On the front line of animal cruelty
RSPCA inspectors in Greater Manchester quickly clock up the mileage, knocking on doors as they investigate allegations of cruelty or neglect to creatures large and small. It’s demanding work, as reporter Tui Benjamin found out when she went out for the day with RSPCA inspector Jason Bowles.
It’s morning and I’m waiting for Jason to pick me up, dressed, on his suggestion, in sensible cargo trousers, boots and a warm coat.
As the RSPCA logo-emblazoned van swings on to my street, I’m ready to get started, but Jason’s day had already begun.
At the start of each shift his PDA (personal data assistant) pings to life with suggested addresses to attend based on tip-offs the charity has received.
There is always a backlog of jobs, and emergencies are fast-tracked to the top of the list.
Jason said: “You always have to prioritise — one job could change your whole day. Sometimes the most innocent-sounding job could turn out to be something major.”
As well as carrying out RSPCA inspections relating to cruelty or neglect, Jason collects sick, injured and abandoned wild and domestic animals so they can be treated and rehomed or set free.
Every day is different, and every season brings fresh perils.
Unsurprisingly, abandoned animals are always a massive problem, particularly at this time of year.
Many families purchase a new pet but find out it does not get on with the animal they already own — and by February, the once-loved old cat or dog is out on the street.
Animal-lover Jason, who previously worked as a chauffeur and taxi driver, said he can be the target of aggression from members of the public.
“If you are going to collect an injured or abandoned animal you are the hero, but if you are going to investigate potential cruelty, you are really not wanted,” he says.
“We are there to help the animals and the people, but once the line is crossed and it becomes a case of suspected cruelty, the dynamic changes and we are viewed with suspicion rather than someone wanting to help.”
If there is evidence the owner is failing to meet an animal’s needs or is causing unnecessary suffering, inspectors can remove them with the owner’s permission.
With the help of police, they can also seize animals — with the RSPCA’s long-term goal to get negligent or cruel owners taken to court and banned or sent to prison.
The first port of call is an address in Rochdale which the RSPCA suspects is linked to puppy farms.
Jason believes this house is not the site of a puppy farm itself but could be a so-called ‘middle man’ location — hired out for the purpose of selling dogs and dressed to look like a family home.
A disgruntled customer has phoned after visiting the property to purchase a German Shepherd puppy which died soon after.
The animal, which had been sold at just four weeks old, was too young to have been taken from its mother and had not been vaccinated against common ailments.
We can see a key in the door of the darkened house but there is no answer when we knock.
On inspection through the window the front room appears to be that of a family home and there are children’s toys outside but this could all be for show, Jason explained.
Our next stop is in the Haslingden area following reports a large black bird, possibly a crow or raven, is trapped in a middle-aged woman’s loft.
It turns out the noise is fledglings in a nest on the roof and the sound is being amplified down the chimney.
Jason then receives an emergency call — a dog is stuck in a ravine in Littleborough — but just as we are about to set off, he is informed the dog has managed to free itself.
After lunch Jason drives to a residential street in Ramsbottom after reports of an elderly couple who are apparently keeping six cats in a dark garage.
Their female owner insists the cats are let out into the house regularly and says the reason for their treatment is because she does not want her pets to be run over, as happened to a previous cat.
As we open the door the cats dash out and seem at home in the kitchen, suggesting all is well.
A woman who has seen the van’s RSPCA logo then knocks on the window with concerns about a Jack Russell which is left inside a nearby car every day, but is let out at lunch times.
We see the pampered pooch lying wrapped in a duvet on the front seat, as content as can be.
Jason says as the dog is so relaxed this set-up is clearly the norm.
Our next inquiry is also in Ramsbottom and follows several concerned calls about a man who has apparently been letting his Dalmatian run in the street unaccompanied for several hours at a time.
However, it turns out the owner has since died, and the dog had been adopted by a family living further up the street and is said to be happy and healthy.
Our last job of the day is our most distressing.
Police officers have informed Jason that two large Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs are being kept in inappropriate conditions at an address in Bury.
Jason gives the man an animal welfare advice form indicating he seriously needs to improve conditions for these animals — such as access to fresh drinking water at all times and cleaning up some of the mess they are living in.
The dogs’ physical condition indicates they are being fed and exercised regularly so Jason agrees to come back for a further inspection.
It’s been a routine day for Jason, and one not without its ups and downs.
I’ve been impressed by his sensitive handling of the people we’ve met today, some of them angry at our presence or desperately requiring help themselves.
His passion for the job clearly stands him in good stead to do what he loves —improving the quality of life of animals in dire need of a friend.