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History of the RSPCA

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been a driving force, protecting animals from abuse for almost 200 years. The charity - formed in London in 1824 - became the world's first recognised animal welfare charity. Today, it monitors the wellbeing of millions of animals, from domestic pets to farm animals, across the UK.



Richard Martin, a Member of Parliament, paved the way for the RSPCA in 1822, when he introduced the first anti-cruelty bill to protect animals such as cattle, horses and sheep. Prior to this, there was no legal protection for animals. Many people saw them merely as a means of transport, a food supply, or as a way of providing sport.

Martin went on to become one of the 22 founders of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals when it was launched in London two years later. One of its initial aims was to make the general public more aware of cruelty to animals - and it did this by prosecuting people for animal abuse.

Records show that in 1832, 181 people were prosecuted in the UK for animal cruelty, which made society more aware of the consequences of mistreating animals. The charity was given the royal seal of approval in 1840, when Queen Victoria gave her permission for the "Royal" prefix.

Initially, the focus was on working animals such as pit ponies down coal mines. During World War I from 1914 to 1918 and World War II from 1939 to 1945, the RSPCA worked to help millions of animals serving alongside the British, Allied and Commonwealth forces.

More than 16 million animals were used during the Great War. Large cavalry forces fought on horseback, while both horses and camels carried troops in the desert campaigns. Horses, donkeys and mules also carried food, water, medical supplies and ammunition to the troops on the frontline. Dogs and pigeons carried messages and canaries were used to detect poisonous gases.


Changing the law

The RSPCA has been influential throughout history in changing the law to improve animal welfare. Following Richard Martin's first animal welfare bill in 1822, which targeted cruelty to farm and working animals, Pease's Act of 1835 extended the law to protect dogs and other domestic animals. In addition, cock-fighting and bear-baiting were banned and the standards in abattoirs had to be improved.

Over the years, other laws were passed to protect laboratory animals, while fur farming was abolished in the UK. In recent years, fox hunting with dogs was abolished. Today, the RSPCA is continually working to change the law, with its most recent pieces of legislation including the Hunting Act 2004, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the EU Directive of 2010 to protect animals used for scientific purposes.


Rescue work

Today, the RSPCA operates animal rescue centres across the UK, where abandoned dogs, cats and other animals are cared for and rehomed. The charity has also established wildlife centres in England and Wales, which provide specialist care to rehabilitate wild animals. In 2016, around 17,200 sick, injured or orphaned wild animals were cared for by the centres.

Each centre has its own veterinary surgery, orphan wards, isolation cubicles and a multitude of pools, paddocks, pens and aviaries to care for the many different species of wild animals that are rehabilitated there. According to statistics, 76% of wildlife consists of birds and the most commonly-admitted mammals admitted are hedgehogs.

RSPCA chiefs say the biggest change over the years has been people's attitudes. Although the UK is known as a nation of animal-lovers, it wasn't always that way and the early pioneers of the RSPCA faced a challenge in changing public perception of animals to have them recognised as sentient beings.

On average, the RSPCA investigates more than 150,000 cruelty complaints a year and is funded primarily by voluntary donations. Its patron today is Queen Elizabeth II. It has also inspired the setting up of similar groups all over the world, including in the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong.

Caring for animals requires the best-quality products to ensure their continued comfort. Coruba stocks a large range of top-quality animal matting products to help improve animals' health by providing an insulation layer on cold concrete floors. Please contact us for details of our full range of rubber animal matting products.

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