Charities – A new brush on an old broom at the RSPCA

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was.’ Bishop Joseph Hall (1574 – 1656)

You have had to hand it to Gavin Grant.  I should like him.  He is a likeable, charming man with an easy-going personality and is something of a rebel too – but I am not comfortable because his ‘causes’ seem to me to come not from deeply held beliefs, but from whatever job is providing his income at the time.  And they are also causes selected to provide him with the high profile which I suspect he craves.

This does not stop him being successful – he is very successful.  He has been a public relations high flyer since the 1970s when he was Organising Secretary of the All-Party Joint Committee against Racism and since that time he has spun (the word is used advisedly) through more jobs than a successful and prolific stud dog has had bitches.

In an interview with PR Week almost exactly seven years ago, Grant explained that he grew up in a politicised household with a passion for sport and, I quote from the article, ‘he quickly learned how to manipulate the media’.

And how!  It was Grant who, when working for the RSPCA in 1989, came up with the idea of using a photograph of a pile of dead dog carcases on the RSPCA stand at Crufts as part of the Society’s campaign to introduce dog licences.   The Kennel Club was, quite rightly, furious and the RSPCA, were not allowed to have a stand for many years thereafter..

After three years at the RSPCA, Grant moved to The Body Shop and was responsible for the Ogoni Campaign, which forced Shell Oil into an out-of-court settlement as a result of allegations which accused the company of complicity in human rights abuses in Nigeria.  This was seriously embarrassing to Shell – which was one of Burston-Marsteller’s clients at that time.  Burston-Marsteller is a hugely successful company and not only has a reputation as the mouthpiece of big business but has become the agency to which corporations turn when they want to cover up misdeeds.  Gavin Grant quickly rose to become its chairman.   B-M has (usually) been very successful and has won many awards for protecting the interests of its clients  These included Phillip Morris (defending smoking), Union Carbide (the Bhophal disaster), AH Robbins (the Dalkon Shield IUD controversy), Google (smearing Facebook), Monsanto (genetically modified foods) and was one of the companies featured in the book ‘Toxic Sludge is Good for You – Lies, Damn Lies and the Public relations Industry’.

Despite his apparent public commitment to ‘liberal’ causes, Grant nevertheless had no problem in joining the Burston-Marsteller UK operation  in 1999!

He was in post when Greenpeace UK head, Lord Melchett, joined the firm causing considerable controversy.  Melchett was appointed to B-M’s Corporate Social Responsibility Unit and in making the announcement, B-M said it ‘expects Lord Melchett’s extensive experience of the NGO community, government and business to provide unique insight for Burston Marsteller clients’.  Not surprisingly, it was said that he (along with Des Wilson, the founder of the homeless charity, Shelter, and another Liberal with ideals who suddenly became a staunch defender of working closely with large corporations) had been head-hunted to boost B-M’s environmental credentials. Melchett was immediately and understandably forced off the board of Greenpeace International.

Now, after a 20 year gap, Grant has returned to the RSPCA as its Chief Executive and has lost no time in stamping his inimitable public relations style on the organisation and focusing its energies and considerable financial resources, not on the improvement of the quality of care on puppy farms or funding research to improve soundness and/or temperament in dogs, but on another attempt to reinstate the dog licence.  The grounds for this reinstatement is that it will ‘foster responsible dog ownership, promote neutering, challenge impulse buying and provide resources to enforce the law and promote dog welfare’.

To this end, Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and her Minister of State, Lord Taylor, were invited to (read: ‘took part in a public relations exercise’) the Society’s Harmsworth hospital in East London so that they, in Gavin Grant’s words, could come ‘face to face with the realities of irresponsible dog ownership and the daily reality of horrific cases of dog fighting, attacks on other pets and wildlife, and the sheer neglect of mankind’s best friend’.

Grant says: ‘we are close to righting a wrong that has been a stain on a nation of so called animal lovers for 25 years’.

Now I am happy to be corrected but as I remember, the Dog Licence in its former existence made not a scrap of difference to the welfare of dogs in society, to the number of dog biting incidents or to identifying dogs with their owners.  And I venture to suggest that its return or for that matter, insistence on micro chipping, will not make any more difference now than it did then.  It is true that there have been many technological advances over the past few years and this (as Grant points out) has enabled the police to much more quickly and effectively track down those whose cars are not taxed, insured or MOT’d.   But Local Authorities and the police have neither the money nor the inclination to follow through on any matters unless there are enough incidents to make it worthwhile.

Despite what appear to be terrible figures, biting incidents are not that common and particularly in days of economic austerity government and local authorities, understandably have to see statistics in context.  55 children were killed on our roads in 2010 compared to one killed by a dog.  Any such incident is tragic but I am afraid that the in assessing the ‘level of risk’ to the population in general and children in particular, it is not high enough to make the enforcement of compulsory micro chipping, licensing or registering worth any government’s while.  This does not mean that legislation or regulation will not be put in place – that part is inexpensive  -but the likelihood of councils enforcing it is increasingly remote.  The concern of local authorities as far as dogs are concerned is fouling, barking and dogs running about out of control and they already have more than enough power to deal with such canine generated nuisances.

The latest estimates of the number of dogs in the community is well over 8 million, an increase of almost 15% on 20 years ago, and yet dogs are much less of a problem to society than they once were.  There are certainly many in rescue, and charities may be under pressure but the number of dogs without owners is a fraction of what it once was.  The reason for rescue centre overcrowding today is nothing to do with packs of dogs roaming the streets but because owners, sometimes for good reason, are unable to keep their dog for its natural lifespan.  This means that many dogs of perfectly sound temperament are ‘in transit’ and consequently are kept by the rescue organisations for much longer than they once were.  They are, quite rightly, reluctant to put healthy and temperamentally sound dogs to sleep but compared to 20 years ago, the number of healthy dogs killed today is very much smaller.

All this is nothing to do with licensing but is instead as a result of a series of Environmental Protection Acts and Clean Neighbourhood Acts and the subsequent amendments and Orders made under them.  Whether or not you are happy with the restrictions that these Acts have placed upon dog owners, there is no doubt that they have ensured better care of dogs in the community and the appointment of dog wardens and outside contractors has, in these instances, been very positive.  However, it seems clear that one of the cost-cutting measures being put in place by local authorities is to cut back on services such as dog wardens so the implementation of further measures does not give me any confidence that they will be effective.

It is worrying that the announcement by Lord Taylor of Holbeach about the ‘package of measures to tackle irresponsible dog owners’ came precisely at the time he and Caroline Spelman made their visit to the RSPCA hospital.  It seems to me that the two events indicate that the government and the charity are working closely together – but that is what you would expect of Gavin Grant, who has had many high-profile contacts with the Liberal Democrats over the years and, indeed, once stood for election to the House of Commons.

Grant says that not putting in place a ‘real system of dog registration is a stain on a nation of so-called dog lovers’.  What nonsense!

The role of government is to regulate society for there will always be those amongst us who will at the least ‘push the envelope’ and at most behave in a way that is unacceptable and criminal.  But my experience is that the vast majority of people genuinely care for their dogs and look after them well.   Although the figures relating to dogs which are in rescue or not cared for properly sound alarming, they are an extraordinarily small proportion of eight million.  It would be wonderful if that proportion was zero percent but if we are realistic we know that is not going to happen whatever regulations are brought in – and that the costs of implementing and monitoring a registration system is out of all proportion to the problem.

4 Comments on “Charities – A new brush on an old broom at the RSPCA”

  1. […] have plenty of money if it was used properly!).  I discussed this very topic in a recent article (click here to access it) so I will not elaborate […]

  2. Stephen Clayforth Says:

    There are a couple of comments I would like to make on this matter.
    1 – People being members of the Liberal Democrats then changing their ideals. The Liberal Democrats (and its former identity The Liberal Party) has long been a first choice home for people who have their own ideologies because the Liberals are more liberal about who can join them. A prime example is Pete Hain MP who in the late 60’s and early 70’s was a member of The Young Liberals and was a leading light in the extreme activities that that organisation perpetrated (such as the digging up of the Headingley Cricket Pitch prior to a Test Match with South Africa). He then completely changed his allegiances and became a member of the Labour Party and rose through the ranks to eventually become a Minister and Cabinet Member. So Gavin Grant is only following well trodden ground.
    2 – Dog licencing was abandoned due to several reasons, some of which were: a) the cost of operating it was far in excess of the revenue generated b) it was being universally ignored (just as the new law on microchipping will be) and c) the cost of policing it was prohibitive.
    3 – Only the responsible dog owners will obey the rules on either microchipping or dog licencing. The people it is aimed at (Puppy farmers/factories and the Back Yard Breeders) will not comply with the rules.
    4 – In the short term it will lead to an INCREASE (not a decrease) in abandoned dogs, after all if your dog is not chipped you will not claim it it if it is found straying and risk a fine of £3,000. It is much easier to just go and get another dog from the BYB or Puppy Farm.
    5 – In the long term it will make NO DIFFERENCE to either the stray problem or regulating the Puppy Farmers/Factories as the majority of dogs will not be microchipped. Nor will it make any difference on the number of dog biting incidents as the majority of these are perpetrated by dogs owned by the same people who will not comply with microchipping.
    6 – Microchipping, and licencing, are just another tool for the ANIMAL RIGHTS organisations to try and control and, ultimately, destroy our right to own dogs (and pets of any kind). The RSPCA, especially since Gavin Grant took control, as become one of the biggest and most vociferous ANIMAL RIGHTS organisations in this and other countries. This is directly in opposition to the core standards of the RSPCA and what its avowed aims are.

  3. L.varney. Says:

    Thoroughly agree

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