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Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

''This article is about the original RSPCA in England and Wales. Similarly named societies in other countries are listed (with links) at the SPCA disambiguation page.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is a charity in England and Wales that promotes animal welfare. It is funded by voluntary donations and is one of the largest charities in the UK, with income of £100 million in 2005. Queen Elizabeth II is its patron.

Founded as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in 1824, it adopted its current name after being granted its royal status by Queen Victoria in 1840. It has inspired the creation of similar groups in other regions, starting with the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Northern Ireland and including the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA or SSPCA), RSPCA Australia, the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RNZSPCA), and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the United States.


The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in 1824 by a group of twenty-two reformers led by Richard Martin MP (who would thereby earn the nickname Humanity Dick), William Wilberforce MP and the Reverend Arthur Broome originally as a society to support the working of Richard Martin's Act. This Act had been passed in Parliament on 22 July 1822 and was against cruelty to farm animals, particularly cattle. The group assembled at the "Old Slaughters" Coffee House in London to create a society with the will and authority to enforce the new law.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was the first animal welfare charity to be founded in the world. It was granted its royal status by Queen Victoria in 1840 to become the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

William Wilberforce was already famous from his work to abolish slavery in the British Empire.

At first the organisation did not employ Inspectors. A committee inspected the markets, slaughterhouses and the conduct of city coachmen. Rev Arthur Broome, from his own funds, employed a Mr Wheeler and his assistant, Charles Teasdall. In 1824 they brought sixty three offenders before the Courts.

In the late 1830s the Society began the tradition of the Inspector, which is the image best known of the RSPCA today. By 1841 there were five Inspectors, each paid a guinea a week, based in London, who travelled to various parts of the country bringing suspected offenders before the Courts.

RSPCA lobbied parliament throughout the 19th century resulting in a number of pieces of legislation. The Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 amended Martin's Act and outlawed baiting. In 1876 the Cruelty to Animals Act was passed to control animal experimentation. In 1911 Parliament passed Sir George Greenwood's Animal Protection Act.

Since then the RSPCA in England/Wales, in Australia and the other independent SPCA groups around the world have continued to play an active role, both in the creation of animal welfare legislation and in its enforcement.

Structure today

The 1830s introduction of Inspectors also encouraged local supporters of the RSPCA to band together. Supporters were able to form a local 'Branch', and if the Branch raised sufficient funds then it could employ an Inspector. Today there are 172 local Branches of the RSPCA, which are either locally or nationally funded.


Local Branches are responsible for a range of animal facilities, depending upon the fund-raising capacity of the Branch. These local facilities include almost 100 animal clinics and welfare centres (including 4 specialist wildlife centres). The branches run, between them, 207 charity shops for fund raising purposes. Local branches are also responsible for local staffing. There is a certain reliance on volunteer staff members for fund-raising, secretarial, and administrative duties, whilst other staff must be employed. Local staff include: Veterinary Staff: Hospital & Clinic Assistants, Veterinary Nurses, Veterinary Surgeons (almost all are full-time). General Staff: Fund-raisers, administrators, secretaries (a large proportion are volunteers). Animal Care Assistants: ACAs, senior ACAs, Animal Centre Managers (many full-time, but supported by volunteers). Animal Collection Officers: ACO’s were previously designated a distinctive green uniform, but can now be seen in white shirt and black tie along with blue jumper. They are required to demonstrate animal-handling skills and a basic understanding of wildlife, although there are no specific educational qualifications a 3 year valid driving license is required as well as 'robust physical health'. They are also expected to carry out euthanasia (subject to training after 3 months employment) where necessary, although they must undertake a criminal records bureau check and the attendance of an ethics course. Staff or volunteers wishing to train as Inspectors are required to demonstrate certain minimum standards in formal education.


Local Branches, their staff, and the Inspectors who work in them, report through a structured chain of command, divided geographically into 'Groups'. A Group is headed by a Chief Inspector. Each Chief Inspector might typically be responsible for around 7 Inspectors, 3 ACOs, and 1 specialist Inspector (Port Inspector, or Market Inspector, for example) working with several local Branches.


The Groups are collected into five 'Regions' (North, East, Wales & West, South & South West, South East), each headed by a Superintendent. Despite being geographically large areas, the regional Superintendents are expected to have a broad understanding of operations throughout their regions.


At the national level, there is a 'National Control Centre', which receives all calls from members of the public, and tasks local Inspectors or Animal collection officers to respond to urgent calls by means of a airwaves set. Additionally the 'National Headquarters' located at Horsham in West Sussex houses several general 'Departments', each with a departmental head, usually a Chief Superintendent. These national Departments include, for example, 'Training', 'Operations', and 'Special Operations'. The Chief Superintendents, as Heads of Department, report to the Society's 'Directors'. Finally, the Directors report to a national 'Chief Executive' officer.

Rank insignia

Mission statement and charitable status

The RSPCA is a registered charity (no. 219099) that receives no lottery or state aid. In 2006 it had an annual expenditure of £95.5 million, placing it in the top 40 of UK charities. Its annual running costs are funded exclusively by voluntary donations and legacies.

The RSPCA as a charity will, by all lawful means, prevent cruelty, promote kindness to and alleviate suffering of animals.

The RSPCA intends to achieve its mission by

  • effecting strong branch, regional, national and international organisations dedicated to providing a public service, delivering effective relief of animal suffering and enforcing the law
  • working tirelessly to reduce the harmful impact of human activities on animals through education, campaigning and the application of ethics, science and law
  • striving for the highest levels of efficiency, effectiveness and integrity
  • urging that, save where the public benefit requires, humankind should not intentionally cause suffering to any animal when it is not for its own benefit, or cause suffering by neglect. This applies whatever the animal, or the situation in which it finds itself.


An RSPCA inspector has no statutory powers. They may not enter anyone's premises without permission. They can seek assistance from the local police force which may ask a magistrate for a search warrant. Local authority employees working for animal welfare, Government Animal Health Officers and the police have powers to enter in an emergency under the Animal Welfare Act, but normally require a warrant. The RSPCA has no powers to prosecute other than by bringing a private prosecution against those it believes have caused neglect to an animal.

The RSPCA operates a number of sites that can hold lost, neglected, injured or otherwise homeless animals. Only if an animal cannot be returned or re-homed is it put down. The majority of animals euthanized by the RSPCA are sick or injured to an extent that it is the only humane course of action.


The charity has been criticised for preparing witnesses before trials through the use of pro-forma statements.

Hindu groups have expressed concern over the killing of a cow (named Gangotri) by the RSPCA. The cow was being kept at the Bhaktivedanta Manor temple in Hertfordshire when, on December 13, 2007, RSPCA inspectors and a government vet arrived at the Bhaktivedanta Manor temple in Hertfordshire and administered a lethal injection to the animal. The cow had damaged her hind muscles and could not stand, resulting in bed sores, although she was not suffering from any disease. The temple, donated in 1973 by musician George Harrison, runs The Cow Protection Project where cows and bulls are allowed to die naturally. The RSPCA claimed that a cow was killed to prevent further suffering, however Temple officials claim that:

"Two veterinary surgeons, one who lived locally and the other a specialist based in Oxford, were regularly supervising the cow’s medical treatment. They were administering medicine themselves, and also guiding the daily care being given by the community members. It is normal farming practise that once a cow is down or cannot walk, she will be killed by the vet because, within a few weeks, physical complications will arise that most farmers don’t have the time to deal with. As a religious community, we made the choice to care, and those two vets chose to support us. Two other vets, who were unfamiliar with the way we work with animals, one of whom was merely a passer-by, gave different opinions. At first, the chief vet responsible for animal welfare in the appropriate government department, known as Defra, also gave a recommendation that the cow be killed. When he made a personal visit to the temple however, and saw how the animal was being cared for, he informed us that no further action would be taken".

The temple officials are considering legal action against the RSPCA over its actions.

On December 26, 2007, about 200 people protested at the RSPCA headquarters in Horsham, West Sussex, while another 700 Hindus held prayers at the Manor.


The RSPCA can be contacted 24 hours a day on 0300-1234-999. Not only do they investigate complaints of neglect but also perform rescues on both wild and domestic animals.

See also

Further reading

  • Who Cares For Animals: 150 years of the RSPCA by Antony Brown.
  • Animal Experimentation: A Guide to the Issues Vaughan Monamy, Cambridge University Press


External links

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