The RSPCA has once again been accused of cruelty after it seized and killed a beloved pet pig, thought to be the oldest of his breed in the world. The animal charity, which markets itself as caring and kind, has attracted a string of negative headlines over recent years for putting down healthy animals and hounding vulnerable, often elderly people in the courts.
Bob Skinner and Mr Pig, had lived happily in Devon together for many years – Mr Skinner in a £1 million mill which he ran as a B&B, and Mr Pig on a nine acre island behind the property. Mr Pig, a kunekune pig, was a popular attraction at the B&B where he was fussed over by visitors and owner alike, the Daily Mail has reported. “Make sure you feed the friendly if not handsome Mr Piggy” wrote one guest in an online review. Another commented “Bob is a good landlord…Mr Pig is a star.”
When Mr Skinner noticed an abscess forming on Mr Pig’s head he knew he would soon have to say goodbye, but chose to do so when he felt the time was right. The RSPCA, however, had other ideas. After a tip off from the Environment Agency about the pig’s abcess, they seized the animal when Mr Skinner was out and put him down without telling him – then they took Mr Skinner to court for animal cruelty.
“Mr Pig was my only companion and they killed him without even giving me a chance to say goodbye,” he said. “The RSPCA is supposed to be a charity, not police officers. They should start acting like human beings.”
Edward Foster, defending, told the magistrates court who heard the case that his Mr Skinner had intended to have the pig euthanised, but was still coming to terms with losing his “only companion”. He had been on the verge of calling the vet when the RSPCA swooped in.
He said: “The extraordinary thing about Mr Pig was his age. He was 20 years old. The oldest recorded kunekune pig was 19. The only way to get a pig to that age is by taking very good care of it. The one thing any livestock owner knows is if you do not take good care of your animals they do not reach old age. In fact it is unusual for pigs to make more than four years old because they are killed for bacon and ham.”
Mr Skinner accepted that he was technically in breach of animal welfare laws for not seeking veterinary treatment immediately, and therefore pleaded guilty. But the judge ruled that there was no reason to impose a ban on him owning animals in the future, as there had been no malicious intent. Instead, he was ordered to pay the RSPCA’s prosecution costs of £1,000 and a victim surcharge of £15.
This is by no means the first time that the RSPCA has taken doting pet owners to court. It is now the UK’s largest private prosecutor, spending more than £11.3 million in 2013 alone on prosecutions. But critics argue that it is increasingly targeting children, vulnerable people and the elderly.
In 2011 the RSPCA prosecuted a 13 year old girl for rabbiting, despite the practice being entirely legal. According to the Telegraph, The RSPCA argued that Amber West, from County Durham, hadn’t killed the rabbit quickly enough.“She knew what she was doing. She knew she wasn’t in the wrong and she was upset,” says her mother, Karen Ainsley.
“She was given a £200 fine and a 10-year ban on keeping animals. We took it to appeal and the judge wiped everything off except for a conditional discharge, and said she was free to go out with her dog and her ferret that day if she wanted.”
The RSPCA also prosecuted 16 year old Sophie Johnson and her mother Tracey when they left five happy, healthy cocker spaniel puppies in their garden with adequate water and shelter on a sunny day. A neighbour, who didn’t like the fact that they kept dogs, called the charity when a brief rain shower made the puppies wet.
“Another neighbour called me and said the RSPCA were there,” said Tracey. “I came back straight away and the neighbour told them I was coming back. I was two minutes from the house and as soon as the inspector knew I was coming back, she jumped over my fence and took the dogs. By the time I got there they were in the back of her van. I was in a terrible state. I’ve never even had a point on my driving licence.”
The RSPCA claimed the puppies had been “wet and shivering” when found. “I had to sit in the dock,” says Sophie. “It was horrible. My schoolwork suffered, I couldn’t concentrate in class. I felt like a criminal, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. My mum was crying in the dock, then I started crying as well.”
Both mother and daughter were acquitted by the judge, Michael Kelley, who was deeply critical of the RSPCA. “To criminalise a mother and daughter in this way, who in the previous seven weeks had cared properly for these puppies, was wrong,” he said. “To prosecute a 16-year-old in these circumstances was totally inappropriate. The proceedings should never have been brought. She clearly had very little involvement with these animals and was not responsible for them.”
More worrying cases are those involving vulnerable people, such as Carl Dunn, 41, who had mental health problems and was alcohol dependent. Mr Dunn had his home invaded by local yobs who used the place to take drugs, beating up Mr Dunn, stealing his money, and injuring his beloved dog, Ben, when he tried to protect his owner. Yet rather than helping Mr Dunn, the RSPCA took him to court for “allowing” Ben to be hurt and not taking him to the vet. Mr Dunn’s counsel, Barry Gray, said: “All my client knows is that he loved Ben, would never hurt him, and he was the only friend he had, and will have. This man is more to be pitied than prosecuted.”
In 2012 the Daily Mail spoke to a number of whistleblowers within the charity, who recounted how the culture within the charity had altered from one of caring for animals and the people who cared for them, to persecution and radicalism.
Angela Egan-Ravenscroft, a branch co-ordinator for the RSPCA London region between 1990 and 2000, left to join the Countryside Alliance when she grew disillusioned with the way the RSPCA was being run. She said: “Healthy, well-adjusted, rehomeable animals were being destroyed, and I didn’t want to be part of an organisation that did that. The RSPCA has badly lost its way and all of its reasons for being set up in the first place have been subverted. The grass-roots animal welfare no longer exists.”
David Smith, Kent-based a vet who worked for the organisation for 12 years, said: “It seems to be all about prosecuting people now. The RSPCA seems to have lost sight of its role as a charity that was set up to help people and animals.
“When I started doing work for them, the inspectors rarely prosecuted people – it was mostly about helping people to care for the animals. They would go and check on OAPs and make sure they have flea treatment etc, and that just never happens these days.
“They always seem to want to go for prosecution, no matter what.”