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If you’re reading this article, then there is little doubt that you love your own pets particularly and probably animals as a whole. There can be few things more painful for the caring pet owner to deal with than knowing that an animal is in pain or being mistreated, and when faced with that kind of scenario or if you have suspicions that an animal is being neglected, it can be difficult to know what to do. Should you approach the owner? Call the police? Call the RSPCA? Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in the position of having to decide, but if you do, then remembering this article should go a long way to helping you to work out the best course of action to take.
If you witness first hand another person abusing or mistreating an animal, the situation is fairly cut and dried and you should phone the police as an emergency. Whether or not you intervene after doing so is not something that any third party can advise you for or against- it would be easy to say, ‘protect yourself by keeping your distance’ but anyone who has been faced with a similar situation will tell you how difficult this can be at the time. However, it is vitally important to keep yourself safe when approaching another member of the public- you will not be able to help the police, or the animal concerned if you are injured. You may even face the opposite problem of scaring the perpetrator away before the police arrive, either with or without the animal in question- leaving the police with no leads and no way of following up on your report. Finally, remember that if you approach a person who is mistreating a dog, as crazy as it seems, dogs are incredibly loyal animals even when faced with long term abuse and mistreatment, and there is a possibility that the mistreated dog itself will attack you if you get into an altercation with their owner or handler. There’s a lot to think about when faced with blatant cruelty or abuse first hand- make sure the first thing you do is to call the police ASAP, and take their advice on what to do while awaiting their arrival.
If you have reason to suspect that an animal is being mistreated, neglected or abused but you don’t have any concrete evidence and have not witnessed any abuse first hand, the situation is far less cut and dried. First of all, what are the warning signs of abuse or mistreatment? There is no simple answer- they can vary from animal to animal. An animal that seems afraid of their master, shows marks or injuries that cannot be explained and that appears to be in poor condition and unhappy is always a warning sign. Whether or not this means that abuse can be proven, or is automatically indicative that abuse is taking place, however, is another matter. Similarly, neglect is another grey area. All pet owners have their own standards for animal care and welfare, and there is a wide and broad range of care protocols and provision for an animal’s wellbeing that are considered to be within safe and appropriate norms. Just because another person looks after their animal in a different manner to the way that you yourself do, or perhaps does not spend as much time and money on their pet as another person, does not mean that their animal is neglected, either morally or in the eyes of the law. Similarly an animal that seems ‘a bit thin’ is always distressing to the caring pet owner, but an animal would have to be significantly and dangerously underweight in order for the authorities to act upon any report. At the end of the day, every individual animal lover has to consider what they feel is the appropriate parameters of normal care and condition for any given animal. If you’re in doubt, consider making a report to the RSPCA, who can investigate thoroughly.
More or less every pet owner in the UK is familiar with the RSPCA and that the RSPCA is generally considered to be the 'go-to' organisation for investigating reports of cruelty or mistreatment. But what does the RSPCA actually do, what are their powers, and what does making a report entail? First of all, it's important to remember that the RSPCA is first and foremost a charity. It relies on public donations and fundraising, is not supported by any government subsidies, and does not have any special powers outside of the law. The RSPCA do what they can to address neglect, mistreatment and the inappropriate care of animals, but they are a finite resource with limited funding and, quite simply, they only have a few hundred officers who cannot be everywhere at once. The RSPCA is unique in that it is the only animal charity working in England and Wales that proactively investigates and carries out independent prosecutions for animal cruelty and neglect of all species, in addition to rescuing sick and injured animals.
If you wish to make a report of suspected cruelty, abuse or neglect to the RSPCA, the first step to take is calling their cruelty line on 0300 1234 999. The phone line is manned 24 hours a day every day of the year, but they receive a call every 30 seconds so there may be a bit of a wait to get through to a call-taker. Trained telephone operators who answer calls from the public will ask for all of the information you have regarding the animal, its condition, owner and the problem - as well as your own personal details if you're willing to supply these. The RSPCA will accept anonymous reports, but it is preferable for them to take your details so an officer can contact you again if further information is required, or to provide you with an update where GDPR and resources allow. Giving your personal details is totally confidential, and the RSPCA will never pass on your details to the person you are making the report about, or any other person outside of the organisation. It is important to provide as much information as possible to enable them to prioritise the report against others coming in.
As the RSPCA is a charity with limited resources, it would be impossible for them to investigate every single call received. The call-takers are there to take as much information as possible so the charity can assess whether it can deal with the issue, and whether the law has been breached. They will provide an email address if required to send evidence of cruelty or neglect to, which helps them to prioritise the calls received. An RSPCA inspector requires the permission of the owner in order to examine the animal(s) in question, and they do not have any legal right of entry to public property if uninvited. RSPCA inspectors often work closely with the police and sometimes social services to address issues of neglect and mistreatment. Animals can only be signed over voluntarily by the owner, or seized by the police (and signed over to the RSPCA) if a vet deems that the animal is suffering to an extent that they must be removed. RSPCA inspectors also fulfil an important role in educating pet owners and the general public, and if an animal is being neglected or poorly cared for as a result of the owner's inexperience and lack of knowledge on appropriate care, the RSPCA inspector will actively work with the owner to improve the animal's living conditions to the point that it is deemed suitably well cared for. RSPCA inspectors also sometimes have to give evidence in court in cases of abuse and mistreatment, and play an active role in the prosecution of persons who have mistreated animals.
If you witness first hand an animal being abused or treated cruelly, call the police as a matter of urgency. Remember to keep yourself safe at all times. If you have suspicions of neglect or cruelty, call the RSPCA for advice and to make a report. If you are unable to hold the line until a call-taker is available, it is worth checking their website for advice. Please note that the RSPCA only covers England and Wales and that other species-specific charities may be able to help more quickly.
You can also help to support the vital work of the RSPCA and their ongoing viability by making a donation to the charity.
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