Kirsteen Campbell: The good men of Edinburgh have left a strong legacy of animal welfare

It's Scottish Animal Week and we are celebrating all things animal. I joined the Scottish SPCA around a year ago and knew it was my dream job. As my nieces say, '˜you're so lucky, you get to play with animals all day'. Well, on a good day that's definitely a highlight but there's just so much more to our work.

Theres more to the work of the SSPCA than rescuing animals from cruelty or neglect. Picture: Peter Devlin

So, what have I learned? We were founded in 1839 by the ‘good men of Edinburgh’ (direct quote) to protect working horses in the Capital. Today we look after all animals across ­every community in Scotland and our board is comprised of good men, and women!

Our animal helpline can take up to 1,700 calls a day providing support and advice to the public. Where an animal is in need of help our team quickly respond and I think they’ve seen it all!

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When animals are rescued they’re taken to one of our nine animal ­rescue and rehoming centres with ­wildlife casualties taken to our National Wildlife Centre. There we have ­fantastic vets and animal care specialists who love to help animals find a home or be released back into the wild.

Scottish SPCA Chief Executive Kirsteen Campbell Pic Peter Devlin

We’re proud that we never put a healthy animal to sleep, however, where an animal will not thrive in a home environment or in the wild, that can be the only kind option. So I’m learning euthanasia is a form of treatment and can be the last act of kindness an animal will receive.

We do everything we can to enrich lives of animals in our care. Following research with the University of ­Glasgow, and with support from award-winning musician John McLaughlin, we recently released a dog music album Paws, Play, Relax. So I’ve also learned that dogs ­prefer reggae and soft rock and that they have heart and soul! We’re now working with cats and researching the positive impact music can have on post operation recovery so watch this space…

So what about prevention of ­cruelty? Our qualified inspectors and ­special investigations team are authorised by the Scottish Minister to enforce the Animal Health and ­Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and report cases directly to the Crown Office.

What I’ve learned, however, is that we help tens of thousands more ­people than we prosecute each year. Prosecution is always the last ­measure and from around the 85,000 incidents attended last year, we reported fewer than 80 to the Crown Office. The human-animal bond is strong and we do everything we can to ­support people and animals to stay together. I’m learning that where there’s an animal in need, there’s often a person in need. I’ve been out with our inspectors and have seen people who have mental health, financial or drug-related problems and first and foremost we’re there to help. We work in partnership with local authorities, social services, Police Scotland and more.

However, there are those who see animals as commodities; who ­commit intentional acts of cruelty for ‘fun’ or commercial gain. We’re resolute in our ambition to prevent this and are making great strides with fantastic support from partners including Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament. So I’m learning that animal welfare transcends political borders and like-minded people really can change the world and should never stop trying.

It’s my firm belief that education lies at the heart of prevention of ­cruelty, both intentional and unintentional. We offer a free programme in schools across Scotland and last year engaged with more than 275,000 children. Through our partnership with the University of Edinburgh we know this works. Young people are less ­likely to harm an animal and more likely to report an act of cruelty.

Supporting the principles of ­Curriculum for Excellence, we’re determined animal welfare should form part of it. This year we launched Animal Guardians, which reaches vulnerable young people, and in 2019 have ambitious plans to do more.

Alongside animal welfare and wellbeing, I believe our work has real social and economic benefit. Entirely funded through generosity, from a private and public sector background that’s an uncomfortable position I’m still getting used to.

We’re fortunate to receive amazing support and I’m passionate about raising our profile, building more connections and developing more partnerships to help us improve the lives of animals and people and, of course, generate vital funds.

So, do I get to play with animals ­every day? Not quite but I still have the best job in the world!

Kirsteen Campbell Scottish SPCA chief executive.