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The selective compassion of the RSPCA

The RSPCA: actions speak louder than words? Source: Max Pixel

By Alys Hewitt

The RSPCA has long been the UK’s leading and most established animal welfare charity, driven by a self-proclaimed commitment to eradicating the mistreatment and neglect of domestic, farmed and wild animals. Yet its actions – or rather, lack of actions – in some cases are not always compatible with the organisation’s caring, cruelty-conscious image.

Figures from the RSPCA reveal that last year they rehomed 44,611 animals – a significant number, but one that makes up only a third of the near 115,000 rescued all together. This leads to questions surrounding what happens to those who are not rehomed. One fate is the putting down of animals deemed not fit to be rehabilitated, which in some cases is admittedly necessary. Yet there are concerns that the sheer number of animals put down by the charity who has a duty of care towards them points to a hastiness in deciding on an adequate solution to animals that need rehoming, with some being euthanised for non-medical reasons.

Last month the organisation’s head of campaigns also defended the shooting of seals by Scottish salmon farmers, labelling it not as culling but as “humane pest control”. This seems like a paradoxical statement for a charity founded upon condemning and preventing cruelty to all animals to make, to say the least. Increasingly hypocritical is the fact that the RSPCA used the rescue and rehabilitation of one seal in Port Talbot in the same week to generate publicity and further construct a sympathetic image for themselves.

Then there is the RSPCA Assured scheme, which works with farmers to monitor the care and wellbeing of farm animals and thus give their products an ethical seal of approval, a move which has been met with accusations of hypocrisy. Obviously it is a positive step to encourage and pursue a more ethical means of producing and consuming meat, but if the RSPCA was really as committed to animal rights as they claim, would they not promote a vegetarian or vegan diet to as many people as they could, or at least encourage us to consume less meat? According to their website, RSPCA Assured also advocates for the “humane slaughter” of farm animals, which in itself seems oxymoronic. It may be a bitter pill to swallow for anybody who eats meat, but can any kind of slaughter be truly humane? Don’t the RSPCA have a level of responsibility to acknowledge the fact that slaughter is cruelty to animals? I understand the need to perhaps slowly ease people in to a more conscious way of eating, but to fail to point out the inherent and deep-rooted problems with the farming and meat industries is a missed opportunity for an organisation founded upon fighting for the rights of animals.

These instances outline a puzzling and somewhat contradictory stance for a charity which has had such a pioneering influence in putting animal welfare on the agenda. This is not to undermine the work done by the RSPCA, but they must be held accountable for their selective compassion. It is not enough to condemn the suffering of some animals but turn a blind eye – or even directly advocate – the poor treatment of others.

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