The RSPCA over the last decade has – many would say – lost its way, bogged down in a mess of private prosecutions against honest members of the public instead of focusing on real animal welfare issues. But could the charity be about to do a U-turn? In an interview with the Telegraph their new chief executive, Jeremy Cooper, has admitted that the charity has become too political in recent years, accepting that they have ‘made mistakes in the past’, including over the badger cull and in its prosecution of hunts, and says it is ‘very unlikely’ that the charity will bring any private prosecutions against hunts in future.
If the RSPCA do change their tune, it can't be anything but a good thing. While their political campaigning and refusal to accept their mistakes had, in the past, made for bad news stories, it had also affected their fundraising abilities, with donations from membership fees, legacies and gifts all falling.
Their former CEO, Gavin Grant, was certainly not one to back off when it came to the charity's heavy-handed tactics. In comparison to him, Cooper's acceptance of the fact that the charity has made mistakes is a drastic shift in attitude.
In recent years, as everyone knows, the charity has been dogged by a barrage of negative press stories regarding their behaviour. All kinds of domestic pets from cats to horses put down willy nilly, rows over its protests against badger culls, a member of their council comparing farm animals' lives to the holocaust, and of course the infamous prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt – which cost over a quarter of a million pounds – have all severely damaged people's faith in the charity.
It's not just in the press either. Go online to any the many Facebook groups where animal lovers and owners congregate, and you'll see that the one recurring theme whenever anyone asks for help with abandoned, suffering or mistreated animals is: ‘Don't bother with the RSPCA’.
So today's news from Cooper is a ray of light – and there haven't been many of those for the charity in recent years. He tells the Telegraph that he'd like to cut down the number of private prosecutions they bring – instead depending on the CPS to deal with cases as they see fit:
‘I would like to see the number of prosecutions come down...The prosecutions have to be appropriate. We should look to fall back on education and advice wherever possible. It needs to be appropriate, measured and balanced in terms of our response.’
When it comes to hunting in particular, he says that they will ‘investigate’ cases of illegal hunting, but then allow the authorities to do what they think best with their ‘findings’.
Cooper's ethos overall seems entirely at odds to that of their more aggressive and combative former boss, Gavin Grant, with him agreeing that some of the charity's former tactics had been ‘not helpful’.
Let's just hope that this new form of leadership allows the charity to get back to doing what it has in the past done best and is famous for – looking after animal welfare. As Cooper himself said: ‘It is about doing what we can do on animal welfare, the prevention of cruelty, rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming. That is what we are about.’ He has a tough job on his hands – so best of luck to him.