Education key to stopping animal cruelty

Scottish SPCA inspectors and officers last year spoke to more than 260,000 children. Picture: Peter Devlin
Scottish SPCA inspectors and officers last year spoke to more than 260,000 children. Picture: Peter Devlin
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By speaking to children in schools we can make a profound difference to animal welfare, says Gilly Mendes Ferreira

Every week the Scottish SPCA reports on incidents of cruelty to animals. The seemingly endless cases of neglect, abandonment and abuse can appear to be at odds with Scotland’s reputation as a nation of animal lovers.

Picture: Peter Devlin

Picture: Peter Devlin

It is very sad that so many animals are being mistreated, and dealing with the aftermath of this cruelty certainly places a massive strain on our charity’s resources. Over the past five years, calls to our animal helpline have increased 55 per cent, with our inspectors and animal rescue officers now attending more than 58,000 callouts per year.

Most animals in our care are the victims of ignorance rather than brutality, and this is why education is of paramount importance. We understand that it simply isn’t enough to treat the symptoms of cruelty to animals. We need to treat the causes as well.

Four years ago we launched our groundbreaking free Prevention through Education programme for Scottish schools and set an ambitious goal to reach every child in Scotland at least once at primary school.

Understanding animal welfare issues

Last year our inspectors, animal rescue officers and education officers spoke to more than 260,000 children – an incredible achievement.

Our interactive schools programme is linked to the Curriculum for Excellence and our workshops help children develop an understanding of animal welfare issues, how the Scottish SPCA helps animals and how each child can play an active role in promoting and improving the lives of animals in their community.

We have 60 inspectors, rescue officers and education officers visiting primary schools free of charge in every local authority area, reaching children mainly in the primary four to primary seven age range. Nurseries are offered fun resource packs and we also visit secondary schools on request.

By winning hearts and minds, we passionately believe we can make a profound difference to animal welfare in Scotland by encouraging future generations to treat animals with the care and respect they deserve.

We will soon be undertaking a national study to assess the wider impact of our programme on children’s attitudes towards animals and animal welfare.

The initial signs are extremely encouraging. In 2012 we received 124 reports of children being involved in cruelty to animals, a decrease of 21 per cent compared with the previous year.

Building a better Scotland for animals

The number of calls we received from adults who had been alerted by children to animals in need of our help rose 112 per cent over the same period. These calls saved injured wildlife and in several instances helped rescue animals from neglect.

Our substantial investment in education will save lives and help build a better Scotland for animals and animal welfare. There is a further benefit for society at large, as while animal welfare is always the Scottish SPCA’s concern and priority, the evidence linking aggression towards animals at an early age and violence towards humans later in life is well documented.

Prevention is at the very heart of our work, and our vision is of a Scotland where everyone is kind to animals and looks after their welfare.

On balance, we are still a nation of animal lovers. This is why our animal helpline receives almost 200,000 calls a year from members of the public concerned about an animal’s safety, asking for animal welfare advice and interested in rehoming rescued animals in our care.

Without public support and their love of animals, there simply wouldn’t be a Scottish SPCA, as we receive no government or lottery funding. Yet there is much more we must achieve together. While the impact of our education programme has been very positive, we must continue to invest and reach more children to benefit animal welfare in Scotland today, tomorrow and in generations to come.

• Gilly Mendes Ferreira is education manager with the Scottish SPCA

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