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The RSPCA Trips and Calls it a Waltz

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A friend sent me an article recently in which the RSPCA of Victoria, Australia, were coming under fire due a debacle involving their inspectors and a case in which 23 horses were found dead at a property in Bulla, Melbourne. The article spoke of a so-called “conflict of interest” between activism and animal cruelty prosecutions, maintaining that inspectors were “overworked, underpaid, and inexperienced,” and that their role is challenging. On one hand, they are required to enforce the law, yet on the other, they are employed by an organisation that supposedly advocates against existing laws that the inspectors are required to enforce.

It was an interesting article for one reason – it presents us with yet another case study in which an organisation is in conflict with itself. Both as a direct result of the reality of animal property status, but also with how the organisation necessarily has to betray animal interests in order to secure stakeholder support and funding. And, in so many words, this is exactly what the Victoria RSPCA said.

Dr. Walker, RSPCA Victoria chief executive, maintained that the RSPCA would continue advocating against “animal cruelty” but would “no longer engage in public campaigns over existing laws.” The reason for this was twofold. The “tone and emotion”of the campaigns apparently made the inspectors jobs “more difficult,” but more importantly, the “tone”of these campaigns was detrimental to the RSPCA’s relationship with their stakeholders. Walker went as far to say that the campaigns “impacted on trust” with the stakeholders, and that they “apologise” for this.

What we see here is an organisation tripping over its feet while attempting to call it a waltz.

Not only are the RSPCA’s single issue campaigns a global problem in themselves – through both the promotion of speciesism and the perpetuation of animal exploitation via coalitions that work to normalise all excluded forms of animal use. We see here in their own words the systemic tension that necessarily exists in all large animal organisations that requires the abandonment of moral principle in order to self-sustain as a business. The RSPCA’s veto against itself in ceasing campaigns over “existing laws” has nothing to do with a recognition that such campaigns serve to perpetuate animal property status and therefore betray animal interests. It’s merely an act of good business. They make their inspectors jobs easier, while simultaneously placating their stakeholders. Happier employees; steady funding. An apology to their stakeholders; another nail in the coffin for the nonhumans they continue to delude the public are being protected by them.

It’s worth remembering that as far as the law is concerned – and by default, what the RSPCA means when it uses these terms – phrases such as “animal cruelty” are just platitudes in the face of the property status. If the “cruelty”or “suffering” inflicted represents an increase in net wealth, or provides some human benefit, or is merely a traditional or routine practice of agriculture, that cruelty and suffering is considered necessary in the eyes of the law. This is why the RSPCA’s campaigns against such laws will always fail, necessarily, as the competing interests of property owner versus the organisation which has no legal standing to interfere with another’s property, will always balance in favour of the property owner. The RSPCA will only succeed if 1) they can be shown to have legal standing, and 2) criminal intent can be shown, and 3) the law in question is economically inefficient and represents a poor use of resources. Either way, the animals property status is solidified. 

But that’s not all. Back to the article in hand, consider Dr. Walker’s words here: “It’s very challenging for our inspectors to be out there enforcing the law … it puts them in an untenable position to have to do that whilst the organisation that employs them has in the past openly and very emotionally and stridently advocated against the existing laws.”

The confusion here is almost tangible. Animals are property. The changes in laws which the RSPCA have “emotionally” and “stridently” fought for do not do anything other than legitimise the very property status that keeps animals relegated to the class of “things” in the first place. They have paid “inspectors,” going out enforcing the very measures that ensure the continued hum and purr of the animal exploitation machine. This is not animal activism. This is the enforcement of the status quo, the oiling of the chains on the property ownership bicycle that these organisations continue to peddle for the animal industries. It’s just good business. It has nothing to do with the animals themselves, but everything to do with the effective use of them as property.  

The article ends with Walker stating that “we’ll be continuing to advocate very strongly for improvements in animal welfare, it’s really about the tone and how we do it.” In other words, not only will they continue to perpetuate the notion of animals as property, they’ll improve the “tone” and make people – including their stakeholders – feel better about it too. 

For more information on the property paradigm and how this renders meaningless the laws that ostensibly protect animals, please read Animals, Property, and the Law by Professor Gary Francione. Also, check out this short slideshow presentation by the author, based on the aforementioned book. 

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