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If you care about Claude the cat – or any animal – you should support the RSPCA

This is a charity that deserves to be given more power, not less

We appear set for another bout of anti-RSPCA braying this week in response to the story of the 16-year-old cat Claude who was removed from the Byrnes family by an inspector and euthanised because of alleged ill-treatment.

Poor Claude the cat. Killed unthinkingly for having slightly scraggy hair. That’s the headline anyway. The RSPCA is full of draconian power-mad bastards, isn’t it? And the Byrnes loved Claude so much. Sure, their beloved pet was actually in a disgusting state of non-life, according to the RSPCA – body score “0”, which is the thinnest an animal can be.

Claude was unable to walk or breath properly, the charity claimed, because of matted hair and was so distressing to the human eye that members of the public reported it. Then two separate vets – the RSPCA’s and the Byrnes’ own family vet – advised that the cat to put to sleep, the RSPCA added in a statement.

Still, the family insist that that a post-mortem examination bears out the fact their pet was in good health.“They didn’t let our kids say goodbye,” Mr Byrne mused.

The RSPCA defended itself by saying that the family was given 24 hours to pop in and wish the cat farewell, though the Bryne family claim the charity wouldn’t even wait until the kids came home from school. This is mainly a he-said, she-said tale with added whiskers – but where the story gains momentum is in the decision of the RSPCA to attempt to prosecute the Byrnes family, a move which the Crown Prosecution Service subsequently rejected. 

Several people view this as a well-deserved kick in the teeth for the animal charity which, they would say, has got far too big for its boots.

The image problem that the RSPCA suffers from, to my mind, stems from the fact that it is determined to use its brilliantly collected charity funds to turn the power of the law against men and women who hurt animals. This isn’t remotely a story about a scraggy cat called Claude. It’s just another opportunity to give the RSPCA a public drubbing.

We seemingly had no problem with the charity in, say, the 1980s when it was the patron saint of pigeons and puppies left on rubbish dumps. Neither did we mind how it spent its funds as it brought prosecutions against the sort of scumbags who illegally fight dogs to the death in disused car-parks, or the youths who kill cats as a result of their suburban boredom.

Where the RSPCA overstepped the mark was, perhaps, in deciding that the law against fox-hunting was more than a political figment. It took it seriously. It requires a certain amount of brass balls to take on the Heythrop Hunt in Oxfordshire, favoured by the Chipping Norton residents, for their habit of breaking the law and continuing to kill foxes with packs of hounds.

It seems like the Heythrop set considers the rule of law to apply only to the little disgusting urban person – and believe that the established country order should do what it pleases.

Because of its anti-fox-hunting activities I hear frequently that the RSPCA is increasingly “political”, that it prosecutes fatuously and gets involved in things it has no business in, while frittering away the coins you stick in charity boxes by taking David Cameron’s former hunting associates to court out of pure pettiness.

Obviously at this point one could suggest that if you want to stop the RSPCA yanking your chain about illegally harming animals, then you should stop harming the animals, but the problem with the fox-hunting aficionados, much like those who dog-fight or wallop a horse with a whip to make it win a race, is that they see their form of lawbreaking as lucrative, rightful and fun. 

Moving back to the tale of poor very much loved Claude (RIP), who was snatched and executed by the RSPCA for having an insignificant fur tat near his right ear – and I may as well embellish this tale – while ghoulish inspectors in Grim Reaper capes banged drums of doom and weeping children hid in their mothers’ skirts, the problem with our response to it is that a good number of people start to entertain the the notion that the RSPCA has “too much power”.

As an animal-lover sickened on a daily basis by news of animal mistreatment, this feels like utter rot. I’m a firm believer the RSPCA should have more power. More strength to punish the thousands of idiots who purchase puppies each year before mistreating and abandoning them. (Approximately 4,000 Staffies are left at Battersea per year alone.) More power to enter properties and remove “beloved” starving animals. More power to seize animals kept solely for breeding purposes. More brute force to prosecute people who hoard animals or leave horses outdoors in all weathers, or import tropical creatures to live miserably and die, or steal people’s pets to use as fighting “bait”, or simply get bored with their pet so move house and leave it to starve to death.

The RSPCA, in very much the same manner as our police, has become an emergency service that it is fashionable to claim to mistrust and lack faith in, until the very moment one needs it – when suddenly they’re the first people to call.

Anyone who think this charity has too much power cares very little for those with four paws.