Newcastle Herald

OPINION: Poor rescue groups shame rich RSPCA



EVERY year thousands of companion animal rescue volunteers save thousands of dogs and cats from pounds and shelters across the state.

These community-based rescue groups don’t have any of the resources or financial backing that the RSPCA enjoys, yet when they can co-ordinate with a council-run pound the results are magnificent.

In our region alone, Wyong Council Animal Care Facility has a kill ratio of 12 per cent, while Muswellbrook’s facility has one of 4 per cent for dogs.

Meanwhile the RSPCA NSW, with an overall kill rate of over 50 per cent, continues to make excuses for ignoring the community’s expectations.

The rescue groups re-home thousands of cats and dogs every year, akin to the numbers of the RSPCA. These groups are major players in the companion animal field and have a significant part to play.

So it was extremely disappointing that not one rescue group or representative was accepted on the government’s companion animal taskforce.

This taskforce was formed, in part, to try to reduce the number of animals euthanised in this state every year. The organisation that destroys more animals than any other single institution is the RSPCA. Yet it was on this taskforce, whereas rescue groups, the major player in the saving and re-homing of animals, were not.

Vet and member of state parliament, Andrew Cornwell, the taskforce chairman, was lobbied by a large number of the rescue groups, to no effect.

Lobbying the responsible government ministers was likewise fruitless.

In the circumstance I am not surprised by the comments of Mr Cornwell in supporting the RSPCA, even though some feel it has outdated practices, including the objectionable behavioural test, while rescue groups expert in modern practices were marginalised.

With an overall kill rate exceeding 50 per cent, it is disconcerting to know that the RSPCA made more than $10 million profit last year, received a $7.5 million government grant, and holds more than $30 million in shares and other investments.

Council-run pounds, which have small budgets, and rescue groups that are constantly broke can achieve far greater results.

They deal with exactly the same type of animals under the same conditions as the RSPCA.

Yet the contrasting results couldn’t be more alarming.

We believe the RSPCA NSW must review and reform its practices and policies voluntarily, especially considering it can well afford it – before calls for governmental intervention become commonplace.

This becomes even more evident when we compare the NSW RSPCA branch with its ACT counterpart.

The RSPCA ACT has reported a kill ratio of a mere 6.5 per cent.

Clearly something is wrong in NSW.

None of our criticism is aimed at RSPCA volunteers and workers – our criticisms are aimed at the leadership by RSPCA senior management and board, who seem to think everything is fine.

We argue that it is not.

David Atwell is the vice-president of the Society of Companion Animal Rescuers.

  • Geoffd • 8 days ago

    Well said David.  RSPCA’s practices and kill rates have been shown to be simply inexcusable.   The community rescue groups and council pounds, working together, show that there is a viable, effective and ethical alternative.

    More and more animals are being killed daily while RSPCA delays action to reform their temperament testing and high kill rate mentality.

    And when will the four Hunter councils that send to RSPCA Rutherford – Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Cessnock and Maitland – be called to account for choosing to feed animals into a known high-kill organisation (and paying RSPCA millions of dollars of local ratepayers’ funds for the privilege)?

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    Vinfimoult • 8 days ago

    Well said David I totally agree with your comments….Im in disbelief that no rescue groups or organisations were given a place on this Task Force… It almost looks like a Government closed shop task force that will produce exactly what the Govt and RSPCA want.. Sometimes I think the RSPCA is about to be taken over and run as a Govt department…. It is certainly acting like one now and has great government support.

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    Evon Ingleby • 8 days ago

    A very well written article by someone at the coal face working hard to save lives. Yes there is definitely something wrong in NSW and it is a matter of life and death for our companion animals. No more excuses will be accepted from RPSCA NSW about the fact that they kill thousands of happy , healthy rehomable animals. Why ? Arrogance ?  Laziness ? In the too hard basket perhaps ?It is easy to blame the public for over breeding but the facts speak for themselves .
    They just don’t try hard enough to save them and that”s a fact.

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    Anne Greenaway • 7 days ago

    On 4/10/2012 I checked
    the RSPCA Adoptapet website. I specifically went to the Newcastle tab and
    looked for cats and dogs. As I understand it Newcastle represents the
    Rutherford holding facility and this facility holds the cats and dogs for
    Maitland, Lake Macquarie, Cessnock and Newcastle.

    I am told this facility
    has around 120 holding pens for dogs. I am not sure of the holding pens for
    cats. There were 20 (twenty) cats and dogs showing at 4/1/2012 on Adoptapet BUT
    only 3 had photos and/or write ups. Photos and write ups have been proved to
    dramatically increase the liklihood of an animal finding a home. Where are
    all the other cats and dogs?

    Contrast this with
    PETRESCUE site (also checked on 4/10/2012). In the Hunter/Newcastle area there
    are animal rescue groups such as Dog Rescue Newcastle, Hunter Animal Rescue,
    Newcastle Pound Pooch, Puppy Love Rescue, Sawyers Gully Rescue. On this site on
    4/10/2012 there were 152 dogs and cats and all of them had photos and/or write

    Foster based rescue has been
    shown to be an effective way of rehoming
    animals, giving the animal time to readjust to home life, to socialise and to
    work on any problem behaviours before rehoming.  And it’s a much better
    experience for the buyers too, as they can meet the dog in a normal environment
    without the stress (on both animal and buyer) of the shelter conditions.  Yet RSPCA NSW rarely works with the
    established community foster groups.

    Looking at the stats from
    the rspca nsw annual report page 50/51 we can see that after reclaims (by
    owners) the kill rate for cats and dogs (combined) is 59%. How is killing 59%
    of unclaimed cats and dogs caring and protecting them?

    As explained to me by
    staff of the RSPCA, the behaviour assessment/temperament test that the RSPCA
    NSW uses is used as a PASS/FAIL test, rather than diagnostic tool to obtain an
    overall picture of the dog. The test does not take into account that different
    breeds of dogs may react differently according to genetics. There is a lack of
    transparency regarding the temperament test and I question the rspca’s claim
    that large numbers of cats and dogs are killed for medical and behavioural
    problems. Why are these medical and behavioural problems not presenting at
    other council pounds (who work with rescue) or indeed at the RSPCA shelter in the ACT?

    Again I checked the RSPCA
    Adoptapet website for Newcastle. There are a total of TEN puppies/dogs
    cats/kittens showing, and only 2 have photos/captions. I have not checked the
    Petrescue website but without looking, I would be happy to wager a bet that
    there are over a total of 100 entries by the community rescue groups named above
    – all with photos and captions.

    Where are all the RSPCA Newcastle’s missing cats, dogs, puppies and kittens?

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    Natemontana • 7 days ago

    Very well said Daivd. I have previously worked with the RSPCA NSW and helped bring these assessments into Australia. They are not being used for the purpose they were brought in for…..TO FIND OUT WHAT ISSUES NEEDED to be worked with via rehabilitation. NOT just finding a reason to kill them. I have posted my similar comments on YouTube under Nate Barnes RSPCA. THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH David and the rest of those forcing change for the animals. Sort of like, “helping the RSPCA NSW against, yet for the RSPCA”. Keep up the good work. People reading please call your local RSPCA, council, State / Federal Government and ask who complaints about policies or injustices within the society, can be directed towards. NO ONE, the RSPCA is AUTONOMOUS. NATHAN BARNES 1st ever RSPCA Animal Behavioural Trainier 2003, Certified Body Language Assessor and Educator. International K-9, Horse and Cat aggressive and submissive behaviour management, 10+ years.

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    Ziggi • 7 days ago

    The RSPCA have lost all sight of what they where introduced for TO PROTECT ANIMALS now unfortunately it is all about money and profit. Some of that funding should be going to providing free neutering working with vets to reduce costs. Animals are not put to sleep they are murdered. This article says it all and it is not just in NSW it is happening in other states the RSPCA in WA is a disgrace. Rescue groups are doing an amazing job to save the unwanted animals. The only way to protect animals is to give them a bill of rights animals should not be classed as property. The RSPCA should be campaigning for this and should have been for a number of years. Just look at what Animals Australia and Oscars Law are doing and yet the RSPCA are so well known they could do so much good.

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    traceybee • 8 days ago

    Well said David, more people need to be aware of the facts so changes can be made. Why aren’t NSW RSPCA looking at the practices of ACT RSPCA to lower their kill rates? The public should be re-directing their donations to local rescue groups and telling the RSPCA why.

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    Maxijj • 7 days ago

    Harking back to my childhood the RSPCA was held in the most highest esteem being the authority we turned to when we saw animals being mistreated and knew that RSPCA would assist. Sadly, this is not the case nowadays when the almighty dollar is God and the organisation is run by a greedy bunch of bureaucrats. This is not to detract from the “foot soldiers” and dedicated volunteers at RSPCA – sadly these good souls are not in decision-making positions.

  • Mz_Linda8 days ago

    Well it’s obvious that there’s something wrong in the RSPCA NSW. Their methodology is obviously NOT working as it should be. If the RSPCA has managed their roles more appropriately I feel there would be no need for so many rescue groups out their.

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    Gayl • 7 days ago

    On the 10th October I sent an email to Steve Coleman CEO of RSPCA NSW. I asked him what the name of the rescue groups that he claimed that RSPCA work with. His answer……” I will have to discuss the privacy issues with those particular groups”.

    I replied and asked him to please do and to get back to me with the names of the groups……..

    I’M STILL WAITING STEVE COLEMAN!!!! I think the public have a right to know and I believe that any rescue group would gladly accept the publicity!!

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    Carol Cornish • 7 days ago

    Well said. I wrote a letter to the Newcastle Morning Herald yesterday about this exact topic. Why isn’t the government helping animal rescue groups who help animals instead of giving millions in government grant to the RSPCA.

    I still have no answer as to what type of salary packages people like Steve Coleman are on. Company car? All expenses paid etc.

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    David_mulder • 7 days ago

    Good on you David. The RSPCA still ring me up and try to get a donation out of me. I tell them I now support local rescue groups that are doing the right thing. If everyone put their donations this way the RSPCA would hopefully fold and a new organisation with morals towards animals would be formed with honest people at the helm. We also need to target the unsuspecting elderly population who in good faith leave them money in their Will thinking it will be used for the good of all animals!

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    Mike • 7 days ago

    It is unfortunate that old and established organisations, often pioneers and the first in their fields get stuck in the tradition of how it has always been, and see any voice that suggests an alternative approach may achieve better outcomes; as one of extremism or ignorance.
    My concern about the  task force is that it appears to be stacked in favour of the status quo like it was last time, with no representation from those who have dared to suggested a new approach is needed.

    If I was to allow my cynical opinion of politics to speak, then I would say that I expect any outcomes from the taskforce to reinforce the power and position of the vested interests ,and make life even harder for the small volunteer groups by putting more hurdles in their way.I really hope that I am wrong about that but it looks like the taskforce is just going to rubber stamp decisions, already made in the corridors of the “Animal Welfare Industry Club” The RSPCA and others of their kind in NSW ceased to be about meaningful animal welfare, when they put the long term financial security of their organisation, above the function of saving animals from abuse and death.

    If these large established organisations closed tommorow the small organisations would soon have the kill rate down into single figures. Whereas if the small groups are forced out the kill rate will be much higher than it is now.

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    Marianhalton48 • 7 days ago

    David, I could not agree more! If little unknown rescue groups can foster & re-home dogs and cats, surely a big well known organisation like the RSPCA could also do the same. Too much money on management is probbaly very correct, and what is all the profits for? Its all meant to be spent on the animals.
    They are meant to be to prevent cruelty to animals , yet blatently put so many down. They need to do away with that assessment as discussed on Insight, its just ridiculous! And pracise what they are supposed to be ~ and prevent cruelty to animals by putting down perfectly healthy pets.

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    Natemontana • 7 days ago

    Type your comment here.WHY ARE THE RSPCA ALLOWED TO DENY ACCESS TO RESCUE GROUPS..? We the community give the RSPCA money to do EVERYTHING within their power to save animals… They are not.. WHY ? It’s is a question they should answer.. Please ask

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    Ruth King • 7 days ago

    Absolutely no different in Victoria, except we also have the misnamed Lost Dogs’s Home to contend with. Mildura pound used to be serviced by the RSPCA. I am unable to quote exact figures, except to say that the pound now works with rescue and their rehome rate is brilliant. Probably under 4%, and that would only be for aggressive and extremely sick dogs. Sadly, cats have a bigger kill rate everywhere. The RSPCA in their annual report  released their kill rates.  Peninsula  Vic RSPCA killed 24.5% of their unclaimed dogs and 26.7% of unclaimed cats. Obviously time to start releasing to rescue.

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    Toucans • 8 days ago

    Glad that this was published. The public are really misled by the RSPCA and the animals that die because of this is terrible.

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    Tlouisn • 8 days ago

    All true David. The RSPCA has been treated like some kind of sacred cow due for far too long. It is about time someone shines a light one their high kill rate and change of focus. They are are no longer all about the animals, it is increasingly obvious that they are all about the money. They need to open up their big fat wallets and start spending money on actually saving lives!  Spend some of that stockpile on free or cheap desexing and less on big management paychecks and media spin. Andrew Cornwell, wake up to yourself and give rescue groups a seat at the table. They are the ones doing the work that the public thinks the RSPCA are doing!

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    pam • 8 days ago

    Well said David,
    Its time that the RSPCA actually did something pro-active in the area of companion animals.
    For far to long they have left it to the hundreds of “coal faced”  animal rescue groups to pick up the pieces.
    I wonder what the kill rates would be for the RSPCA if every rescue group were to suddenly “shut their doors”?

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    Mel • 8 days ago

    About time. The RSPCA should be ashamed of themselves.

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    Karen • 7 days ago

    David congratulations. I am tired of hearing the RSPCA excuses and the euthanasia rates are unacceptable. Having worked at the ground level of rescue and still very much involved, it is hard to accept that so many dogs do not pass the temperament testing set by the RSPCA.
    If the testing is done within the first few weeks, very few dogs will pass, particularly given the stressful conditions the dog is living in. There are solutions and so many rescue groups are a testament to that. Thank you again David.

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    Alison Smith • 7 days ago

    RSPCA must look at what they do and change.  Others can, so should they.

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    Larsensg • 8 days ago

    Need some lobbying done to secure places on this taskforce. Well said as always David.

  • Pam Holmes15 hours ago

    Not only are there no rescue groups on this so called Task force, but we have the PIAA !, this large and powerful org represents puppy mills-pet shops etc,why are they on it?. Also the AVA- what do they know other then they think they are desexing themselves out of business,why are they on it?
    And of course the RSPCA- with one of the highest kill rates in NSW.-why are they on it?.
    Rescue groups have earned the right to have a voice, we do more with less and we have the answers.
    Lets try something new-

    Albert Einstein Quotes

    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

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    Maxilla • 2 days ago

    In April this year we adopted a Cattle Dog mix from RSPCA Yagoona. I have to say the staff were great, we were literally grilled about ‘special needs breeds ownership’ (which is great, bring it on!) to then be told the dog we chose was a cruelty seizure and inspectors case. We were Ok with that, understood things may not be ”perfect” in a real home environment at least for a little while. I have to say they did a GREAT job with this girl. For what she went through and the level of calm and obedience/skill she had on leash, and yet to do things like pee herself with fright when you opened a newspaper. She’s much better now and is my total heart dog but to this day, after finding out all this stuff about RSPCA adn their kill rates, and the criteria for their dogs being rehomable or not – I am astonished she made it through. Thank God she did.
    We foster for a rescue group and our current dog was scared, reactive and ”aggressive” (ie defensively growled) for the first two weeks. He’s an absolute love bug now and totally different dog given that he was offered proper nutrition, training, stability and consistent kindness. But following RSPCA NSW criteria he’d also be 6 feet under right now. I’m excited about his future. He is a terrific dog with much to offer and someone will be very very lucky to adopt him in the future.

  • sandy2 days ago

    I wonder if Andrew Cornwell is aware the RSPCA inspectors even go out and shoot people’s stock.
    Unacceptable kill rates is only half the problem, complete unaccountability for their actions and NO ombudsman to intervene or hold this group accountable is a complete breech of human AND animal rights. A yearly report submitted to the relevant Minister does not equate with accountability in any way shape or form.

  • Pam Holmes4 days ago

     Doug Sethton,This is one of the old excuses dragged out by the RSPCA ” Oh we don’t get to pick and choose and we are open door shelter”  so are many other rescue groups such as Animal Rights and Rescue in Nth NSW who pull animals off deathrow from 3 pounds in their area and have managed to operate as non kill for many years without ANY help despite the fact that the RSPCA spin machine run full page adverts in the local paper where the RSPCA don’t even have a pound/shelter!!-why is the RSPCA running a POUND in the first place?As for preventing births in the fist place rescue groups have been begging for funding to go into HIGH-VOLUME _LOW COST_FREE desexing programs for years to no avail, oops sorry they will do some discount but its just enough to say they are doing some lol, anyway why would you want to reduce companion animals if it were you job???

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    smoke screen • 6 days ago

    Extremely well said David. Lets stop beating around the bush and cut straight to the chase. Lets stop killing animals for profit!

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    guest • 7 days ago

    Not sure why RSPCA ACT can have a kill rate of 6.5% and Mr Coleman is on TV trying to justify their RSPCA NSW kill rate because they have to take all surrenders.

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    Shellbaker2010 • 7 days ago

    Well said David. I agree with all you have said. How does the RSPCA NSW justify this? They really should be doing much better with all the money and resources behind them.

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    Doug Sethton • 7 days ago

    Sorry, dont agree. It is easy to have. Low kill rate if you are a Small group that only accepts as many animals as it can handle. RSPCA IS A POUND and therefore receives hundreds of animals per week. It is unreasonable and ‘head in the sand’ to think that they can find hundreds of homes each week day in and out. Face the facts people. My issue is that RSPCA and other rich large groups DO NOT DO ENOUGH to educate and PREVENT births of unwanted companion animals.

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      Mike • 6 days agoparent

      Doug, it seems to me that you know little about the small groups as you call them, maybe you should contact one and see how they operate before you comment on how selective they are. if they can manage with no resources to  between them find homes for thousands of companion animals each year, surely then the RSPCA with its vast resources, network, and good will, would be able to do it far more easily. But you are absolutely right about the education and de-sexing issue

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      David Atwell • 6 days agoparent

      Whilst I agree with your thoughts about the RSPCA not doing enough, please take note that I was quoting the kill rates from POUNDS (Wyong & Muswellbrook) not rescue groups. They are NOT rescue groups. These pounds, like the RSPCA run ones, do the exact same thing – take in animals which are surrenders, take in ones left in their surrender bins, and take in animals which the rangers capture. That’s a FACT. Yet Wyong has an overall kill rate of 12% & Muswellbrook has one of 4% for dogs.

      If you want more stats from the regional pounds to compare, I can tell you that Singleton has one of 17.5% whilst Gosford has one of 15.5%.

      If you want to talk the kill ratio of rescue groups it is even lower. I can’t speak for the others, but I know SoCares has a kill rate of zero. But to be fair we’ve been illness free so far this year. Some groups have to face issues such as parvo. Yet even allowing for things like that the kill rate for any one rescue group would be less than 1%.

      Furthermore some of the larger rescue groups will take in surrenders of all types – even ones requiring vet work. These are little known FACTS which, because rescue groups can’t afford TV advertising or making TV shows, unlike the RSPCA, we can’t educate the public as to everything rescue groups & council run pounds actually do.


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      Anne Greenaway • 6 days agoparent

      Doug, Wyong is an OPEN admission pound, Singleton is an OPEN admission pound, Muswellbrook is an open admission pound but their kill rates are markedly less than RSPCA NSW. Also ACT RSPCA has kill rates of around 6.5% yet NSW RSPCA is over 50%. Do dogs and cans get sicker and behave more badly when they cross the ACT/NSW border?????

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    compassionkat • 7 days ago

    Well said, David. The RSPCA’s kill rates are indefensible. This organisation is not on the side of the animals. It has become a hard-hearted, profit making business, intent on capitalising on the misfortunes of ‘all creatures great and small.’

    NSW RSPCA  needs to lift its game, the community is learning the truth about their high-kill culture.
    I for one, am giving my suppor tand donations to the no-kill rescue groups. I want animals saved, not
    thrown out in body bags.

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    Marg • 7 days ago

    In my opinion the RSPCA for many years has been out of touch with community expectations.  My expectations and fellow dog lovers which are many cannot understand why the RSPCA still relies on their version of temperament testing to determine whether a dog is rehomable.  Many dogs have been abused, neglected and lived in horrific circumstances.  Yet they rely on a test that gives the dog little or no time to change.  Ridiculous.   We support no kill.  Every dog deserves love, compassion and security.  I thought that was what the RSPCA was about the Protection of animals.  I don’t see that anymore. All I see is a corporation and a business that has lost sight of their original formation. That to me is totally sad.   Rescue groups work very hard for their funds, they don’t have the luxury that the RSPCA have yet they are out their saving as many dogs as possible.

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    Di_keenan • 7 days ago

    As a pet lover and donator to the RSPCA I find this whole situation quite distressing. Have I naively been contributing my hard earned cash to kill animals? It makes me sick to the stomach that I am a conspirator to murder. It’s time someone like Mr Atwell was included on a task force that was supposedly formed in the best interest of companion animals instead of heads of corporations that are more concerned with KPIs.

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    Kattrina_s • 7 days ago

    Well said David. The public need to know how this BUSINESS is being run…

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    TQDOGS • 8 days ago

    Good on you David, very well written facts, needs to said and heard.

    • sandy2 days agoparent

      How many people are aware that in a segment of RSPCA ANIMAL RESCUE, the inspector received a complaint that a dog with docked tail was at a certain address.  Upon arrival the inspector found an upper story window open, found a ladder and accessed the property through that open window. Found and seized the dog in question, removed it from its home to their shelter anesthetized the dog
      for xrays to see if it was born or not like that.  ALL done without the owner’s knowledge or
      No police officer can enter and seize without a warrant, all an RSPCA Inspector needs by law is to “form the opinion” the animal should be
      seized,  to enter and seize anywhere including  inside your own home. Yet how many people have been told the Inspectors are powerless as long as there is food and water?
      Our politicians have handed absolute power to this “charity”. Why is this so? And with nothing in place for the owner to appeal.

    • sandy2 days agoparent

      What I really find hard to understand is why our politicians are happy to leave the RSPCA the only group who has no accountability  or ombudsman in place to investigate them?

      They have it for the police, the Military, you name it but not the RSPCA with more powers than the police force?

      Try it some time, there is no appeal process in place, never has been.


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