Blog

RSPCA ending private prosecutions of animal cruelty offenders.

But RSPCA will seek statutory powers under the Animal Welfare Act.

The RSPCA has recently announced that they are withdrawing from their prosecuting role by ending private prosecutions of animal cruelty offenders as part of their new Together for Animal Welfare 2021-2030 Strategy Plan. Considering that they instigate 95% of all the prosecutions taken under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 this leaves quite a vacuum to fill particularly when the police and government have relied on them for so long to do this work for them.

This decision, although not stated, is no doubt influenced by the fact that it costs tens of millions of pounds to take these actions and the Covid-19 pandemic has restricted their funds to the point where they have made hundreds of staff redundant and closed many of their facilities.

This announcement will please many MP’s, judges and certain sections of the legal profession who have long been uncomfortable about the RSPCA prosecuting and have repeatably campaigned to stop them. In 2016 the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee said the charity should only bring cases to court in exceptional cases. And it will of course be of great news and a relief to all those involved in animal abuse.

RSPCA inspectors will continue to investigate.

But the RSPCA are pointing out that their inspectors will “still be rescuing, investigating and collecting evidence of cruelty and abuse and seeking to hand this over to the CPS and we would like to reassure the public that we would not step back from the role of prosecuting unless we are assured that the CPS has the commitment, the resources, and the expertise to make sure that animals continue to get the justice they deserve.

The use of the word seeking does not give much confidence that the over stretched Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Police will give much priority to animal welfare prosecutions  There is also scope for a great difference in opinion and interpretation between professional legal minds and empathetic animal welfare professionals as to what cases should be subject to prosecution which will result in a low priority being given to animal welfare cases. At the moment the CPS do not seem that keen on the idea.

Will cases ever reach the courts without the RSPCA

On the surface this all seems rather alarming for the future welfare of English and Welsh animals but confusingly the RSPCA have also stated that “We will work with governments in Westminster and Cardiff to achieve statutory powers for our inspectors under the Animal Welfare Act 2006”. This means that they will endeavour to persuade the Governments to give their inspectors similar powers of entry and seizure as the Police and local authority inspectors.

This blog has pointed out many times before that other countries like Australia, New Zealand and  the USA have successfully given such powers to animal charity officers, but the RSPCA have always been very tentative on this subject before because of paranoia in the media and a backlash from the legal profession. In 2015 they stepped back from prosecuting hunting because they feared media attention would affect their reputation.

The Government recently raised the maximum punishment for animal cruelty to 5 years imprisonment and increased the fines to much acclaim and fanfare but for what purpose if the cases never reach the courts.

Related articles:

UK cat cafe closes & makes cats redundant

The interests of the cats can be lost sight of particularly when things go wrong.

A UK cat café in Manchester, where customers pay £12 ($15) to spend an hour in the company of cats with a cup of coffee provided, is closing after nearly five years due to the economic situation. Their self proclaimed “cat family” of a dozen or so cats are to be found new homes. They also have another branch in Liverpool which is also closed, which probably ends their initial aim of opening one in every major city in the UK.

Since the first cat café opened in Taiwan in 1998 there has been an explosion of these feline themed eateries worldwide with dozens opening across the UK annually with little or no inspection. Many of these have the same vision of establishing chains of stores across the country. They have become a popular craze and sadly there are even help sites with tips on how to start a cat café. These promote the benefits of partnering a business with local cat rescues to “populate” the café with the required 10-15 cats to make it successful and many cat rescues questionable appear happy to oblige. Anyone can operate one without experience which can lead to hygiene and welfare issues.

Cat cafe

Good therapy for humans or just good business.

Most cat cafes promote themselves either as providing “a stress free haven where cats and humans can unwind” or as pseudo cat rescue centres or both. This causes a conundrum for many people as to whether they are cruel and stressful for the cats and unhygienic or a benefit to human mental health and a cat’s Shangri-La of human company. The veterinary profession appears non-committal on the issue as long as cats are well cared for, while some animal welfare charities like the Cats Protection are positively against them and will not accept donations from them. The law has no problem with dogs and cats in cafes as long as they are not allowed near food preparation and food standards inspectors can take years to inspect and give them hygiene star ratings which can be a problem.

“If the intention is to home cats from the café, this would create a ‘rolling’ population of rescue cats – in a café, this would create even more stress and further compromise feline welfare because rescue cats need as stable an environment as possible & will become stressed as a result of being in a confined space with a continually changing group of people”. 

Cats Protection, UK national cat charity.

In the case of the Manchester café, the owners are happy to claim on their website that “the café is their home” and that they are their “cat family” and yet the redundant cats are all to be found new homes. They were originally sourced from breeders and some from cat rescues to provide “forever homes” to those that could not find the home they deserved which are now hollow sounding sentiments, which is often the case with the use of the term “forever”.

Plans to open a new cafe

Worryingly the owners of the Manchester café are quoted as saying they hope to open another café with new cats when the pandemic and economic outlook is better. There seems to be no interest in caring for the cats themselves or mention of any contingency plan or fund in place to look after them. The cats appear to be viewed as stock or accessories for the business rather than their pampered cat family.

“We hope to relaunch in a new premises once the pandemic is over, so please continue to bear with us through this very difficult time. We will be spending the next few weeks finding loving, permanent homes for our 10 resident cats”.

Manchester Cat Cafe

There has been outrage in the past about animal cafes particularly those in Japan and Asia where cats and exotic animals of all kinds such as otters, hedgehogs and monkeys are used to attract customers, but hypocritically we are happy to patronise similar establishments in the UK. It is the same type of exploitation of animals regardless of the type of animal and all the animal welfare and psychological hyperbole behind these ventures.

Cat cafes are becoming big business but as with all ventures involving the participation of animal attractions, the interests of the animals can be lost sight of particularly when things go wrong. Those in existence already involve the lives of hundreds of cats and the number at risk only increases whenever another opens. In these uncertain times the Manchester closure highlights the uncertain future of cats in this type of establishment.

A typical promotional video; You decide: exploitation or just good fun for all:

Related Articles: