A day with an RSPCA inspector after MPs reject animal sentience

RSPCA Inspector Rosie Russon has been on the job for nineteen years, she rescues animals and investigates allegations of animal cruelty in Kent.

So when she invited me to spend a day investigating allegations of abuse in the fifth worst county in England and Wales for animal cruelty complaints, I said yes.

After the news of animal sentience being rejected from the Brexit Bill last week, outrage ensued, along with the idea that what was being rejected was animals feeling pain. This is not the case.

Sentience is feeling emotion, so when Michael Gove said he would do anything he can to ensure animal pain is included into UK law, it already is, in the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Although this is a setback, Theresa May has listed policies including introducing mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses, tougher sentences for animal cruelty, banning micro beads and tackling the ivory trade.

While these are positive steps towards deterrence, none of them directly tackle the mental welfare of animals.

Rosie describes how without blatant physical evidence of abuse, a conviction for animal cruelty is and will continue to be hard. Old broken bones and emotional suffering are easy to cover up with a simple denial by an offender and if sentience were to be included in UK law, mental abuse may become easier to prove.

“The dog wouldn’t get like that without being beaten or something going wrong in its life” Rosie begins.

“You need experts obviously, behaviour experts and veterinary experts. There are times where you just have to do it and get those animals out because they are so petrified.

“If the sentience part of the legislation was written into the Animal Welfare Act, that would actually be a good thing.”

 

Rosie’s day started with a cup of tea and the decision between a fleece or fully insulated jacket. She then stepped into her van both warm and ready to begin her day.

“I’ve got my jobs on my little PDA, I go through them and choose the most serious issue that’s going on. I also receive calls throughout the day with emergencies and new jobs that are incoming.

“So my list is never empty, it’s always full and it’s a case of trying to work through and attend as many of these animals as possibly I can and try and improve their lives.”

She attends anything from animals being hit by a car, falling in holes and rivers, or out of trees, to animals that need rescuing and allegations of cruelty.

There were calls that I could not be present at for my own safety, and that Rosie could only be present for with planned police support. She scheduled to visit a household the next day that had not long ago held her up against the wall by her throat.

But cruelty to the most despicable level is only part of the job for Rosie, and although we should not forget that it is prevalent throughout Kent and the UK, a simple thing such as advice from an RSPCA Inspector could go a long way.

An animal’s quality of life when owned by someone heavily misinformed is still something to be questioned, despite the owner loving and caring for their pet.

We responded to reports of an alleged beating of a medium brown dog called Coco at a household in Gravesend. We were told it was being kept in a cage for most of the day and mistreated regularly.

This turned out to be only slightly true as Coco was in a cage but only when the owners weren’t in the house. Some advice about keeping the cage door open to avoid anxiety problems was all that was needed, but still would have greatly improved the dog’s life.

The next call was another alleged beating that was found to be two healthy Staffordshire Bull Terriers in Gravesend.

Rosie presumed the two dogs had been play fighting on a hard wooden floor, which to someone unaware of this sounded like cruelty.

Ready to go to the next case the radio suddenly blurted words along the lines of, ‘a cat is

wandering the streets with its head stuck in a can’. We accepted the call only to contact the caller and find out an ambulance has coincidently turned up and given her advice to rub washing up liquid around the edge of the can and the cat should slide out, which to our disappointment and delight, worked perfectly.

Rosie assured me this wasn’t a typical day when she responded to the third and fourth alleged beating. The third resulted in us driving up and down the same road twice to try and locate a house at the end of a suspiciously well hidden road. The owners were not at the property.

The fourth household refused the camera but were told to buy a seatbelt for their dog and to be careful when putting it in the car.

After a swift Waitrose sandwich we moved onto a household that had a history of rabbits being fly-blown and emaciated. There were other animals expected to be there.

Rosie said: “We need to stop this happening because it’s unacceptable for whatever reason, it be a regular occurrence at the property.”

The household did not respond at the door or on the phone. Rosie will have to keep going back until they do.

Our last call was an emergency in Maidstone, a caller reported a pole cat ferret had been attacked by three dogs. When we arrived we saw a solitude cardboard box wriggling in the back of a garden. Rosie attempting to get a hold of the creature while at the same time not hurting it proved to be a challenge.

 

“I’m very glad I put my gloves on then because he had about five bites of my hand while I have my hand under that box, he was going for it.”

The ferret had two puncture wounds, Rosie gently applied pressure to its legs to check it could still feel pain and that its back wasn’t broken. She was fairly optimistic that it was just a case of cleaning the wounds and giving him some antibiotics.

We took the ferret to a nearby veterinary clinic and left its fate in the hands of the vet. The next morning we discovered the ferret had sadly died, presumably of shock.

Generally, the day proved to be enlightening, to see the increasing workload of a work force that is decreasing. No matter how insignificant a job may have seemed, it went on their outdated PDA and got ticked off within due course.

Is the MP vote a significant step back for animal welfare? Probably. While people have taken the decision negatively, the more pressing issue may be the confusion between feeling pain and sentience itself.

 

Rosie said: “We have some concerns, animals obviously do have thoughts and feelings, they do get concerned about where they’re being kept and how there life is.

“We really feel that it perhaps should be reconsidered, the vote and they’re definitely sentient animals and people do need to deal with them and care for them with care and compassion.”

Confusion could be influential, and the suggestion that there will be no law to say that animals feel pain could give way for people to freely abuse them. However, this is all ifs and buts.

The facts are, data from the RSPCA show that allegations are increasing, Kent is in the top five worst in the country and the Animal Welfare Act 2006 says that animals do feel pain.

A spokesman for Kent Police said: “Animal cruelty is an emotive issue and one where we will continue to investigate criminal offences and support other agencies on this matter.

“Kent Police has six specially trained wildlife officers, many more than most other forces, which demonstrates our commitment to taking these types of offences seriously.”

If you need report abuse call the RSPCA helpline at 0300 123 4999.