Saturday, 24 March 2012

Morally wrong doesn't necessarily mean it's a criminal offence

This week I was afforded the rare opportunity to see what the RSPCA inspectors/animal welfare officers see on a daily basis. It was only one visit, but it was enough to disturb me to the core. (I have to be suitably evasive about elaborating on this but I'll do my best to illustrate further.)

People generally say one of two things to me: 'I couldn't do your job' or 'I would love to do your job'. The latter always sparks a silent response of 'no you wouldn't'. I think it but never say it because, well, it sounds rude! But truly, seeing the many neglected animals come in, the heartache of loosing some and the turbulent time we have each and every day is mind-boggling sometimes. But it is honestly a privilege to help the most needy animals in society and it's a privilege to be part of a team that shares the same vision, passion and commitment.

But no-one, and I mean no-one, can possibly imagine what the RSPCA inspectors/officers contend with on a daily basis. Many tell me they encounter a lot of verbal abuse, which is just so demoralising and narrow-minded because they are all just trying to do the best they can with limited resources. Similarly, they rarely get the credit they deserve and so often get side-lined or overlooked altogether.

A classic example of this was a couple of weeks ago when an inspector rescued a horse from a canal. The inspector spent hours alongside the horse and owner to ensure their safety throughout. The inspector was instrumental in securing the successful outcome, yet it was the fire service that got all the glory in the local newspapers, despite the inspector having notified the papers of the story in the first instance!

Of course no-ones does this work for 'the glory' but a bit of appreciation really does go a long way, of which we at the branch probably see more of than most. We are very lucky to receive updates from many of the adopters on how our old friends are getting along and this makes the world of difference to our motivation levels. But I was faced with the harsh realities of an inspector's thankless job this week when I visited a property (upon request/with permission).

I came away disturbed and was later described as looking ashen; it was clear for all to see I had been shocked to the core. To be honest what I saw was probably 'good' compared to the many dire and distressing sights of abuse and neglect that is witnessed, but this was one of my first tastes of seeing a neglected animal in-situ and it left me reeling and preoccupied for days.

I couldn't remove from my mind the conditions the animal had been forced to live in for several years. It was true that the animal 'didn't know any better' but I did, even if the owner didn't. I smelt so badly after handling the animal that it stayed with me until I could get changed.

I know in principle that the neglect was not so dire that it warranted either prosecution and/or instant removal; what it was was sheer ignorance. Explaining to the owner that the conditions were unacceptable was like talking to a brick wall; they really had no conceivable idea that it was just morally wrong to keep an animal in this way, though as I say, not necessarily amounting to a criminal offence (in the eyes of the law).

I knew we couldn't take the animal in at the time and would have to leave them there until we had space. I had to fight so hard against the urge to take the animal in there and then, but where on earth would I put the animal when each and every foster home and pen was full? Over the following hours I experienced a range of emotions that ranged from anger to guilt to utter sadness. Ultimately I was left feeling very grateful that we have such amazing men and women who do this on a daily basis with such guts and dedication and grateful that I only have to contend with our side of the bargain - rehabilitation and rehoming.

I'm sure that after a few years of being an inspector you become accustomed to seeing the sights that they do, but I'm also sure that some cases can never escape your mind; they just dissipate in time. The next time an animal comes into our care with the physically evident signs of neglect I know it will act as a reminder of this week's experience.

I can't imagine ever being in a world that is free from animal cruelty, moreover, I don't ever want to imagine our country without the RSPCA. The glimpse of the inspectors/officers work made me humble, appreciative and very despondent indeed.

Pictured above is Max. He is a new admission whose story is quite similar to the one I allude to in this blog.