Derek Wilkins chats to us about his work as an RSPCA In­spec­tor

Derek Wilkins chats to us about his 37 years as an RSPCA In­spec­tor . . .

The People's Friend - - Contents -

SINCE 1824, the Royal So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals has been at the fore­front of the fight for an­i­mal wel­fare, both for do­mes­tic and agri­cul­tural an­i­mals.

With a fo­cus orig­i­nally on work­ing an­i­mals, they’ve since had to adapt to ev­ery­thing from work­ing on the front lines in the World Wars to the rise af­ter the Fifties of the num­ber of an­i­mals trav­el­ling through air­ports.

In­spec­tor Derek Wilkins has been with the char­ity for 37 years and has seen a mas­sive shift in the the char­ity’s work in his time, and big changes in the way the job is done – al­though it wasn’t his first choice of ca­reer . . .

“It sud­denly dawned on me at about six­teen that if I wanted to get any­where in life I’d have to pull my fin­ger out, so I went to col­lege.

“At that time the safest job around was a bank or build­ing so­ci­ety, so when I passed my ex­ams I went straight into the first one I came across.

“I asked for a job and got it, but I al­ways wanted to be do­ing some­thing where you’re not mak­ing money for some­one else.

“It might sur­prise you, but I’m not an out-and-out an­i­mal lover – I like an­i­mals, and just be­lieve that ev­ery crea­ture de­serves re­spect and the right to a good life.”

So Derek moved from his desk job to the chal­leng­ing work of the So­ci­ety.

“Some­times I think if you’re a real an­i­mal lover, some of the things you see in this job would bring you down.”

Derek’s early train­ing in­volved how to put an­i­mals down kindly. Sadly, that was a big part of their jobs for a long time.

“In the 1970s the train­ing was re­ally hard. The le­gal side and the pa­per­work side I coped with re­ally well be­cause I was only a few years out of col­lege.”

“It was old-fash­ioned in those days. When you trained you went to col­lege and were ex­pected to live with your tu­tor in­spec­tor. Train­ing then was two lots of six weeks, so you would spend six weeks with a strange fam­ily.

“I was lucky. I had a lady who went on to be­come a su­per­in­ten­dent, and I made a life­long friend. She got me into a habit that I still have to this day – when she cooked din­ner she gave me a glass of lemon squash, so ev­ery day since then I have my din­ner with a glass of lemon squash.

“I have a lot of good mem­o­ries from then, and I’m now a tu­tor in­spec­tor and have trained about forty-five stu­dent in­spec­tors in my ca­reer.”

In many ways, Derek gives the im­pres­sion that the RSPCA has much in com­mon with other emer­gency ser­vices. It’s hard to leave your work at the front door when you’re home.

“To a cer­tain de­gree the RSPCA took over my life! You some­times go home and think, ‘Did I do that prop­erly?’ about jobs dur­ing the day.

“To help with this I took up run­ning in the last six years and I do a lot of marathons.”

The work was tak­ing a toll on Derek, and he wasn’t at his health­i­est. His wife booked him in to do the Lon­don Marathon, and Derek de­cided to turn things around with that as a goal.

“I still won­der how I man­aged to go from where I was to do­ing the Lon­don marathon. Af­ter that I joined a run­ning club and that is what changed my life.”

Derek’s run­ning isn’t the only thing that keeps him go­ing – his wife is an an­i­mal lover, too.

They met through the RSPCA, and he thinks it’s im­por­tant to have some­one at home who un­der­stands the job.

Derek’s wife was in In­dia when he spoke to us, work­ing with lo­cal char­ity Tree of Life for An­i­mals, who help work­ing an­i­mals and ster­ilise and care for street dogs.

Travel isn’t a strange con­cept for Derek, ei­ther –

in the early days of his ca­reer he was moved ev­ery five years. The idea was to ex­pose in­spec­tors to the dif­fer­ing chal­lenges of their work in the coun­try and the city.

“They sent me to Dar­ling­ton, north Devon, then I ended up in south­east Lon­don. They wanted you to ex­pe­ri­ence some nice ar­eas and some rougher ar­eas.

“I found that dif­fi­cult, but they then changed that in the 1980s – purely due to costs. It must have been expensive mov­ing ev­ery­one around all the time!”

In the coun­try they were able to help more an­i­mals at once, as they vis­ited cat­tle mar­kets and farms.

“Your num­ber one pri­or­ity as an RSPCA in­spec­tor to this day is farm an­i­mals. Al­though you can go to one house and deal with one dog, if you go to a cat­tle or live­stock mar­ket you can be talk­ing about six hun­dred sheep.”

Though those jobs can end up tak­ing a lot of Derek’s time. One case with a farmer and his pigs meant that he never made it home for a Valen­tine’s Day meal. Not the first or last time that that hap­pened!

“When I went to Lon­don and was cov­er­ing ar­eas such as Lewisham and Peck­ham it was more about in­di­vid­ual peo­ple and their cases.

“I had a dog hit on the rail­way line and I man­aged to res­cue it. The owner of that dog was never found and the bloke that re­ported it to us took it on.”

True to the old cliché, Derek’s most regular cases in the city were cats up trees or on roofs.

“I’d say I’ve res­cued three to five hun­dred cats! In the old days I used to go up lad­ders with poles to get them down, but th­ese days you call the Fire Brigade be­cause you have to be health and safety con­scious.

“Once a woman called to say a fox was caught in a wash­ing line. When I got there I couldn’t see it – it turned out to be a woman’s wig washed and hung out on the line!”

Nat­u­rally, the job has changed over the years, but one of the big­gest shifts came af­ter the 2006 in­tro­duc­tion of the An­i­mal Wel­fare Act. Be­fore that, the RSPCA had been work­ing with leg­is­la­tion that dated back to 1911.

“It made a huge dif­fer­ence. The 1911 Pro­tec­tion of An­i­mals Act was start­ing to get an­ti­quated be­cause you ac­tu­ally had to prove that the an­i­mal had suf­fered. I couldn’t ac­tion any­thing for an an­i­mal if it was in fair body con­di­tion, as the con­di­tions it lived in weren’t re­ally cov­ered by the leg­is­la­tion.

“The leg­is­la­tion changed in 2006 for the needs of the an­i­mal.”

So now if Derek sees an an­i­mal in un­suit­able con­di­tions or un­pleas­ant sur­round­ings, he’s able to in­ter­vene.

Do th­ese changes and the gen­eral bet­ter aware­ness amongst peo­ple about an­i­mal wel­fare lead him to feel op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture?

“When I joined the job there were lots of dogs out­side and ema­ci­ated – starved dogs were fairly nor­mal. You’d get two a month. Those days are gone. I hardly ever get a starved dog.

“Now it is nor­mally peo­ple who can’t af­ford vet­eri­nary treat­ment, so I would say that with fewer pup­pies and kit­tens be­ing born, there has been a vast im­prove­ment with an­i­mal wel­fare. The stan­dard of knowl­edge and care amongst the gen­eral pub­lic is so much bet­ter.

“The thing that I al­ways had a go at was the big pet shops. They used to sell tiny hutches and, prior to the An­i­mal Wel­fare Act, I used to go in there and try to per­suade the man­agers not to sell the tiny hutches and only sell the big hutches.

“One man­ager switched to only sell­ing big­ger hutches and wouldn’t stock small ones any more.

“The RSPCA is not about prose­cut­ing peo­ple, it’s about ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple and mak­ing sure an­i­mals get a good deal.” n

An­i­mals large and small need the So­ci­ety’s help.

Res­cu­ing sheep dur­ing heavy floods.

Derek’s got no re­grets about his ca­reer choice.

The RSPCA re­homes nearly 50,000 an­i­mals a year.

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