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On The Prowl - News from our Chief Reporter

Animal Welfare Bill Weakened ‘Too Soft’

AN ANIMAL charity has reacted angrily to an admission by one of the Government’s own lawyers that the only reason it won’t make the worst cases of animal cruelty into criminal offences is because there aren’t enough prison places.

DEFRA barrister Chloe Nash told a London conference on the Animal Welfare Bill last week that in July 2004, when pre-legislative scrutiny work on the Bill had been carried out, the Home Office had been ‘final and adamant’ in rejecting the idea of sending the worst offenders to prison.

The Pet Care Trust was ‘furious’ at this admission and said that the lack of power within the Bill to punish offenders made nonsense out of amending the animal cruelty laws.

According to the PCT, the Government’s failure to impose proper penalties has happened with the connivance of the RSPCA. Sally Case, the RSPCA’s Head of Prosecutions, told the same conference: “That penalties will be financial rather than custodial is perfectly acceptable to us.”

As for alleged Government plans to give authority figures such as the RSPCA the right to impose on-the-spot fines under the Police and Justice Bill, Sally Case admitted, “it was a total surprise [to read it in the Sunday Times 15 October]”.

“This is not acceptable to the Pet Care Trust and its members and not to the people of Britain,” said Janet Nunn, Chief Executive of the Pet Care Trust. “People in Britain want to see the punishment fit the crime and this will just not happen with the Animal Welfare Bill.”

DEFRA’s admission came within days of the release of a survey, carried out for the Halifax Building Society, which showed that 80% of people think there should be stiffer penalties for crimes against animals.

"Parliament is sleepwalking into the final stages of the Animal Welfare Bill with the perpetrators of the worst cruelty cases getting off with a fine,” said Janet Nunn. “This cannot be right. It’s certainly not justice in the eyes of the public or pet care professionals.”

"There have been all kinds of reasons given by the Government to both Houses of Parliament about how it’s not appropriate to make the worst cases of torture and cruelty triable as criminal offences, for which there would be no time limit for bringing a prosecution.”

Nunn concluded:
“Instead, they’re extending the current six-month period for bringing a prosecution to three years for any breach of the new duty of care. This will impose an extra burden of record-keeping for the nation’s 10,000 pet care micro-businesses and 20 million households. This is not acceptable even if it’s in the name of helping the government with their prison problem. In this instance, the tail should not be wagging the dog.”

The Animal Welfare Bill was due to pass this Monday (23 October) through the House of Lords at report stage, the penultimate stage before passing finally back to the Commons and onto the statute books. It will replace 21 acts of parliament passed over the last 95 years.

However, an RSPCA spokesperson told OUR DOGS: ‘There is a basic error underpinning the Pet Care Trust’s press release which states: “[the government] won’t make the worst cases of animal cruelty into criminal offences because there aren’t enough prison places.”

‘Animal cruelty is and will continue to be a criminal offence, an offence which carries the maximum possible penalty for cases heard in magistrates courts.

‘The RSPCA welcomes increased penalties for animal cruelty as it sends a clear message that society will not tolerate the abuse of animals, and hopefully acts as a deterrent to crime. However, highest on the Society’s wish-list is for those convicted of animal cruelty to be deprived of keeping other animals, so that they are unable to inflict future harm.’

Currently those found guilty of causing animal cruelty under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 may, at the magistrates’ discretion, be jailed for a maximum of six months and/or fined up to £5,000.

However, the RSPCA points out that under the Animal Welfare Bill, the maximum penalty for the offences of causing unnecessary suffering and fighting are a fine of up to £20,000 and/or, once section281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 is brought in, a maximum sentence of 51 weeks custody plus. Until that section is brought into force, the maximum prison term will remain at six months.

The spokesperson added: ‘The RSPCA believes that magistrates dealing with animal cruelty cases should have a range of sentencing options open to them, including fines and imprisonment. Custody is, of course, appropriate in certain circumstances, but the Society wants, and has always wanted, the focus to be on safeguarding the future welfare of animals through the improved use of confiscation and disqualification orders.’

Paperwork Burden of New Bill

* In June 2006, the Trust presented evidence of the paperwork burden accumulated on two case studies to Lord Rooker for the government, Baroness Byford for the Conservatives and Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer for the Liberal Democrats as spokespeople in the House of Lords and Rick Haythornthwaite, Chairman of the Better Regulation Executive in June 2006.

For a kennel and cattery, the paperwork would stack 1.62 metres high over three years and there would be issues of data protection and human resource as well as physical storage challenges to be faced, especially by businesses on the high street such as pet shops and grooming salons.

The Better Regulation Executive has yet to respond, showing itself to be as careless as the Bill’s regulatory impact assessment.

UK Animal Cruelty Laws too lenient - survey

EIGHTY PER CENT of Britons say that laws to punish animal cruelty are too lenient and 51% are calling for crimes against animals to carry the same punishment as crimes against people, according to research by ICM for Halifax Pet Insurance.

The Halifax research comes as Britain gets to grips with the concept of a duty of care imposed on animal owners by the new Scottish and forthcoming English and Welsh Animal Welfare Bills.
Only 1% of the population would turn a blind eye if they suspected someone was mistreating an animal. The vast majority (84%) would tell the police or RSPCA and 15% would approach them directly to deal with the matter.

Vicky Watson, Products Manager at Halifax Pet Insurance, said: ‘Britain is a nation of pet lovers and simply won’t tolerate cruelty to animals. So with incidents of animal cruelty rising, many Britons are keen to enforce stricter punishment on those who inflict cruelty on defenceless animals.’

There are some regional differences in attitude towards animal cruelty. Those in Northern England feel most strongly about the issue, 84% of them do not think that people who mistreat animals receive sufficient penalties. Those in the Wales and the South feel least passionately with 76% (see tables for full regional breakdown).

* Percentage of those who think crimes against animals should carry the same punishment as crimes against people:
Midlands 53%
Wales & South West 52%
North England 49%
South East 46%
Scotland 45%
Source: Halifax Pet Insurance

* Percentage of those who think people who mistreat animals do not receive tough enough penalties:

North England 84%
Midlands 82%
Scotland 78%
South-East 77%
Wales & South West 76%
Source: Halifax Pet Insurance

Pet cloning company to close

PET OWNERS wishing to resurrect their favourite departed pets will have to look elsewhere as one of the world’s leading cloning companies is due to close its doors.

Genetic Savings and Clone, a California-based biotechnology company that clones cats confirmed in a voice message left for callers Thursday that it is no longer accepting orders. The message also said the company would not grant interviews to the news media. No news updates or even mentions of the company’s closure appeared on its website.

The company sent letters to its clients last month informing them that it would shut down by the end of the year, writing that it was “unable to develop the technology to the point that cloning pets is commercially viable,” according to a report from the Associated Press. This statement was directly at odds with earlier boasts that the future cloning of pets would become commonplace after the company had successfully cloned a number of cats.

‘Little Nicky’, the kitten successfully cloned by GSC 18 months ago.

The company had recently lowered its price for cloning a cat to $32,000 from $50,000.
As reported previously, GSC produced its first clones of Tahini, a spotted Bengal cat belonging to the son of company CEO Lou Hawthorne, which resulted in two genetically identical kittens named Baba Ganoush and Tabouli. Soon after, the company gained notoriety by creating the first cloned cat for a paying client. A woman in Texas paid $50,000 to create a clone of her dead cat, Nicky.

GSC has cloned five cats since its launch in 2004, according to the firm’s Website, but only two for paying customers. The company’s claim to fame is that it uses chromatin transfer technology, a process the company claims is more efficient than the technique used to clone Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from a cell of an adult animal.

The company had not been able to clone a dog using chromatin transfer technology, despite largely being set up with $4 million to do so by the late billionaire dog lover John Sperling, who wanted a clone of his beloved mongrel dog Missy, thus establishing the ‘Missiplicity Project’.

When the South Korean scientist Dr Woo-Suk Hwang and his team of researchers at Seoul National University won the cloning equivalent of the space race and became the first biotech team to clone a dog was a bitter blow to GSC.

The company issued a short and rather terse press release on the Korean first, congratulating its rivals but attributing their win partly to the “greater availability” of dogs for research in South Korea, where animal-protection groups have little sway. “We expect to produce our own canine clones in the near future,” it added.

The company’s cloning expert Duane Kraemer claimed that the GSC group nearly succeeded in cloning a dog four years ago. One of its Missy clones seemed perfectly healthy in utero but was stillborn, he said.

Critics of animal cloning say that the process creates health problems for cloned animals involved. “For every successful ‘clone,’ dozens fail and die prematurely, have physical abnormalities, and face chronic pain and suffering,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

“It’s no surprise the demand for cloned pets is basically non-existent, and we’re very pleased that Genetic Savings & Clone’s attempt to run a cloning pet store was a spectacular flop,” he added.

GSC’s voicemail recording refers customers interested in storing of a pet’s DNA for later use to ViaGen, Inc., a biotechnology company in Austin, Texas that provides animal breeding and cloning services.

‘Missy’ the mongrel, owned by the late billionaire John Sperling, GSC failed to create a clone of the dog since the ‘Missyplicity Project’ was established with a $4 million grant by Mr Sperling in 1997.