WHEN the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) launched its ‘Kindness at Christmas’ appeal it was initially done so to cover the festive season.

But the Society is keen to emphasise that it is also an appeal for kindness throughout the coming year.

Let’s hope it has been taken to heart as in 2016, in East Hampshire alone, a total of 2,688 calls about sick, neglected or abused animals were received in December, with 39 calls on Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxing Day.

While nationwide, over the festive period, there were more than 13,000 incidents the Society dealt with – and they were bracing themselves for a similar, if not an increased number, over Christmas in 2017.

We are supposed to be a nation of animal lovers, and there have never been more varieties of food and treats for cats and dogs or toys on sale as now for pampered pets, something which belies the fact thousands of animals suffer at the hands of humans every year.

There are even special treats for horses, while TV programmes and articles telling us how, when out in the countryside, we should take care not to harm the wildlife or their habitats.

Through the media, there has never been so much information on caring for animals and yet from poorly, unwanted pets callously dumped on the streets to animals and wildlife deliberately cruelly treated, RSPCA inspectors are preparing to see heart-breaking cruelty and neglect throughout the new-year period.

Nationwide, the charity, while we were enjoying our Christmas celebrations, were expecting to take in around 19,000 animals in need. All are given food, shelter and medical treatment with the RSPCA footing the bill.

If the charity does manage to get a court conviction against a cruel owner, they don’t always recoup their costs and certainly any they receive doesn’t cover the cost of caring for the animals they rescue.

The RSPCA operates a 24-hour service and over the Christmas and the New Year holidays its officers were on duty taking calls and carrying out rescue work.

However, a charity spokesman said: “Often our calls over the festive holidays can be animals getting into trouble, like a cow stuck in a river, or a dog on a cliff or a deer hit by a car and lying injured.

“Fishing lines and wire, left on river banks by carless anglers, also cause a lot of problems and one Christmas we had to rescue a crow that was tied round with fishing line at the top of a tree. We got him down and took him to a wildlife centre for treatment, but he was so traumatised it took him a while to be able to fly again.”

The RSPCA, which has done so much for animal welfare, started in a humble way, in a coffee shop, next to a slaughterhouse, in London in 1824. It was prompted by the passing of the Martin’s Act two years before with the aim of protecting cattle and later extended to pit ponies, bear baiting, cockfights, plus lobbying for better standards in slaughterhouses.

This was extended to cover horses and domestic animals and in 1837 the charity became the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In 1840, Queen Victoria give it her patronage and allowed ‘royal’ to be added to its name.

In Victorian and Edwardian times, the RSPCA stopped a lot of cruelty and neglect of carriage and cart horses in cities and towns and helped care for those injured while at the front with the troops during the First World War.

Today, and it is a growing problem, they also rescue horses left in fields without any shelter, water or food, and attend showjumping events to check the animals are being properly treated.

Sadly, despite the messages it has sent out to the public during its nearly 200-year history on preventing cruelty to animals, the RSPCA is still fighting the battle.

RSPCA superintendent Simon Osborne said: “It’s a sad fact that every day at work throughout the year can be tough for our inspectors and animal welfare and collection officers, but winter really does come with its own challenges and issues.

“In fact, we expect to take in somewhere in the region of 19,000 animals this winter alone.

“During the festive season last year, we rescued more than 25,000 animals in the country, many of whom had been cruelly abandoned, injured or abused.

“But we also saw so many acts of kindness by animal lovers, from the passer-by who rescued a shivering and sick puppy days before Christmas to those who reported suffering animals to our cruelty hotline or volunteers caring for animals in our centres and branches.

“So, we are asking animal lovers across the country to show kindness in the coming year by supporting our appeal.”

To help the RSPCA to continue rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals in desperate need of care, and to support the charity’s ‘kindness’ campaign, visit rspca.org.uk/winterappeal.