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Animal Welfare Act Becomes Law
By NICK MAYS, Chief Reporter

THE MOST fundamental piece of animal welfare legislation for nearly a century, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 passed into law when it received Royal Assent on Tuesday, 7 November.

The key points of the Animal Welfare Bill had been hotly debated over several years of discussion and amendment between both Houses of Parliament, with input from many animal welfare groups and hobby organisations, including the GCCF.

The law:

• introduces a duty of care on people to ensure the needs of any animal for which they are responsible;

• creates a new offence of failing to provide for the needs of an animal in your care;

• allows action to protect animals to be taken much earlier rather than have to wait for an animal to show the signs of suffering, enforcers will be able to intervene before suffering begins;

• places more emphasis on owners and keepers who will need to understand their responsibilities and take all reasonable steps to provide for the needs of their animals.

Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said: “The Government believes that by extending the duty of care to non-farmed animals, it will reduce animal suffering in this country. This is the culmination of several years’ work during which the government has worked closely with stakeholders. The result is legislation of which we can all be rightly proud.”

The Act comes into effect in England and Wales on 6 April 2007, and is largely an enabling Act, which will pave the way for further rafts of animal-related laws under secondary legislation. (An equivalent law has already been passed in Scotland in the form of the Animal Health & Welfare Act).

The Act was welcomed by the UK’s leading feline charity welfare Cats Protection. The charity, which rehomes around 60,000 stray or unwanted cats and kittens in the UK each year, has been actively involved in the process of bringing about a change in the existing animal welfare laws, which Cats Protection hopes will provide much greater protection against cruelty not just for cats but for all animals.

Dominic Sullivan, Cats Protection’s Head of Legal Services said: “These new laws represent the biggest change in animal welfare law for nearly a hundred years. As a charity that cares passionately about the health and well-being of the nation’s favourite pet, we hope that the Act will help to reduce feline suffering and ensure adequate punishment for those who abuse cats and other animals.”

The RSPCA also welcomed the enactment of the new legislation. While the vast majority of pet owners already exercise such responsibility, figures released by the RSPCA earlier this month show that, in the first ten months of 2006, the charity’s inspectors still discovered:

• 31,199 animals without access to water – 59% increase (on same period last year)
• 43,544 animals not receiving suitable veterinary treatment – 63% increase
• 73,008 animals kept in a dirty or unsuitable environment – 61% increase
• 29,185 animals unable to express normal behaviour – 73% increase

In most cases, the advice given by inspectors has led to improvements in the welfare of these animals. However, so far this year, almost 11,000 people visited by the RSPCA have chosen to ignore care guidance. Their neglect could lead to the suffering of thousands of animals.

“At last people will have a legal duty to properly care for their animals and the RSPCA will be able to respond positively to reported incidents of neglect,” said Jackie Ballard, RSPCA Director General.

“Our whole purpose is to prevent animals from suffering at the hands of cruel or ignorant people, and this new law will help us in that mission.”

A full report on the Animal Welfare Act and its contents will appear in the next issue of OUR CATS