Commitment and aims of animal charities in the UK

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals since 1980

Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws – Plato

I made a comment in Speakers Corner a few weeks ago and I have been asked to explain a little more about what I meant when I referred to ‘protectionist’ and ‘promoter’ pet animal organisations. Regular readers will know that I have long campaigned for all organisations involved in animal care and welfare and those set up to promote pet ownership, to work closely together for the long term improvement of all aspects of pet care from breeding through purchase to lifelong care. These organisations and lobby groups fall into three broad categories: those that are passionate even obsessive, about the welfare and ‘rights’ of animals who, at the extreme, do not think that we should have pets at all; those which are mostly ‘protective’ and which believe that their role is to care for animals which have been cruelly treated, neglected or abandoned and those who have an interest in the promotion of responsible pet ownership on the basis that pets are good for people and that society benefits from those relationships. Few organisations are entirely open about these basic objectives and all of them attempt to convince the general public that welfare is their prime concern so that they appeal to the broadest possible base. The first two groups, especially, are reliant on the public being convinced that any income they receive will not be misspent.

Animal rightists

Looking at the websites for animal rights organisations (you can find a very long list on Wikipedia) all emphasise the importance of the ethics of animal ownership many do not approve of any animals being kept as pets. Many, like Animal Aid, state categorically that they are dedicated to the use of ‘peaceful means’ to achieve their aims while others such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are more confrontational but, of course, none have real control over the activities of their members who might also involved with organisations such as the Animal Liberation Front or the even the more extreme Animal Rights Militia. They have a right to their views (so long as they do not take unlawful action which will harm property, people or animals) but for most of us, pets are important in our lives and although we condemn cruelty to animals in any form we are happy to recognise that we have responsibility to and for animal welfare and that animals have ‘needs’ rather than rights.

Animal protection

The next group were set up specifically to protect animals which need to be defended and cared for. This includes the RSPCA, Dogs Trust (originally called the National Canine Defence League so there is a clue in the name), Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Cats Protection, The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare and the hundreds of rescue organisations which have been established. Over the years there have been several attempts to create umbrella organisation which can represent all these protection groups, the one with the largest coverage being the Association of British Cats and Dogs Homes (this was founded by a well-known lawyer, Tom Field-Fisher in 1985 as I remember, while he was Chairman of Battersea Dogs Home and their annual conference, which coincidently was held last weekend, always has a fascinating programme providing information for its delegates and opportunities to exchange ideas. I was lucky enough to know Tom Field-Fisher well and be involved in the early days of the Association: it has grown beyond anything he might have imagined). Others include the Pet Advisory Committee (Chaired by MP Tracy Crouch), the All Party Group for the Welfare of Animals (Chaired by MP Neil Parish) and the International Coalition for Animal Welfare and, to some extent the Companion Animal Welfare Council. I mention that two of these groups are chaired by Members of Parliament and they are especially important because they have access to ministers and others of influence: in the final analysis, influence is what you need if you want to achieve political and social objectives.

Promoters

Finally we come onto the ‘promoters’. These are the groups in whose interest it is that the right to ownership of pet animals into our society is itself protected. All emphasise that animals must be looked after properly but they believe that people’s lives are enhanced by contact with animals. These groups are a very small proportion of the total but they include organisations such as Guide Dogs for the Blind and the other support and rescue groups. The one with the highest species specific profile in Britain is the Kennel Club but there are other organisations devoted to the promotion of every type of pet animal from cats and rats through budgerigars and horses to bearded dragons. They are similar to the Kennel Club and include the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, the National Fancy Rat Association, the British Horse Society which, along with many others, are groups of enthusiasts for their species.

These enthusiasts and pet owners require all sorts of services: food, bedding, grooming, boarding, insurance, training, toys, housing, websites, magazines, newspapers – the list is endless – so those who have developed businesses providing those services and products, have their own organisations too. They include the Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association, the Pet Industry Federation (formerly the Pet Care Trust) among other smaller players such as the newly formed Licensed Kennel and Cattery Association. Each, too, recognises and emphasises its responsibility for pet care and welfare and many have their own sponsored but separate charities devoted to educating the public and their members in all aspects of responsible ownership.

Working closely together

At one time the Kennel Club was insular in the extreme and as a ‘gentlemen’s club’ saw itself as quite different to any of the other species representative groups other than, perhaps, the Jockey Club which was founded on very similar lines. I suppose the first step was when its committee realised that the Kennel Club’s own show did not have the same cachet as Crufts and the decision was taken to purchase the it from Charles Cruft’s widow during the war. But it was still many years, in fact not until the 1980s, that Clarges Street acknowledged, with the rise of the protectionist and anti-pet groups (in the 1970s the secretive and prescriptive League for the Institution of Canine Controls [LICC] tried to influence government and local authorities to do many of the things which have since been put in place through the Clean Neighbourhoods Acts) that it should work with any organisation which would support dogs and pet ownership. I suggested that the KC should join the Association of British Cats and Dogs Homes in the 1980s when the Directory of Rescue Organisations was first published: they remain a member and the Directory is still available and I know, from the time I was a senior manager with Battersea, what a valuable resource it is.

Since that time the Kennel Club has worked closely with many organisations and made a significant contribution in defending the rights of people to keep dogs: we may have very many reasons to complain about the KC (and Our Dogs, on your behalf, does so regularly despite the totally inaccurate view expressed by a columnist in another place) but overall, if the Kennel Club and other species specific organisations along with the trade associations were not making their views known, there would be no response to the draconian measures that we so often report upon from other countries.

We live in a country which is often frustrating for those who wish to bring in reforms (such as those suggested by PupAid which I discussed a few weeks ago) but the checks and balances which are embedded in our society also means that the powerful lobby groups such as the animal rightists are unable to steamroller their demands against the tide of reasonable and popular opinion. This has to be a good thing even if we must occasionally give up some objectives which we hold dear.

There remains much to do. In theory, the Animal Welfare Act (2006), which was the result of lobbying by many of the groups mentioned in this article and who were consulted during its planning and progress, was designed to (and should have) resolved many contentious issues for every group but in practice, lack of money and resources and, perhaps, even an appetite for authorities outside the RSPCA to prosecute, has meant its impact, although significant, has been much less than was confidently expected.

In my view it would be wise for all those involved, to be putting their efforts into implementing the Animal Welfare Act rather than demanding further laws which, I am sorry to say, would be unlikely to improve animal welfare. Frankly, education rather than regulation has to be the way forward.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: