How bad does animal cruelty have to be before the RSPCA turn up?

In the UK, you might know that the RSPCA is the front line dealing with animal welfare problems including animal abuse and animal cruelty. If you see animal cruelty or abuse then your first port of call is to contact the RSPCA.

How do you do this? Well, they have a nice new website and they have a chat bot (instant written communication) which you can use to make an initial enquiry. You explain what you are seeing and experiencing concerning abuse and the automatic response will lead you to a conversation with a real RSPCA officer (if deemed appropriate by the AI response) who will then be able to make an assessment as to whether your description of animal cruelty is sufficient for them to take action under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

How bad does animal cruelty have to be before the RSPCA turn up?
How bad does animal cruelty have to be before the RSPCA turn up? Infographic by MikeB at PoC.
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I’ve just tested this out and told them about a neighbour who has 10 cats living in very poor conditions with a very strong ammonia smell. That is not sufficient for the RSPCA to turn up to which I think gives you a guideline.

And the reason why I contacted the RSPCA was because on the website there is a lady who has posted about a cat owner who has three indoor cats with three litter trays which were full of cat faeces and her home smelt horribly of cat urine.

On the website I told the lady that this is not bad enough for the RSPCA to turn up and clearly, I was correct. They won’t turn up on 10 cats under similar circumstances and therefore three cat is going to be acceptable even if they are maltreated and the air is full of ammonia which the cats have to breath day in and day out as do the humans or humans living in the home.

Sliding scale

This is about a sliding scale of animal abuse towards animal cruelty. The RSPCA have to prioritise and they have to decide whether the degree of animal abuse meets the criteria for taking action. They use as a guideline the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which provides a great amount of guidance as to what a cat caregiver should deliver to their domestic cats. The extent to which the cats’ owner falls short in meeting the requirements dictates whether they are suspected of committing a crime under the Act.

RSPCA would not rescue this cat when he was threatened by a man
RSPCA would not rescue this cat when he was threatened by a man


But the big difficulty is this area of the law is that it is an ‘elastic’ situation. It’s about discretion and how bad or good things are. No doubt the RSPCA make the occasional mistake when making decisions about whether to investigate alleged animal abuse. Sometimes they go in too strong and sometimes they hold back too much.

In an absolute sense, for a person to have 10 cats in a fairly small home while not providing proper care to them and allowing the environment to become feted with the smell of ammonia from urine, is animal cruelty. That’s an absolute assessment against common sense rules.

Unfortunately, the world isn’t that pure. It is more pragmatic. It’s about standards and how high they are. How high do we set the bar on animal cruelty or abuse? It has to be pretty bad before it breaks the law in the UK and I am sure that applies to many other countries in the West.

In developing countries, it will be even worse. Abject cruelty will be carried out without any action whatsoever either because law enforcement is unconcerned or they don’t even have animal welfare laws in the first place.

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