ASA Adjudication on Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
22 August 2012
National press, Television
Number of complaints:
Whitewater Creative Services Ltd
Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all were Not upheld.
Two national press ads and a TV ad, for the RSPCA's Home for Life service:
a. The first press ad, headed "You'll rest in peace, knowing they're being looked after", stated "When you pass away, you'll want to know that your pet is safe and happy. You can ensure they will be by registering for the RSPCA's FREE Home for Life service, and by making your wishes known in your Will. It means we will care for your pet, and do all we can to find them a loving new home". Further text next to a picture of a poodle stated "Pepe would've had nowhere to go Pepe's owner made sure her beloved dog would be cared for by registering him with the RSPCA's Home for Life service. Within a short period of time, this loveable Poodle was settling into his new home and enjoying lots of fuss and attention from his new family". At the bottom of the page, text on a form stated "Please send me a FREE Home for Life information pack".
b. The second press ad was also headed "You'll rest in peace, knowing they're being looked after". Further text stated "If you passed away, you would want to know that your pet was safe and happy. For this peace of mind, simply register for the RSPCA's FREE Home for Life service now. It means we will care for your beloved pet, and do all we can to find them a loving home. To find out how to register, fill in and return the form below, or call 0300 XXX XXXX. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm www.homeforlife.org.uk". The form was headed "Please send me a FREE Home for Life information pack".
c. The TV ad showed a cat pawing at the window of an unoccupied house. A voice-over stated "Your pets give you their love, their trust and their loyalty. And you promise to always take care of them. But what happens if you pass away? With the RSPCA's free Home for Life service, we can help take care of your pet after you've gone. Home for Life means that when you pass away the RSPCA will be notified, and we'll do our very best to find them a loving new home. ... Give your pets a Home for Life and give yourself peace of mind. Call 0800 500 3030 or visit www.homeforlife.org.uk for an information pack for this free service today."
The ASA received complaints from an MP and a member of the public.
1. Both complainants challenged whether ad (a) was misleading by omission, because it did not make clear that the RSPCA euthanised some animals in their care.
The member of the public also challenged whether:
2. ad (b); and
3. ad (c)
were misleading for the same reason.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1., 2., & 3. The RSPCA said the ASA had investigated a very similar complaint in relation to a TV ad for the Home for Life service ('the service') in 2007 and had found the complaint ‘Not upheld’. They considered that that ad was very similar to those which were the subject of this investigation, and they believed there were no additional considerations which would require the ASA to now uphold the complaint.
The RSPCA explained that the service was free and was for pet owners who, if they had not made alternative arrangements for their pets on their death, could include provision in their will for ownership of their pet to be passed to the RSPCA, and the RSPCA pledged to do all it could to find a new home for those animals. They said they strongly disagreed the ads were misleading; the ads did not state or imply that all pets taken in under the service would be re-homed. They highlighted that the press ads stated they would "do all we can", and the TV ad stated "we'll do our very best", to find pets a new home. They believed members of the public would understand from those wordings that they would do all they could to re-home pets but in some instances they might be unable to. They believed the ads struck the right balance between providing enough accurate information to the public without including potentially distressing details about animals which could not be re-homed on medical grounds or were of an unsound or aggressive temperament.
The RSPCA said that all animals were health-checked upon entry to an RSPCA Animal Centre, and if an animal had an illness or behavioural issue then its quality of life was assessed and, if quality of life was poor, they would on a vet's advice make the decision to put the animal to sleep because it would not be in the animal's interest to prolong its life. They explained that animals with a known serious medical history would only be re-homed on veterinary advice, and with the specific agreement of the new owner They provided information in relation to one such instance, where they had taken in a cat under the service, and where they had put out a special appeal for a new owner. However, they emphasised that they would not unnecessarily prolong the lives of sick or injured animals, and believed members of the public would not expect them to. With regard to animals with unsound or aggressive temperaments, they said that a decision would be made as to whether behavioural training could help them and as much as possible would be done through training before a decision about re-homing would be made. They added that in some instances legislation prevented them from re-homing certain dog breeds such as pit bull terriers.
The RSPCA said they were proactive in finding new homes for animals in their care, including listing animals on their website, putting out appeals for individual animals, and sometimes moving animals to a different RSPCA establishment from where they might have a better chance of being re-homed. They were committed to reducing the number of re-homeable animals euthanised, and the numbers were comparatively small compared to the number of animals they re-homed every year. They said that in 2011, the RSPCA had had to euthanise 625 re-homeable dogs, 667 re-homeable cats and 91 re-homeable rabbits, but they had successfully re-homed a further 60,551 pets. They said that, in relation to the Home for Life service, in 2011 they had taken in 58 animals and had had to euthanise ten of those animals, including a cat and a dog with tumours and other health problems, a cat with suspected renal failure, and a cat with underlying kidney problems.
Clearcast, responding in relation to the TV ad only, said that they had been approving TV ads for the service for a number of years, and they asked the RSPCA to reconfirm that the details of the ad were correct each time copy was submitted to them. They said they were content that the RSPCA had not changed their policy or the nature of the service since the 2007 ASA adjudication, and as they had had no information to the contrary they had continued to approve the ad.
Clearcast noted that when undergoing the clearing process for the 2007 TV ad, their predecessors, the BACC, had recommended that the ad's voice-over should make clear that there was no guarantee that animals could be re-homed, with the wording "the RSPCA will do all it can ...", which had been used in ads for the service ever since. Clearcast believed that wording made clear that some animals would not be re-homed due to medical or other circumstances beyond the RSPCA's control. They said they had been assured those were rare occurrences, and as such they did not feel it needed to be made any more explicit than the wording currently used.
1., 2. & 3. Not upheld
The ASA noted the ads did not state or imply that the RSPCA never euthanised animals. We considered consumers would understand from the wording of the ads that the RSPCA would do all it could to re-home pets. We also considered consumers would understand there might be instances when it would not be in an animal's best interests to do so, for example if it was seriously ill. We understood the RSPCA were proactive in trying to find animals a new home but there were occasions when they would euthanise animals in their care. However, we understood they only did so, on veterinary advice, if the animal was suffering from serious physical or mental ill health, if it had an unsound or aggressive temperament even after behavioural training, or if they were not allowed to re-home the animal for legal reasons.
We concluded that, because consumers would understand from the ad that the RSPCA would do all it could to re-home pets, which we understood was the case, and because consumers would also understand that there might be instances when it would not be in an animal's best interests to be re-homed, which we also understood was the case, the ads did not breach the Code.
On points (1) and (2), we investigated ads (a) and (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), but did not find them in breach.
On point (3), we investigated ad (c) under BCAP Code 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.