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On The Prowl with Nick Mays

New Scottish Animal Welfare Act becomes law

LOCAL AUTHORITIES in Scotland can now remove animals from their owners and keepers if they believe they are at risk of suffering, following enactment last week of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act.

The new law introduces a duty of care on anyone responsible for animals, and stiffer penalties of up to 12 months in prison and a £20,000 fine for people found guilty of animal abuse.

The legislation has been discussed over many months by the Scottish Assembly and at times proved very controversial. One such issue was the complete ban on the docking of dogs’ tails without any exemption for working dogs, similar to that built into the Westminster Government’s own Animal Welfare Bill.

Libby Anderson, Policy Director of the Edinburgh-based animal welfare charity Advocates for Animals, broadly welcomed the new Act, saying: ‘We must recognise the significance of the change in animal welfare legislation, as of today. From now on anyone in Scotland who has responsibility for an animal will have to ensure that it enjoys a reasonable standard of welfare. Enforcement agencies will not have to wait for evidence of an animal’s suffering before they can step in. That was always too late.

‘Let us hope that the new obligation on animal owners will mean no more ponies left neglected in fields, no more dogs tied up outside for days on end, and no more animals kept in conditions which are barely tolerable.’

Leonora Merry of the Scottish SPCA, said: ‘Today is a historic day for animal welfare in Scotland. This Act represents the culmination of many years of work by the Scottish SPCA and the Scottish Executive. For the first time ever, our inspectors will be able to actively step in and relieve an animal in distress before it begins to suffer. We have brought animal welfare legislation into the 21st Century.’

It bans the use of animals as prizes or selling animals to supporting the response to serious outbreaks of disease.

“Care notices” are also to be introduced which would give the owner time to make improvements to the care of their animals before court action is brought.

Animal Welfare Bill - No Pet Shows Licensing, pledge DEFRA

MEANWHILE, THE Westminster Government’s flagship Animal Welfare Bill is due to be brought forward in the Queen’s Speech when Parliament returns later this month and may be placed on the statute books either by the end of this year or early in 2007.

The Pet Care Trust were among a number of animal welfare charities who have been welcoming new measures that will be introduced under the new Animal Welfare Bill allowing pet fairs to continue without licensing.

DEFRA has announced that whilst commercial sales of animals will be banned (with some exemptions), ‘pet fairs’ - i.e. pet shows, including cat shows - that do not involve the sale of animals, or that do involve the sale of animals but not in the course of a business, can continue without the need for a licence.

“The bulk of the 10,000 pet events that take place often in village halls, at county shows or schools, are attended by thousands of animal lovers who use them to show animals as a leisure activity,”
commented Meriel France, Education and Animal Care Manager for the Trust, herself an avid dog exhibitor.

“Breeders and pet enthusiasts use them to compare stock and improve husbandry techniques.”

Janet Nunn, Chief Executive of the Pet Care Trust added: “This is great news for pet lovers. Fairs can now continue without the addition of red tape and costly bureaucracy.”

The RSPCA were also quick to comment David Bowles, RSPCA Head of External Affairs, said:

“We are delighted that the Government is going to follow the judicial review on pet fairs that concluded that such events are currently illegal under existing legislation and to ensure that new legislation maintains the position that it is illegal to sell animals at temporary commercial events, under the Animal Welfare Bill.

“The RSPCA has attended many commercial pet fairs and has had long standing concerns about the welfare of the animals which are bought and sold in such circumstances.

Mr Bowles continued: “Today’s announcement heralds an important decision on welfare grounds to continue to ban commercial pet fairs in England, and that is very good news for the welfare of the diverse variety of animals now kept in captivity. We would urge the Assembly of Wales to do the same.

“The consultation announced today will also provide the opportunity to clarify what is meant by permitted fairs where animals are not sold in the course of a business. All animals that are bought and sold at temporary fairs are subject to the same welfare needs, and the RSPCA will be seeking to ensure that those needs are recognised in law.”