MORE support will be required if Scotland is to realise its potential as a world leader in animal welfare, says Mike Flynn
AT A time when the demand on animal welfare resources is higher than ever, the Scottish SPCA was proud to be named Scotland’s Charity of the Year for 2013 recently.
As Scotland’s animal welfare charity, we were also delighted to and receive the SCVO People’s Choice Award, as voted for by the Scottish public.
With no government or lottery funding, the organisation is dependent on donations to rescue neglected, abandoned and injured animals, investigate abuse, prevent cruelty through education and find rescue pets new homes.
Without public support, the Scottish SPCA wouldn’t exist and we are truly heartened by the faith and confidence shown in our work.
Recently we announced a £4 million plans to extend our Glasgow Animal Rescue and Rehoming Centre, known locally as the Glasgow Dog and Cat Home. This development will increase investment in our rescue centres across Scotland since 2009 to £15m, and follows the expansion of centres both in Inverness and near Edinburgh, the opening of a centre in Aberdeenshire and a National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Clackmannanshire.
Investment at this level is essential if ever-growing demands are to be met. People in Scotland are more aware than ever before of how the Scottish SPCA can help defenceless animals, with over two thirds of the public now alert to the fact aware that the RSPCA is a separate charity, working in England and Wales.
55% rise in calls
Heightened awareness levels and an economic climate which has not been kind to animals have led to a 55 per cent increase in the number of helpline calls received and a 50 per cent rise in call-outs and rescues over the past five years. As a result of our investigations, an average of one person per week was banned from owning animals in 2012.
The majority of the animals in our care which have suffered abuse and neglect are the victims of ignorance and this is why we are also investing heavily in education. Prevention is at the heart of this work, through the treatment, not just of the symptoms of cruelty to animals, but also the causes.
Last year, our free Prevention through Education programme for Scottish schools reached more than 260,000 children and over 60 per cent of primary schools.
Linked to the Curriculum for Excellence, this is one of the largest outreach programmes in Scotland and will make a profound difference by encouraging children and future generations to treat animals with the care and respect they deserve.
The early signs are positive, with our helpline receiving fewer reports of children being involved in cruelty to animals and an increase in calls from adults who have been alerted by children to animals in need of help.
Many of the cases are truly heart-breaking and often involve rescuing dozens of animals at a time from the most horrific suffering. We always find room for these poor souls and never put a healthy animal to sleep.
As well as reflecting on challenges met, it is necessary to look ahead and ask how to further improve animal welfare in Scotland and do more to help animals in danger and living in misery. These are questions which must be considered by the Scottish SPCA and also by other organisations, charities, local authorities and by government.
Confusion around system
An immediate issue causing concern is public confusion surrounding the system for stray dogs. Local councils and the police receive government funding to meet their statutory responsibilities for stray dogs, but are not always in a position to help.
There is, perhaps, also a need for greater clarity regarding sentencing for animal cruelty offences as a common perception exists that the punishments do not always appear to fit the crimes and can seem to be inconsistent.
Within Scotland’s rural communities there is a tremendous opportunity to develop the world’s first fully welfare-assured red meat industry, an initiative we are keen to explore with support from government and the farming industry.
Many more issues require debate, including the compulsory micro-chipping of dogs, the proposed licensing of airguns and the brutal deaths suffered by non-target species in legally-set snares.
The SCVO awards we received are testament to what can be achieved through resolve and ambition.
Yet there is much more that can be done with continued public support and by working together with partners who share our aspiration for Scotland to realise its potential as a world leader in animal welfare.
• Mike Flynn MBE is chief superintendent of the Scottish SPCA