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Animal Welfare Act - A Big Enough Deterrent?

It’s taken 95 years to adapt the original pet law of the Protection of Animals of 1911 and one fears that if further changes aren’t made sooner rather than later, then animals will continue to suffer in the most unimaginable ways possible. Despite the acts new welfare offence which consolidated both the Protection of Animals Act (1934) and Abandonment of Animals Act (1960) there is an ever increasing nationwide call to arms to further the punishments placed on pet owners who abuse animals and break the code of practice. Moreover, incidents involving animal abuse actually appear to be on the rise despite the increasing awareness of malpractice due to social networking. The abuse suffered by dogs can never be reprieved, yet the subsequent punishments placed on owners and its severity is totally unparalleled to the crimes that have been committed.

In the past week alone there have been numerous cases of canine cruelty – the one consistent theme being the almost offensively tepid harshness of punishment for the offender. A man by the name of John McLellan from Middlesborough was given a suspended 12 week sentence, a 30 day rehabilitation order and was asked to pay costs of only £500 as well as a victim surcharge, despite causing injuries to his ex-partners dog that were so horrific that the dog is still receiving treatment 4 months after the attack, likening the trauma suffered to that of a road traffic incident.

In Dorset a group of 11 rspcamen from England and Wales subjected dogs to torture methods involving other wild animals on a horrific scale that involved the death of ‘thousands’ of creatures. The ramifications? Graham Coombes received a lifetime ban from owning dogs and was convicted of eight counts of animal cruelty amounting to only 20 weeks in prison, whilst ten other men were found guilty of a total of 19 offences related to animal fighting. The case for the prosecution told the jury that the primary motivation for these horrendous acts was ‘gratuitous pleasure’, and yet other gang members are unlikely to be sentenced to anything that supersedes Coombes’s punishment.

Fortunately, these events are not commonplace; the Welfare Act which manages to combine 20 pieces of legislation into one fully binding law has increased penalties to £20,000 with maximum jail-terms of 51 weeks and some lifetime bans on pet ownership. Most importantly a duty-of-care model has now also been applied to pet ownership, something which originally applied only to farm animals and what the RSPCA has labelled a ‘major breakthrough’. However, organisations such as the CCA (Catholic Concern for Animals) say the reforms don’t go far enough despite the governments emphasis on ‘preemptive action’, calling for total bans and further welfare protection of animals used for greyhound racing.

Animal Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw had originally called the legislation ‘worthy of our reputation as animal lovers’ yet since the act came into power the RSPCA has actually seen an 11% increase in complaints yet an 8% reduction in convictions, with dogs still most at risk despite a downward trend in cases of harm of -15.6%. Obviously, we have a duty as pet-lovers to uphold the legislation enforced by the AWA, but now with the advantages presented by social media we have the opportunity to not only increase awareness of these incidents but stamp them out entirely – especially whilst the severity of punishment does little to defer those committing animal abuse crimes.

Images courtesy of RSPCA.