen who become
involved in any future
badger cull.

Clearly, there are
people on either side of
the badger cull debate (with far
fewer individuals possessing a more
balanced middle ground view) but the
RSPCA’s stance on this clearly has
nothing to do with animal welfare.

It can only be designed as a
publicity-raising stunt presumably with
the hope of raising additional funds
which I fear it may go on to misuse
again. Naming and
shaming is also a clear
attempt at intimidation.

The reason I say
this is that leaving aside
one’s views on the
rights and wrongs of a
badger cull, one cannot
argue that it is to be
done in anything but a
humane fashion. The
cull is not really then an animal
welfare issue at all, other than in the
sense that it is likely to improve the
welfare of badgers in the cull area by
preventing many of the culled animals
ultimately dying a somewhat miserable
death from chronic TB.

The RSPCA’s motives appear then
to be those already suggested and
since public opinion (influenced no
doubt by the likes of Springwatch and
Autumnwatch) is almost certainly largely
against the proposed cull, it clearly
feels it is “backing the right horse”.

It can probably already hear the
cash tills ringing loudly as the next wave of legacies rolls in.

Of course, an organisation such as the RSPCA needs to move with the
times and address the major issues of
the day and we have clearly come a
long way since it was common for draught horses to be
overloaded and beaten
to keep them on the
move. Such issues
were the RSPCA’s
bread and butter in
the 19th and early
20th century and have
long since

Today’s issues are
more likely to be the neglect of both farm and pet animals in terms of
veterinary care, adequate nutrition,
and the ability to express normal

Such problems cannot be resolved
overnight but £300,000 would have
gone some way to assisting and would
have done far more for animal welfare
if it had not ended up in some wig-
wearing black-gowned barrister’s back

In many ways the RSPCA is at a
crossroads. The future direction it
decides to take may have far-reaching
implications for all of us.

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