Animal welfare legislation: Does it work and is it effective?
On Tuesday, the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare met to discuss ‘Enforcement of Animal Welfare Legislation’. The very packed room listened to a Metropolitan Police Status Dogs unit Officer, an RSPCA Chief Inspector and an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) share their alarmingly similar views on the subject.
Inspector O’Hara, for the Metropolitan Police Status Dogs unit, highlighted that he and his colleagues receive enhanced training when compared to most police forces. Whilst the police had historically relied on the RSPCA to lead on animal welfare law, he said ‘the sands are shifting’ and this was no longer the case. Elaborating further, he outlined several cases of interest and clarified that his unit have a good re-homing policy, with 118 dogs re-homed this year, where sensible and possible to their original home.
Mark Berry, a Local Authority EHO and member of the Companion Animal Welfare Forum, outlined the structure of service at his Local Authority, Stockton on Tees. He stipulated that his Local Authority (LA) provide a greater service than most LAs and are lucky to operate as a unitary body, rather than being spread across several departments. Mr Berry told us that statutory provision only covers stray dogs and animal licensing covering boarding, pet shops and breeding. Stockton on Tees also offer non-statutory services relating to dog-fouling, non-canine strays, unwanted animal handover, animal welfare issues including cruelty, abandonment, offences, nuisance complaints for all species, dangerous dogs, attacks on people/animals, microchipping, neutering and the promotion of responsible pet ownership. He re-iterated that many councils will only perform the first two statutory duties, yet the demand across the services in his LA is going up year on year since 2008. He believed that lack of suitably trained/qualified staff, facilities and resources, and the cost of instigating prosecutions were equally important factors behind the lack of effective animal welfare enforcement.
Dermot Murphy, for the RSPCA, stated that the three big costs for the charity and its finite resources were examination by a vet, boarding kennel fees and the cost of engaging a solicitor. He agreed with the previous two speakers that the enforcement across the country was patchwork and varied considerably from once LA and police force to another. Consequently, he felt there were currently substantial gaps in animal welfare enforcement.
In summary, all of the speakers felt that animal welfare enforcement could be improved if there were better guidance on precisely who is responsible for enforcement of the various different services outlined by Mr Berry. Furthermore, the provision of adequate resources, funding and experienced staff are key – none of which are likely to be a priority whilst the bulk of animal welfare services remain non-statutory. The question, posed by the RSPCA, of who ‘owns’ the Animal Welfare Act remains unanswered and until it is we will likely struggle on with the current patchwork cover.