The Animal Welfare Act introduced in 2006 was, in many ways, an overhaul of the Protection of Animals Act that came into force in 1911. With it brought the highly welcomed change that keeping an animal in conditions where their basic needs are not being met would be a deemed an offence. It stressed that essentials including a suitable diet and environment must be provided for them. The emphasis was on preventing cruelty before it had begun, whereas the original legislation meant an animal often had to suffer a lot of cruelty prior to any action being taken.
The Act refers to anyone who is responsible for the permanent or temporary care of an animal, outlining how the owner will be the one who is held accountable for them. It expresses how that person has a ‘duty of care’ over the animal, meaning they have to appropriately provide for their essential needs.
The revision of the original legislation and the introduction of the Act meant that allowing a protected animal to suffer unnecessarily was now a criminal offence. This includes where there is failure to act in the animal’s best interests; when someone knew or should have known that an animal would suffer or was likely to suffer. Harsher penalties for neglect and cruelty were also introduced; a maximum jail term up to 51 weeks, fines up to £20,000 and in some cases, a lifetime ban on keeping pets. The RSPCA were granted more powers of intervention if they suspected neglect. The Act also banned cosmetic mutilation such as tail cropping, increased the minimum age of buying a pet from 12 to 16, and addressed many other issues.
In the upcoming election, Labour has outlined plans to address animal abuse, including the intention to review regulations relating to the sale of dogs and cats. The Conservatives have pledged to ban wild animals from performing in circuses, but this has been met with the criticism that it could have been carried out during the past five years.
Although the Act introduced in 2006 was an enormous leap forward, many argue that there is a lot more still to be done. Of those we surveyed, 37.6% of respondents voted animal abuse legislation as the issue they are most concerned about, making it the highest ranking in our survey. This shows that lots of people feel there has not been enough progress with this issue.