Not long ago we wrote about the RSPCA here and here, so it was interesting to read of someone else's experience with this arrogant, self-serving organisation. Here is Alice Miles, writing in the Times this week …
The lady looked up at me sourly. "You're ten minutes too late". They said it would be OK, I pleaded; ten past three - I did ring to check. You see, it's quite hard to find the time and I don't know when ...
"3pm", she said sharply. "There's no one available to speak to you now."
I looked at the bevy of staff loitering around behind the desk, doing nothing much. One woman caught my eye sympathetically. "You can have a quick look round", Ms Timetable said. "Then come back another time."
And then what? "Then you fill in a form." Could I do that now?
"No, because there's no one available to interview you."
I glanced again at all the staff behind her. Maybe I could fill in the form and leave it? You know, cut out another visit? It was a three-hour round trip, after all.
"You have to fill it in with us."
"Then they come and visit you at home, see if your house is suitable. And then you can come back and see the dogs ..."
I gave up. This was the second RSPCA animal shelter that I had tried to adopt from - the first being unwilling even to let us look around. And three three-hour trips to this joyless centre of bureaucracy, where animals might be tended, but humans are treated with disdain, without the promise of so much as a hamster at the end of it, was more than I could bear.
Then there was the child problem. I had a four-year-old. And the RSPCA will not allow any child under 5 to have a dog; not even if she'll be 5 by the time that it arrives. Except in special circumstances.
Which were? No one would tell me. I had to jump through their hoops first, with the almost certain promise of rejection at the end of it.
It's funny how many RSPCA refuseniks you come across once you become one yourself. There was the man who was told that he could have a cat only if he built platforms under the skylights in his London flat - in case the cat climbed across the roof and fell through the window. Or the woman in a rural area who was advised to heighten her fence to 20ft, because some cats like to jump high.
And a mother (the owner of two happy dogs) in Norfolk who simply screamed: "RSPCA? Forget it!"
When you see the "Pet Adoption Week" campaign being launched by the RSPCA next week, with Badger the starving terrier who was rescued by a television presenter, remember these stories.
I wouldn't normally have bothered to remark on this. If the charity wants to put down more animals than is necessary, that's its business. Its, and the people who fund it: the RSPCA has an annual income of more than £100 million, and about £200 million in assets, plus many millions more in its 174 branches around the country (the one that I looked up, Solent, had £3.8 million tucked away). The British give more to animal charities than to charities for the disabled. One donkey sanctuary in Devon has higher income than all the main charities fighting abuse against women combined. Still, your business. Give money to what you like.
But now the RSPCA, in its joylessness, is telling schools that they can no longer have pets. Research by the charity has found that a quarter of schools own pets, ranging from a hermit crab to a horse. Hurrah! A small piece of chaos, of life, amid the regimented drilling that we call school.
Not for much longer - the RSPCA believes there is a danger that the kids might be too noisy, or the lighting conditions could be wrong, and that the classroom pet may receive variable care from different families at evenings or weekends.
If the RSPCA has its way, no more generations of kids will be taught to care for the school guinea pig or rabbit, or hermit crab; no more learning responsibility and respect for animals, no feeling the joy of holding a live thing in their hands. Laughably, the charity suggests that schools should get a soft toy instead to teach children about animal welfare.
This is no joke. They really do want to stop it. The charity has sent all schools a letter warning them of their duties under the draconian Animal Welfare Act introduced at its own urging two years ago. That Act imposed a duty of care on any adult in charge of a pet, or any adult responsible for a child who is in possession of an animal.
Now the RSPCA has told schools to name a single person responsible for the rabbit's welfare, so that they can hold that person to account. The 2006 Act gave uniformed RSPCA officers the right to enter non-domestic properties without a warrant (they can enter your home only with a warrant, but they like people to believe otherwise) to check for animal rights abuses. Find a hamster being teased by Harry and the nominated teacher could face up to a year in jail. We must not let these people bully the life out of schools.
I went to a different animal sanctuary in the end. They sent over Dave to see whether I might be able to have a cat (I was running with the cat idea by then).
A morose individual, like so many animal obsessives, Dave carefully checked for feline dangers, telling me to be sure to keep the cat shut indoors at night in case it got run over. Isn't depriving a cat of the night a bit like depriving a human being of light? Night-time hunting is what a cat does.
But then, I'm just someone who likes animals. I'm not an obsessive. I think that's healthy. I like humans too. There seems to be a distinction between being a human and being an "animal lover" akin to the difference between riding a bicycle and being a "cyclist". The militants are similarly at a loss for any sense of humour or humanity.
In the end, we bought a puppy. Please don't tell the RSPCA.
This isn't Alice Miles' daughter, it's some
other little girl being cruel to a puppy ...
… and here is the Times' full report on the RSPCA's new attack on the long tradition of keeping pets in school …
Clutching the school guinea-pig or charting the growth of tadpoles in a jar has, for generations, been many children's first encounter with the natural world.
But the practice of keeping animals in school is endangered and may even become extinct if RSPCA guidance is enforced.
Allowing small children, and even smaller creatures, to interact during lessons can be cruel, according to the animal welfare charity.
It says that the shrieks and grabbing hands of affectionate but boisterous pupils make the classroom a frightening and noisy place for pets. The health and wellbeing of animals can suffer even further if they are entrusted to children for the weekend, or over the holidays.
Soft toys in the shape of animals are a much better introduction to fauna, the charity advises schools. Its guidance has been e-mailed to 16,000 teachers and promoted at education events.
Recent research by the RSPCA found that more than a quarter of schools keep animals. Two thirds have fish, but the rest boast a bewildering array of creatures.
These range from hamsters, rats, rabbits and budgies to the more exotic water dragons, chinchillas and snakes to, in a few cases, cats, dogs, goats and a horse.
Some schools hatch hens' eggs in an incubator so children can see the chicks grow. Others keep only fish because of fears about staff or children having allergies to furry animals.
A few have small farms or wildlife areas, but a lot of animals are kept in classrooms.
The RSPCA believes, however, that animal welfare can be taught in schools without keeping any creatures captive. Dave Allen, the charity's head of education, said: "Welfare can be compromised. The school day is short - what happens to the animal the rest of the time? It can go from being loved to death to being left alone for the evening. Holidays and weekends are an even bigger issue. If the animal is going to different children each week the standard of care varies."
Mr Allen said that schools keen to engage with wildlife should put up bird feeders or turn part of their playing field into meadow.
Even transferring the classroom tadpoles to a school pond is questionable. Mr Allen gave warning that ponds needed continued commitment. "We don't have a problem with school farms, if they are managed well," he said. "But the danger is, when keeping animals in the classroom, that the teachers are so busy the animals can become educational tools rather than sentient creatures. It is not giving the right message on animal welfare."
The RSPCA's guidance states: "Animal welfare can be taught in schools without keeping animals captive. Studying an animal in its natural environment should aim to cause minimal disturbance whilst maximising educational opportunity.
"Where animals are kept in schools, proper provision should be made for their physical and mental wellbeing."
If schools are determined to keep animals, a named person must at all times be responsible for their welfare and husbandry, the guidance says.
"Contact between pupils must be supervised and controlled and animals should have adequate 'rest' periods away from disturbance," it adds.
The charity is campaigning for animal welfare to become part of science or citizenship lessons.
The Times readership aren't impressed. Here are some of their comments …
… we have to remember that the RSPCA are in the animal cruelty business, and a very big business it is. If animal cruelty ever reduced, maybe their income streams would reduce too …
… the RSPCA, the NSPCC and all the other charities who think that they know best about everything, and that abuse of animals and children is occurring everywhere, should be boycotted. They are not interested in welfare only increasing their control and increasing their income …
… one has to remember many of the RSPCA's board members are also involved with Animal Aid. One of Animal Aids' aims is the abolition of ALL domestic pets ...
… what's next? - we shouldn't wipe the benches with cleaner - the bacteria have rights you know … killing nits on the their heads - that's abortion you know ...
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