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A Good Friday as Animal Welfare Act becomes law

THE ANIMAL Welfare Act became law in England on Good Friday, April 6th and was widely welcomed by animal welfare charities and other animal organisations.

As reported previously, last year saw the passing into law of two new pieces of animal welfare legislation – the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which applies to England and Wales and the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, that came into effect in October 2006. While the welfare elements of the Acts are broadly similar, there are some significant differences. The Northern Ireland legislation has yet to be defined.

The Acts have been hailed as the most significant animal welfare legislation for nearly a century. They modernise welfare legislation and among other things introduce a duty of care on owners and keepers of vertebrate animals. Thus people are legally obliged to ensure the welfare of the animals in their care.

The Acts will reduce animal suffering by enabling preventative action to be taken by those responsible for the enforcement of welfare laws, before suffering actually occurs.
The Acts will simplify legislation for enforcers and animal keepers by consolidating over 20 pieces of legislation into one. They will deter persistent offenders by strengthening penalties and eliminating many loopholes in the current system.

Legal requirement

As well as increasing the penalties for those who inflict the most serious offences, the Animal Welfare Act makes it a legal requirement for owners to meet the needs of their animals, which includes:

• a proper diet (food and water)
• somewhere suitable to live
• any need to be housed with or apart from other animals
• the ability to express normal behaviour
• protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

The RSPCA had been closely involved with the drafting of the Act and, despite its claims to the contrary, will gain significant new powers under the new law.

‘The Animal Welfare Act is of great significance to the many thousands of animals that suffer through neglect, and for those of us that work to help prevent suffering,’ said David Grant, Chief Vet of the RSPCA.

‘Animals need appropriate food and water, shelter and exercise, and to be treated quickly if they are sick or injured. Crucially now, owners and keepers will have a legal responsibility to meet the basic welfare needs of their animals.’

RSPCA Director General Jackie Ballard said: ‘For the first time in history we have a law which enables our inspectors to prevent animals suffering by taking effective action earlier in cases of ongoing neglect.

‘Most people are well aware of their animals’ needs, and so the change to the law won’t affect them or their pets. However, if anyone is unsure about what their pet needs, in terms of diet, appropriate housing, exercise, company, and veterinary care, we would urge them to contact us or their vet for advice.’

Julia May, Vice Chairman of the GCCF commented: ‘This is generally a good piece of legislation as it stands, and we hope and trust that all Cat Fancy members and GCCF breeders care for their cats in a way that does not contravene it.

‘We will watch closely for any supplementary legislation which could affect the Cat Fancy and will be in consultation with DEFRA over such legislation’.

Guidance leaflets

A number of pet industry organisations have announced the publication of new guidance to pet owners to assist them in ensuring their animal husbandry conforms to the new legal obligations set out in the Act.

The British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation (BVA AWF) has produced a practical leaflet, designed to enable veterinary surgeons to assist pet owners meet their duty of care obligations. The BVA says its ‘What Makes My Pet Happy’ leaflet should enable veterinary surgeons to communicate to their pet-owning clients the practical relevance to both them and their pets of the new legislation and just what is meant by duty of care.

The leaflet presents what can be quite a complex issue in easily understandable terms. It explains, for instance, what quality of life is, how it can be assessed and provided for, the role of the veterinary surgeon and why the subject is important with reference to the Animal Welfare Act’s duty of care.

The Pet Health Council and Pet Care Trust also each launched a range of free to download information leaflets, offering advice for both current and potential pet owners.

From guidance on buying pet insurance to facts about Toxocara, the Pet Health Council’s leaflets provide pet owners with a comprehensive explanation of a wide number of situations they may encounter. The leaflets are a quick and easy reference for pet owners and those thinking of getting a pet, answering questions ranging from the every-day to the highly specialised.

The Pet Care Trust’s leaflets have been made public to mark the entry into force of the Animal Welfare Act.

The leaflets have been in existence for many years and are regularly updated in line with the latest science and husbandry techniques. Developed with the help of pet care specialists who support the Trust’s work, they outline all key aspects of the animal’s care needs.

"Our pet care leaflets were originally developed for pet retailers to give to customers who were considering which animal might suit their lifestyle, and to give to those who buy an animal”, said Meriel France, Education and Animal Care Manager at the Trust.

"But with the Animal Welfare Act introducing a legal duty of care on all pet owners and those responsible for caring for an animal, our trustees agreed we should share this expertise with the public in the spirit of there can’t be too many sources of good information.”

For more information and to download your free leaflets, visit www.pethealthcouncil.co.uk and www.petcare.org.uk