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We all love the RSPCA - don't we?

Lincolnshire Echo - October 23 2002

The RSPCA was founded in the 1820s, and has an exceptional reputation for pioneering work on the protection of animals. All over the UK its inspectors rescue abused dogs from dingy back yards and starving horses from run-down stables, while members of the public bring it injured and abandoned animals, and birds with broken wings. Little old ladies remember the RSCPA in their wills -- to the tune of 40 million a year.

I am a strong supporter of animal welfare, and I have been a member of the RSPCA for several years. But today I am within an ace of resigning. Why? Several reasons.

The RSPCA spends only around half its income on real animal welfare, while the rest goes on expensive buildings and administration, questionable food labelling schemes and contentious political campaigns. They have also lost many millions of their investments in the recent stock market crash, forcing postponement or cancellation of key welfare projects.

They have spent millions to campaign against fox-hunting. I know many people see hunting as an animal welfare issue. Others, often better informed, believe that hunting with hounds is at least as humane as other culling methods -- a view with which the government-sponsored Burns report did not disagree. Certainly the countryside management undertaken by hunts and hunting farmers is hugely positive for the environment, wildlife habitat and bio-diversity.

Whichever view you take of the hunting debate, it is clearly a contentious issue, and not the kind of activity envisaged by most of those who leave money to the RSPCA in their wills, or put their 50p in a collecting box.

But the final straw was the recent appointment of failed MP and Lib-Dem leadership candidate Jackie Ballard as the RSPCA Director General. The selection process was marked by the most amazing shenanigans and back-stabbing, with threats of legal action.

The RSPCA desperately needs an effective DG with experience of turning round a large organisation, and with a good head for accounts. Yet Mrs. Ballard has never run a large organisation, and according to press reports has admitted that she can't tell the difference between a cash flow forecast and a set of management accounts. She is entirely unsuited to the job.

Why has she been selected? Apparently in a purely political gesture reflecting her passionate hatred of country sports. Far from seeing the error of its ways, the RSPCA seems hell-bent on doing more of the same, taking money generously contributed to help animals and wasting it on high-profile political campaigns.

If you want to spend money on real animal welfare, rather than politically-correct campaigning, I suggest that you should take the RSPCA off your list, and instead support charities that focus on direct work with animals. If you've left money in your will to the RSPCA, why not consider changing it in favour of one of a real animal welfare charity, and diverting some of that 40 million where it will do more good?

I shall continue to support the National Canine Defence League, which maintains homes for abandoned dogs and does great work re-homing them. My rescue greyhound Dilly came from their Kenilworth rescue centre. The PDSA does excellent work. I shall keep on supporting the Retired Greyhound Trust. I shall continue to work with the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), who seek to ensure the welfare of horses in transit, and do excellent work in Britain and abroad. And I shall co-operate with the Kennel Club, as I have for several years on issues to do with dangerous dogs' laws.

I may even drop a coin in the box for Guide Dogs for the Blind and Riding for the Disabled (I supported their lobbying event in Brussels a few weeks ago). But I shall give nothing more to the RSPCA until they stop the politics and get on with real animal welfare.