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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.
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
RSPCA official charity logo
Founders Richard Martin, William Wilberforce, Reverend Arthur Broome
Founded 1824
Headquarters Southwater, West Sussex,
 United Kingdom

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is a charity in England and Wales that promotes animal welfare. It is the oldest and largest animal welfare organisation in the world[1] and is one of the largest charities in the UK. Queen Elizabeth II is its patron.[2]

Founded as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in 1824, it adopted its current name after being granted royal status by Queen Victoria in 1840. It has inspired the creation of similar groups in other nations, 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), Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals 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.

The RSPCA is funded entirely by voluntary donations and in 2006 reported an income in excess of £110 million [3]. No state or lottery funding is received.



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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]

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 locally 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).


Each Region of the RSPCA contains six 'Groups' of Inspectorate staff. A Group is headed by a Chief Inspector. Each Chief Inspector might typically be responsible for around 8 Inspectors, 3 AWOs and 2 ACOs, working with several local Branches. There are also a small number of Market Inspectors across the country.[8]


There are five 'Regions' (North, East, Wales & West, South & South West, South East), each headed by a Regional Manager (responsible for all staff and RSPCA HQ facilities) assisted by a Regional Superintendent who has responsibility for the Chief Inspectors, Inspectors, Animal Welfare Officers and Animal Collection Officers. The Regional Managers are expected to have a broad understanding of operations throughout their regions.[9] Animal Collection Officers: ACO’s were previously designated a 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 qualificationsvalid 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.[10] Staff or volunteers wishing to train as Inspectors are required to demonstrate certain minimum standards in formal education.


At the national level, there is a 'National Control Centre', which receives all calls from members of the public, and tasks local Inspectors, Animal Welfare Officers or Animal collection officers to respond to urgent calls by means of an airwaves set. A mobile data facility will shortly be provided to all field staff to enable greater efficiency of tasking and updating of incidents. Additionally the 'National Headquarters' located at Southwater in West Sussex houses several general 'Departments', each with a departmental head. These national Departments include, for example, Inspectorate, Branches & Animal Centre Support, Training, Finance, Publications and a number of other consistent with the needs of any major organisation. The current Chief Executive Officer is Mark Watts and he manages four Directors who all have responsibility for a number of relevant departments.

Rank insignia

RSPCA Inspectorate rank insignia
Rank Animal
Collection Officer
Trainee Inspector Inspector Chief Inspector Superintendent Chief Superintendent Chief Officer
Rspca-02a.JPG Rspca-03a.JPG Rspca-04a.JPG Rspca-05a.JPG Rspca-06a.JPG Rspca-07a.JPG Rspca-10a.JPG

All ranks within the Inspectorate wear a white shirt with obvious RSPCA logo on the left breast. All ranks, except Animal Collection Officers, are provided with a formal uniform for use at special occaisions such as Court hearings and ceremonial occaisions. During major rescues, specialist teams of Inspectorate staff may opt for a more casual dark blue polo shirt with RSPCA embroidered logo. Note: a new rank of Animal Welfare Officer has recently been introduced and it's insignia will shortly be available in this article.

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.[11] Its annual running costs are funded exclusively by voluntary donations and legacies. No state or lottery funding is received.

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.[12]

On account of the opportunities it provides for the personal development of young people, the RSPCA is a member of The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS)[13].


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 killed by the RSPCA are sick or injured to an extent that it is the only humane course of action.[citation needed] It also operates specialist veterinary hospitals and clinics, as well as animal collection centres.

RSPCA inspectors respond to calls from the public to investigate alleged mistreatment of animals. These officers are normal civilians and have no special rights nor statutory powers. Like other civilians, they may not enter anyone's premises without permission; they do, however, benefit (unlike other citizens) from specialist training and equipment, and a regular interaction with local police forces, which enables them to seek assistance from the local police force, which may ask a magistrate for a search warrant, to enter private homes.

Unlike the RSPCA, local authority employees working for animal welfare, Government Animal Health Officers and the police do have powers to enter in an emergency under the Animal Welfare Act, but normally require a warrant - the RSPCA falls under none of those categories.[14] The RSPCA relies for statutory powers on excellent, professional working relations with the police and other statutory bodies who recognise the expertise and integrity of the RSPCA. The RSPCA brings prosecutions by bringing a private prosecution (a right available to any civilian) against those it believes, based on independent veterinary opinion, have caused neglect to an animal. The Society has its own legal department and veterinary surgeons amongst the resources which facilitate such private prosecutions.[15]

All prosecutions are brought via independent solicitors acting for the RSPCA. The RSPCA does not have its own 'payrolled' lawyers acting in court which assists with the separation of investigating officer and prosecuting officer.


Bhaktivedanta Manor Hindu Temple

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 temple 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 eating was not suffering from any disease.[16] 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 the cow was killed to prevent further suffering, with a spokesperson stating that "It would have been wrong to allow this situation to continue. This animal had been in constant pain and suffering for some time. We know the cow was suffering from painful and infected sores, her limbs had become wasted and her breathing difficult." She said that three separate vets had agreed that the animal was suffering and should be immediately put down.[16]

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".[17]

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.[18] In December 2008 the RSPCA apologized for the way they had handled the killing of Gangotri.[19]

An RSPCA spokesman said: "We are apologising for any hurt or offence caused by our actions last year. "We know that our actions caused a lot of hurt to sensitivities, and we are now looking at how we can work together in the future. "We followed the law of the land... but that can in the end offend people."[19]

Significantly, the full statement will express regret only for the hurt and offence caused by the killing of Gangotri, not for the act itself. The RSPCA insists that its action - backed up by an official warrant - did comply with the law, and it denies using trickery to gain access to her stall.[19]

All new RSPCA Inspectors now receive diversity training provided by 'Diverse Ethics' a UK company which came forward following the Gangotri incident.[20] Part of this training includes visits to a number of places of religious worship, for example;a Hindu Temple and a Muslim Mosque.

Lack of statutory powers and allegations of police impersonation

The RSPCA rank names and rank insignia share similarity with British police ranks, which has led some critics (such as Chris Newman, chairman of the Federation of Companion Animal Societies[21]) to suggest an attempt to 'adopt' police powers in the public imagination. Against this suggestion it must be remembered that the 'bath star' and 'royal crown' are used in various combinations to identify British military rank, and have therefore been adopted by many organisations in British and Commonwealth nations to indicate ranks. The same series of rank markings are used not only by the RSPCA and the British police, but also by such disparate organisations as the British Army (who do have statutory powers) and the St John Ambulance Brigade (who, like the RSPCA, have no statutory powers). It is of note that the history of the RSPCA goes back nearly two hundred years, indeed before there were uniformed police officers.

When Richard Girling of the Times newspaper asked about their lack of powers, a spokesman for the RSPCA said "We would prefer you didn’t publish that, but of course its up to you".[21] Chris Newman, chairman of the Federation of Companion Animal Societies, claimed that the RSCPA "impersonate police officers and commit trespass. People do believe they have powers of entry";[21] however, he did not produce any evidence of such impersonation of police officers[citation needed], and the Society strongly deny the charge. Sally Case, head of prosecutions, insists that RSPCA inspectors are trained specifically to make clear to pet-owners that they have no such right. They act without an owner’s permission, she says, “only if an animal is suffering in a dire emergency. If the court feels evidence has been wrongly obtained, it can refuse to admit it”.[21]. RSPCA Inspectors do not receive training to impersonate police officers, they are legally obliged and do state to members of the public that they are not police officers. The RSPCA logo is clearly visible on uniform worn by RSPCA officers, all carry RSPCA ID cards and their vans are also clearly liveried with the RSPCA logo.

It is also of note that RSPCA personnel may issue individuals with cautions using the exact or very similar wording to that of arresting police officers, i.e. "You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say will be taken down...." etc. No statutory powers are required to issue a caution, indeed any person can do so under UK law and many non police organisations, statutory authorities and other agencies do regularly issue the caution. RSPCA officers are trained to state, following giving the caution, that the person is "not under arrest and can leave at anytime."

Disability Now

The RSPCA has also been criticised by Disability Now magazine for unfairly targeting elderly and disabled people,[22] although in the great majority of cases cited by the organisation there is agreement that animals were allowed to suffer as the cases referred to in the Disability Now article were heard by independent UK courts.[citation needed] Disability Now maintains that the owners of these various animals required help with their disability (which in many cases was mental disability related to depression)[citation needed], whilst the RSPCA maintains that regardless of the cause it has a first duty to prevent the suffering of the animals involved.

An RSPCA spokeswoman said: “We certainly do not target disabled people for prosecution.”

“RSPCA inspectors receive comprehen­sive training on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 including the provisions relating to those who may be mentally disordered or otherwise mentally vulnerable… if in doubt they are treated as such and given the required legal protection. If we proceed to court it means the prosecutions department, which is separate from the inspectorate, has been satisfied with that process, and if the court has convicted, then so too have they.”[22]

Fund-raising in Scotland

The RSPCA has been criticised by the Scottish SPCA for fund-raising in Scotland and thereby "stealing food from the mouths of animals north of the border by taking donations intended for Scotland."[23] The RSPCA insists that it does not deliberately advertise in Scotland but that many satellite channels only enabled the organisation to purchase UK-wide advertising. In a statement, the RSPCA said it went "to great lengths" to ensure wherever possible that adverts were not distributed outside of England and Wales.

It said: "Every piece of printed literature, television advertising and internet banner advertising always features the wording 'The RSPCA is a charity registered in England and Wales'.

"All Scottish donors, who contact us via RSPCA fundraising campaigns, are directed to the Scottish SPCA so that they can donate to them if they so wish." [23] The Scottish SPCA changed its logo in 2005 to make a clearer distinction between itself and the RSPCA in an attempt to prevent legacies being left to its English equivalent by mistake when the Scottish charity was intended.[24]

See also

Further reading

  • Who Cares For Animals: 150 years of the RSPCA by Antony Brown.[25]
  • Animal Experimentation: A Guide to the Issues Vaughan Monamy, Cambridge University Press


  1. ^ Retrieved on 2009-01-30
  2. ^ Retrieved on 2008-09-30
  3. ^ Retrieved on 2009-01-30
  4. ^ retrieved on 2008-03-24
  5. ^ Retrieved on 2008-03-24
  6. ^ Retrieved on 2008-03-24
  7. ^ Retrieved on 2008-03-24
  8. ^ Regional RSPCA structure and contact information [1].
  9. ^ This RSPCA web page includes a regional map of the five regions.
  10. ^ Animal collection officer requirements are outlined on the RSPCA careers page [2].
  11. ^ Charities Direct
  12. ^ Retrieved on 2008-03-24
  13. ^ Full list of NCVYS members
  14. ^ Countryside Alliance
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b Telegraph article
  17. ^ Myths and Facts Justice for Gangotri, 2008
  18. ^ Hindus protest over cow slaughter
  19. ^ a b c
  20. ^ Diverse Ethics
  21. ^ a b c d
  22. ^ a b
  23. ^ a b Animal groups in bitter cash row BBC News, 3 January 2009
  24. ^ New identity for animal charity BBC News, 1 August 2005
  25. ^ Detail from a copy of the book, published by Heinemann of London in 1974 with an ISBN of 434 90189 X. The chapters relate to the Origin of the Society, and finishes with prospects for the future, with a foreword by John Hobhouse (Chairman of the RSPCA). Appendix section includes a List of Past Presidents and Accounts information.

External links

Video clips


Up to date as of January 15, 2010


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