Campaign: RSPCA puts animals on government agenda - Public Affairs

Campaign: Animal Welfare Bill

Client: RSPCA

PR Team: In-house

Timescale: Ongoing from September 2001

Budget: Undisclosed

For the past three years, the RSPCA has campaigned to overhaul animal welfare legislation relating to pets. Current law dates back to 1911, when many animals were kept as workers. Since then, scientific knowledge of animals and society's attitudes to them have changed. However, effecting proposed legal reform entailed explaining a wealth of animal welfare issues to politicians and the public.

Objectives

To introduce a legally enforceable 'duty of care' that owners must show towards their pets. To increase police powers of entry where there is evidence of animal abuse and toughen up sentences for those found guilty of organised animal fighting.

To update the existing animal cruelty law and tighten legislation governing bans for those convicted of causing animal suffering.

To prohibit the practice of pets as prizes, the sale of animals to under-16s and unnecessary tail docking of dogs.

Strategy and Plan

In 2001, following parliamentary lobbying by animal welfare groups, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced a public consultation into an Animal Welfare Bill. The RSPCA responded with a submission of more than 100 pages in April 2002 and launched a press campaign explaining its position.

In summer 2003, to enlist the backing of MPs and peers, the charity held a reception in the House of Commons and, in December, Tony Banks MP tabled an Early Day Motion calling for the Animal Welfare Bill to be introduced in the 2004 Queen's Speech.

This year, in preparation for the draft bill, the PR team stepped up its press campaign, launched a petition, provided postcards for the public to lobby the Prime Minister and embarked on a roadshow to raise public awareness at train stations, shopping centres and country fairs.

Celebrity supporters, including Joanna Lumley, added their name to an open letter for publication in the press that backed the RSPCA's campaign and called for a 'duty of care' to be included in the bill.

Measurement and Evaluation

National press coverage in July included articles in The Sunday Times, the Sunday People, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror.

Many TV and radio programmes also carried the story, including the BBC's news shows, ITN, GMTV, Sky News, Five News and Classic FM. There was extensive regional coverage across all local BBC radio stations and regional papers such as the Yorkshire Post.

Results

On 14 July, DEFRA published the Draft Animal Welfare Bill, proposing a 'duty of care' for pet owners and including many of the RSPCA's other key objectives, such as increased powers of entry for the police and under-16s banned from buying pets.

The charity will submit its response this month and will continue to campaign to have the bill introduced.

'The RSPCA was particularly interested in being able to step in to prevent cruelty to animals before it happens and it got what it wanted,' says Sunday People features writer Matt Glass.

'And the press office was great at providing me with the information I needed,' he adds.

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