SSPCA needs readers’ help to celebrate its 180th anniversary

It will be 180 years this December since the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in Edinburgh.

By Julie Currie
Sunday, 1st September 2019, 1:48 pm
The SSPCA's Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn is asking readers to share their stories, photos and memorabilia to help the charity celebrate its 180th year.
The SSPCA's Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn is asking readers to share their stories, photos and memorabilia to help the charity celebrate its 180th year.

While the charity’s first 100 and last 30 years are well documented, there’s a few decades – from 1939 to 1989 – which are more sketchy.

And it’s for that reason the SSPCA is now calling on readers to share their treasured stories, memories and photographs.

Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn has worked with the SSPCA since 1988 so is well-versed in its history.

The SSPCA's first 100 and last 30 years are well documented but from 1939 to 1989 the history books are more sketchy.

“The SSPCA was founded on December 18, 1839, and the public meeting was reported in the Edinburgh Gazette of December 23, 1839,” said Mike.

“That report details why “the good men of Edinburgh” formed the charity.

“At that time, everything was pulled by horse and cart.

“For many people, their livelihood was their horse.

Scotlands animal welfare charity was founded on December 18, 1839, by the "good men of Edinburgh" initially to help working horses in Leith.

“So for years and years, the charity would take tired horses and get them back on their feet, while lending businesses horses to keep their families going.

“The first 100 years is very well documented thanks to a book which was published to celebrate our 100th anniversary in 1939.

“The last 30 or so years are also covered, thanks to our annual reports, press releases and social media.

“However, there’s a large period of time in between for which we don’t have very much information.

Inspectors vehicles may have changed over the years but the charity still works to help all of Scotland's animals, be they domestic, farm or wild.

“The Second World War years, for example, were an important time in our history as the men were called to war and their posts were filled by women.

“We’d love to hear from anyone whose relatives – gran or grandad – worked for the society during that time and can fill in some of the blanks in our history.

“We’re certain people have some great stories and memorabilia to share – we’d love to hear from them.”

Set up to aid overworked horses and ponies in Leith, the society quickly expanded to cover 50 counties in Scotland by the early 1900s.

It also worked closely with its counterparts in Aberdeen, Glasgow and the west of Scotland.

Today, the SSPCA has nine animal rescue and rehoming centres and a world-leading wildlife rescue centre at Fishcross in Clackmannanshire.

Last year, the charity rehomed more than 5000 domestic pets and successfully released 5642 wild animals back into their natural environments.

The society now also delivers animal welfare educational programmes, reaching more than 250,000 children in 2018.

So it’s fair to say that it has come a long way in the last 180 years.

But for all the successes, there are also new issues it has to face – not least thanks to the advent of the internet.

Mike explained: “For years, we have looked after all of Scotland’s animals – wild, farm and domestic.

“Farming has come on leaps and bounds in the last few decades and we now have very few problems in the industry.

“When I was a kid growing up, you used to have pet shops selling cats, dogs, budgies and the like.

“Now, thanks to the internet, people have far more exotic animals in their care which all of our inspectors need to know how to care for and handle – from bearded dragons to massive boa constrictors!

“We also have to contend with puppy farmers plying their trade online and selling puppies from car boots.

“Some of the puppies die within a few days of people buying them, having paid a lot of money for the animal and thousands on vet fees.

“Sadly, we also still see things that I saw 32 years ago such as Dobermans with every rib on their body sticking out.

“However, thanks to our education programme, we are reaching the children of today who will be the animal lovers of the future.

“And the majority of people our inspectors visit are not harming animals for fun – it’s a case of ignorance and neglect. In those cases, we’re not just helping the animals, but humans too.

“Only five to ten per cent of cases every year are intentional cruelty. So Scotland is still a nation which, in the main, loves and cares for its animals.”

That care and concern shines through as the public helps fund the SSPCA’s £16 million budget annually.

That covers the cost of 360 employees, including 64 inspectors, 70 ambulance drivers and the 170-strong team based at its nine centres across Scotland and its widlife sanctuary.

The society receives no government funding and relies solely on the public to fund its work.

Mike added: “We are really lucky that, from a population of five and a half million, only 90 people were prosecuted last year for animal cruelty.

“We will never be out of a job but the vast majority of people in Scotland are law abiding and animal loving.

“And we couldn’t do what we do without their support.”

In December, the Society plans to launch celebrations to commemorate the 180th anniversary that will run throughout 2020.

Anyone with interesting anecdotes or memorabilia they’d like to share should get in touch via its website or by emailing [email protected]

The SSPCA is the only animal charity in the UK able to report animal cruelty cases to the Crown, with reports sent to the Procurator Fiscal Service.

The charity receives no government funding and relies on donations and grants to continue its work, which costs £16 million each year.

In 2018, it found homes for 5068 rescued animals, helped more than 9600 wildlife casualties and spoke to more than 245,000 children.

For every pound it receives, 82p is spent on animal welfare, 10p on fundraising and promotion and 8p on administration.

So you can rest assured that the bulk of any donation you make will make a huge difference to the animals in the SSPCA’s care.

Last year, its animal helpline received almost a quarter of a million calls, the inspectorate attended more than 85,000 incidents and more than 19,000 animals were cared for across its nine rescue and rehoming centres and at the national wildlife rescue centre.

To find out more or donate, visit