Today, the RSPCA announced the disturbing news that in England and Wales, animal cruelty cases are at their highest level to date.
It is reported that in 2014, nearly 160,000 incidents were reported and investigated by the charity. That’s over 400 incidents a day. The RSPCA go on to list some of the cases, which are as horrific as you can imagine. Over 20,000 of them involved ‘deliberate and often violent’ cruelty.
Despite this rise in numbers – up from just over 150,000 in 2013 – convictions have actually fallen. Just over 1,000 people were convicted last year. The RSPCA reports a 100% conviction rate, but this is still clearly nowhere near enough.
The area with the highest number of complaints was Greater London at 12,202, followed by West Yorkshire with 8,440 and Greater Manchester with 8,069. Overall, West Yorkshire saw the highest number of people convicted at 93, followed by County Durham with 83 and the West Midlands with 64.
It’s hard to believe that in 2015 we are still seeing more and more people abusing animals. Despite all the campaigns, appeals and improvements in legislation, idiots up and down the UK are still carrying out heinous acts on sentient, defenceless creatures, with RSPCA saying more ‘innovative’ methods of cruelty are being revealed all the time. Lovely.
Clearly, we’re simply not doing anywhere near enough. Time and time again, research has shown that cruelty to animals is linked to cruelty to humans. Many convicted murderers for example, have been found to have started out by practicing violent acts on animals. In the US, the FBI has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appear in its computer records of serial rapists and murderers. Of 36 convicted multiple murderers questioned in one study, 46% admitted committing acts of animal torture as adolescents. Studies have also found that men who abuse their domestic partners often target the family’s companion animals as well. An abused dog or cat often means there’s a bruised child, spouse or elder in the same home. One US review, entitled Understanding the Link between Violence to Animals and People: A Guidebook for Criminal Justice Professionals suggests those working in criminal justice should pay more attention to reports of animal cruelty. It poses that, ‘When someone harms an animal, the important question to ask is, “Who will be next?”’ A key point and one which is all too often overlooked by authorities, much to the detriment of us all.
So, despite decades of research and documented evidence of the indisputable link between animal cruelty and violence towards humans, the number of people abusing animals and getting away with it is rising.
It’s time to take a long hard look at how we in the UK see our four legged friends. We need to start by showing people what special, unique personalities animals have and how vital it is that we treat them with the empathy, compassion and care they deserve. We have a responsibility to animals in the same way as we do to children, the elderly, those with limited physical or mental abilities and all the other groups on the spectrum of vulnerability which is part of our world. This has to begin by teaching our children about how it is their duty, not their choice, to treat every animal they come into contact with with gentleness and care. In return, the rewards they will receive will be unparallelled. We need to call on the government to once and for all include animal welfare in the National Curriculum now, before it is too late. The government’s own post-legislative scrutiny of the Animal Welfare Act concluded that there is a lack of public awareness surrounding the core responsibilities of pet owners. PDSA /YouGov research conducted in 2012 found that only 31% of owners felt they were familiar with the Animal Welfare Act.
Meanwhile in 2014, a survey of teachers revealed over 95% say teaching children about animal welfare would help make them more compassionate and socially aware.
In 2013, the House of Lords debated the issue, with Lord Nash concluding that:
It is not the role of the national curriculum to prescribe everything that might valuably be taught to children. We are slimming down the national curriculum to focus on essential knowledge in core subjects. The draft primary science curriculum requires pupils to be taught about the needs of animals, including food, water and so on, and the care of animals is something that we would expect all good schools to cover in their wider curriculum as part of the soft skills.
Following this, a coalition of animal welfare organisations joined forces in 2013 and lobbied the government to include animal welfare on the new National Curriculum. This was ‘considered’ – and then promptly rejected. In 2014 Lord Nash piped up again, this time stating:
We feel that it is very helpful for young people to learn about animal welfare in the national curriculum, but we do not think it is right to include it, certainly not at this stage. We have a long way to go to make sure that the majority of pupils in this country have an education in core academic subjects first.
This isn’t good enough. Of the 160,000 incidents last year – how many of the perpetrators will we soon be reading about committing murder, rape, or child abuse? Enough is enough. We’re not only letting down our animals, we’re letting down our children – in a big way. The government needs to pull its head out of the sand and realise this isn’t just about teaching kids to stroke fluffy bunnies. A whole myriad of future problems could be prevented if politicians would wake up and realise the intrinsic value animals hold. Sadly, they couldn’t seem less interested if they tried.
However, there is some hope for our children – even if, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is having to be led by the third sector as opposed to our government. In Scotland, the Scottish SPCA’s Prevention through Education programme is now in schools and available to book. The organisation’s free, groundbreaking interactive programme fits into the four capacities of the Curriculum for Excellence, most notably helping children develop into responsible citizens within their communities. Similar schemes are run by RSPCA and SPANA in England.
If you or any of your friends have children, why not find out whether their school would welcome a visit from animal education officers? The lessons the children will learn will stay with them forever and hopefully foster a lifelong love of, and dedication to, animals of all shapes and sizes. In the meantime, let’s never stop fighting for better education for our children – whether that comes from the curriculum and schools, or ourselves educating the children we know wherever we can.
You can also write to your MP and ask them where they stand on the fact animal welfare is still utterly overlooked in the National Curriculum and if they would consider implementing a more rounded system to teach care and compassion for all sentient beings.
Until that day, we all have an important part to play on our own doorstep, in doing all we can to report on and prevent cruelty to animals. If you see or hear anything, or suspect someone may be heading towards acting violently towards an animal, speak up now.
To report animal cruelty you can call the following numbers:
- Scotland – SSPCA: 03000 999 999
- England and Wales – RSPCA: 0300 1234 999
- Northern Ireland – USPCA: 028 3025 1000
- Republic of Ireland – ISPCA: 1890 515 515
It’s also worth sticking these in your phone so you always have them to hand.
The fight is not over. Together, we must do all we can to ensure more convictions are delivered to perpetrators of animal crime, more children see the beauty to be found in caring for animals and more four legged creatures live the safe, happy lives they deserve. Let’s stamp out animal cruelty once and for all.