For the Australian organisation, see RSPCA Australia.

Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
RSPCA official charity logo
Founded 1824
Founder(s) Richard Martin, William Wilberforce, Reverend Arthur Broome
Key people Gavin Grant (Chief Executive)
Area served England & Wales
Focus(es) Animals
Revenue GBP £132.8m (2012)[1]
Employees 1,667 (2011)

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is a charity operating in England and Wales that promotes animal welfare. In 2012, the RSPCA investigated 150,833 cruelty complaints.[2] It is the oldest and largest animal welfare organisation in the world[3] and is one of the largest charities in the UK, with 1,453 employees (as of 2009).[4]

The charity's work has inspired the creation of similar groups in other jurisdictions, starting with the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (founded in 1836), and including the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1839), the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1840), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1866), the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1882), and various groups which eventually came together as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Australia (1981).

The RSPCA is funded primarily by voluntary donations. In 2012, RSPCA total income was £132,803,000, total expenditure was £121,464,000.[5] Its patron is Queen Elizabeth II.


The organisation was founded in 1824 (without the "royal" prefix) as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; it was established by a group of 22 reformers led by Richard Martin MP, William Wilberforce MP and the Reverend Arthur Broome in ‘Old Slaughter’s Coffee House’, St Martin's Lane, near the Strand. The foundation is marked by a plaque on the modern day building at 77-78 St Martin's Lane.[6]

The society was the first animal welfare charity to be founded in the world. In 1824 it brought sixty three offenders before the courts.[7] It was granted its royal status by Queen Victoria in 1840 to become the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as it is today.[8] In the late 1830s the society began the tradition of the RSPCA inspector, which is the image best known of the organisation today.

The RSPCA lobbied Parliament throughout the nineteenth century, resulting in a number of new laws. 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 that time the RSPCA has continued to play an active role, both in the creation of animal welfare legislation and in its enforcement. An important recent new law has been the Animal Welfare Act 2006.[9][10]


RSPCA centres, hospitals and branches operate throughout England and Wales. In 2012 RSPCA centres and branches gave 55,459 animals a second chance of a new home and life.[11]


In 2013 the society owned four animal hospitals, Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Putney (south London) and the Harmsworth Memorial Hospital in Holloway (north London),[12] and a number of clinics which provide treatments to those who could not otherwise afford it, neuter animals and accept animals from the RSPCA inspectorate.


RSPCA animal centres deal with a wide range of injured and rescued animals, working alongside its inspectorate, volunteers, and others to ensure that each animal is found a new home.

In 2013 the Society had four wildlife centres at East Winch (Norfolk), West Hatch (Somerset), Stapeley Grange (Cheshire) and Mallydams Wood (East Sussex), which provide treatment to sick, injured and orphaned wild animals to maximise their chances of a successful return to the wild.[13]


RSPCA branches operate locally across England and Wales. Some are separately registered charities operating at a local level and are run by volunteers. Some RSPCA branches are self-funding and raise money locally to support the animal welfare work they do. They find homes for about three-quarters of all animals taken in by the RSPCA. RSPCA branches also offer advice, microchipping, neutering and subsidised animal treatments. In 2013 there were also about 215 RSPCA shops.


Each Region of the RSPCA contains 'Groups' of Inspectorate staff. A Group is headed by a Chief Inspector. Each Chief Inspector might typically be responsible for around 8 or more Inspectors, 3 Animals Welfare Officers (AWOs) and 2 Animal Collection Officers (ACOs), working with several local Branches. There are also a small number of Market Inspectors across the country.[14]


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, AWOs and ACOs. The Regional Managers are expected to have a broad understanding of operations throughout their regions.[9]


At the national level, there is a 'National Control Centre', which receives all calls from members of the public, and tasks local Inspectors, AWOs or ACOs to respond to urgent calls.[15]

Additionally the £16 million[16] 'National Headquarters' located at Southwater in West Sussex houses several general 'Departments', each with a departmental head, consistent with the needs of any major organisation. The current Chief Executive Officer is Gavin Grant and he manages five Directors who all have responsibility for a number of relevant departments.

Mission statement and charitable status

The RSPCA is a registered charity (no. 219099) that relies on donations from the public. The RSPCA states that its mission as a charity is, by all lawful means, to prevent cruelty, promote kindness to and alleviate suffering of animals.

RSPCA inspectors respond to calls from the public to investigate alleged mistreatment of animals. They offer advice and assistance to improve animal welfare, and in some cases prosecute under laws such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Animals rescued by the RSPCA are treated, rehabilitated and rehomed or released wherever possible.[17]

The RSPCA brings private prosecution (a right available to any civilian) against those it believes, based on independent veterinary opinion, have caused neglect to an animal under laws such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The Society has its own legal department and veterinary surgeons amongst the resources which facilitate such private prosecutions. All prosecutions are brought via independent solicitors acting for the RSPCA, as the Association has no legal enforcement powers or authority in its own right.

Inspectorate rank insignia

RSPCA Inspectorate rank insignia
Rank Animal
Collection Officer
Trainee Inspector Inspector Chief Inspector Superintendent Chief Superintendent Chief Officer
Insignia 77px 75px 75px 75px 75px 75px 75px
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 occasions such as Court hearings and ceremonial occasions. 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 its insignia will shortly be available in this article.


Clarification of powers

In 1829 when the first recognisable police force was established in the UK,[18][19] they adopted a similar uniform to that of RSPCA inspectors who had been wearing uniforms since the charities beginning in 1824. This has lead to similarities in the RSPCA rank names and rank insignia with British police ranks, which has led some critics (such as Chris Newman, chairman of the Federation of Companion Animal Societies)[20] to suggest an attempt to "adopt" police powers in the public imagination. However this is a misconception as the UK police force copied the uniforms of the RSPCA in 1829,[21] 5 years after the creation of the RSPCA. An RSPCA inspector may also issue a "caution" to a member of the public, similar to that used by the police, i.e. "You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence"; this may strengthen the perception that the RSPCA has statutory powers. When Richard Girling of The Times asked about their lack of powers, a spokesman for the RSPCA said "We would prefer you didn’t publish that, but of course it's up to you".[20] Chris Newman claimed that the RSPCA "impersonate police officers and commit trespass. People do believe they have powers of entry";[20] however, he did not produce any evidence of such impersonation of police officers, and the Society strongly deny the charge of impersonation.

Sally Case, former head of prosecutions, insisted 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".[20]

One recent trial was halted and charges relating to nine dogs were thrown out of court after District Judge Elsey ruled that they had been wrongly seized and that the police and RSPCA acted unlawfully when they entered private property and seized the animals.[22]

While the Protection of Animals Act 1911 provided a power of arrest for police, the British courts determined that Parliament did not intend any other organisation, such as the RSPCA, to be empowered under the Act and that the RSPCA therefore does not possess police-like powers of arrest, of entry or of search (Line v RSPCA, 1902). Like any other person or organisation that the law deems to have a duty to investigate – such as HM Revenue and Customs and Local Authority Trading Standards – the RSPCA is expected to conform to the rules in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 so far as they relate to matters of investigation. RSPCA officers are trained to state, following giving the caution, that the person is "not under arrest and can leave at any time".

The Animal Welfare Act 2006[23] has now replaced the Protection of Animals Act 1911, and it empowers the police and an inspector appointed by a local authority. In cases where, for example, access to premises without the owner’s consent is sought, a local authority or Animal Health inspector or police officer may be accompanied by an RSPCA inspector if he or she is invited to do so, as was the case in previous law.[24]

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."[25] 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 England and Wales, and "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."[25] 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.[26]

Live animal export tragedy

In January 2013 the RSPCA euthanized 40 sheep and used the photographs to further their campaign against animal exports.[27] The RSPCA claimed that they were present at the request of the port officials, in an operation headed up by DEFRA, the animals were all checked by several independent vets and humanely put to sleep under the authority of DEFRA, and that their only role in the operation was to ensure animal welfare laws were being adhered to. [28] However, the National Farmers' Union said that it "still leaves many questions to be answered, by both AHVLA and the RSPCA", and that "The NFU also still has questions about why the method of slaughter used resulted in so much blood in the photographs".[29]

Badger culling and politicisation

The RSPCA's opposition of a badger cull has been commented upon; in 2006 there was controversy about a "political" campaign against culling, with the Charity Commission being asked to consider claims that the charity had breached guidelines by being too overtly 'political'. The charity responded saying that it took "careful account of charity law and the guidance issued by the Charity Commission".[30]

Heythrop Hunt

In 2012, the RSPCA spent £326,000 on a successful magistrates’ court prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt. The charity reported: "We believe that this was the first ever prosecution of a traditional hunt as a corporate body. The Heythrop Hunt pleaded guilty to four offences of intentionally hunting a fox with dogs on four separate occasions." The huntsman and hunt master involved also pleaded guilty to the same offences.[31] The success of the prosecution has drawn numerous negative and critical articles from pro-hunting press, hostility the RSPCA describes as ‘inevitable’. "But", says the charity in its 2012 Annual Report, "the overwhelming support from our supporters and the public confirms that the vast majority of people are right behind us. They want us to speak out and stand up for all animals – farm animals, pets, animals used in research and wildlife – by bringing those who abuse them to justice."[32]

Gavin Grant salary

In 2013 the RSPCA revealed that its chief executive, Gavin Grant, is paid £160,000 a year. The charity responded, saying that the "chief executive’s salary is subject to regular independent review and is within the parameters of the going rate for major UK charities, both animal welfare and other."[33] The charity said too that "Support for the RSPCA is growing, not declining".[34] The RSPCA Trustees' report and accounts 2012 stated that while the numbers of members in 2012 declined slightly from 26,151 to 25,512, "overall support for the RSPCA is rising as the public show their support in different ways."

BBC Radio 4 Face the Facts

On 7 August 2013 the BBC Radio 4 Face the Facts Radio program broadcast an episode called "The RSPCA - A law unto itself?"[35] The program presented a number of cases of where the RSPCA has sought to hound vets and expert witnesses who had appeared in court for the defence in RSPCA prosecutions. In one case it sought to discredit the author of the RSPCA Complete Horse Care Manual (Vogel) after he appeared as an expert witness for the defence team in an RSPCA prosecution.[36]

Vice-patronage of the Archbishop of Canterbury

In August 2013 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, declined an invitation to become vice-patron the RSPCA. Lambeth Palace stated that "the Archbishop has enormous admiration for the RSPCA and hopes to see its work thrive long into the future."[37][38]

Deputy chairman raises concerns over 'political' allegations

In September 2013 the RSPCA deputy chairman Paul Draycott said that 'too political' campaigns threatened the charity's future and could deter donors.[39] Draycott said that the RSPCA could go insolvent "We have spent months discussing where we want to be in 10 years time, but unless we develop a strategy for now we won't be here then". In response the chairman Mike Tomlinson said "The trustee body continues to place its full support behind the RSPCA's chief executive, management and all our people who do such outstanding work". The accusations of politicization remain unsubstantiated.

Paul Draycott also warned that the RSPCA fears an exodus of "disillusioned staff" with "poor or even non-existent management training and career paths" for employees. In response the RSPCA’s chief executive, Gavin Grant denied suggestions in the memo that there was "no strategy" in some areas, stating that there was no difficulty in attracting trustees or serious internal concerns about management.[40]

Whistleblower suicide and Charity Commission investigation

In May 2013 former RSPCA employee Dawn Aubrey-Ward was found hanged at her home when suffering from depression after leaving the animal charity.[41] Aubrey-Ward said that the charity unnecessarily killing animals that could not be rehomed. The coroner said "Following time at the RSPCA she was increasingly frustrated with her line manager. That led to incidents".[42] The RSPCA was subsequently investigated by the Charity Commission over its intimidatory and bullying tactics, that lead to the Charity Commission raising concerns in a meeting with trustees.[43]

Advertising standards violation

An advertisement published by the RSPCA in the Metro newspaper said: "The UK Government wants to shoot England's badgers. We want to vaccinate them – and save their lives." But more than 100 people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), saying the use of the term "exterminate" was misleading. The advertising standards watchdog judged that the advert was misleading, saying "The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told the RSPCA not to use language that implied the whole badger population in the cull areas would be culled in future advertising.[44]

See also

Further reading

  • Who Cares For Animals: 150 years of the RSPCA by Antony Brown.[45]
  • Animal Experimentation: A Guide to the Issues Vaughan Monamy, Cambridge University Press


External links

  • RSPCA England/Wales
  • Charity Commission
  • Guidance on the Operation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986
  • RSPCA Inspector Career advice
  • RSPCA Brighton
  • Pet Insurance from the RSPCA
  • Letter from RSPCA against claims of euthanizing a pet too soon

Video clips

  • RSPCA YouTube channel
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