RSPCA apologises for bringing charges against two bereaved cat owners

The owenrs say Claude was an elderly cat with naturally long hair Credit: RSPCA

The RSPCA has apologised to a husband and wife after it euthanised their elderly cat against their wishes and then tried to prosecute them for animal cruelty.

The animal rights charity got involved after receiving a call from a member of the public, reportedly raising concerns that 'Claude' the cat had matted fur and appeared to be sick.

Richard and Samantha Byrnes, of Tring in Hertfordshire, were devastated when the RSCPA informed them that the family pet had to be euthanised before their teenaged children had a chance to say goodbye.

Today, the RSPCA ackowledged its error in refusing to defer the pet's death:

The couple adopted Claude as a six-month-old kitten before starting a family in the early nineties. Mr Byrnes told the Daily Mail that she is a long-haired breed with naturally thick fur.

Since Claude hated having her hair combed, Mr Byrnes said he used to take her to the vet to receive a general anaesthetic so they could give her a haircut.

By 2003, the vet became concerned about the health effects of being regularly anaesthetised, so her owners resorted to "snipping away the worst bits" while Claude was asleep.

When an RSPCA officer visited in May 2013, Mr and Mrs Byrnes were informed that Claude had to be euthanised. The owners told the Daily Mail they were pressured into signing the consent forms under threat of legal action.

Although they pleaded to postpone the procedure for a few hours so their children would have a chance to say goodbye, an inspector refused.

In a statement released today, the RSPCA "ackowledges that the way in which it intervened in taking Claude from his home" and its treatment of her owners was "disproportionate and insensitive".

Timeline of events:

  • May 2013 - Claude is euthanised against the wishes of her owners after receiving a call from a member of the public

  • November 2013 - RSPCA begins legal proceedings against owners Mr and Mrs Byrnes

  • August 2014 - Director of Public Prosecutions drops the charges as they fail to meet the tests set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors

  • November 2014 - RSPCA apologises to Mr and Mrs Byrnes

Their shock was compounded last November when they heard that the RSPCA had begun legal proceedings against them. They would later be charged with two offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

In August this year, following a review by the Crown Prosecution Service, the charges were dropped because there was not deemed to be sufficient evidence to bring the case to court.

The RSPCA said today that it was "wrong to have commenced prosecutions against" Mr and Mrs Byrnes and that it had "failed to apply the evidential and public interest tests correctly".

A statement on its website read:

A further statement from the RSPCA to ITV News read: