We have been having an ongoing debate here at Animal Friends Pet Insurance headquarters over the past few days regarding animal abuse and the punishment that awaits anyone who commits such an offence.
A member of our staff is looking into adopting a dog and through his research he has seen and met some poor dogs that have suffered abuse at the hands of their previous owner; one unlucky dog had taken an axe to the head but thankfully survived and is now looking for a new home. We started to talk about the fact that many psychologists and criminal profilers believe that harming or abusing an animal (particularly at a young age) is a sign that an individual could, in theory, inflict hurt, abuse or worse on another human being. With this in mind, I thought I would take a look into the current laws and punishments for abusing an animal.
According to the Animal Welfare Act (England/Wales) that was brought into action back in 2006, the maximum punishment that an individual can receive for committing any of the offences listed by the act (which include causing an animal to suffer, arranging or attempting to arrange an animal fight or failing to ensure the welfare needs of an animal are met) is imprisonment for up to 51 weeks, a fine up to £20,000 or both, depending on the severity of the case.
I have two viewpoints on this subject matter. On the one hand I feel that anyone who deliberately sets out to abuse, harm or torture an animal should be regarded as dangerous; if they cannot act with empathy and humane treatment towards an animal, then potentially, they may lack the capacity to act humanely towards a fellow human being, thus making them a danger to animals and humans alike. Equally, if any harm befalls an animal as a result of a human losing their temper, then who’s to say that human will not lose their temper with another human?
However, that said, you could also ask the question, is it right to punish a person who harms animals as harshly as someone who harms another human? Surely the two are very different and so constitute different reprimands?
In my opinion, if someone can knowingly hurt or abuse animals then they need to be punished; the degree of the punishment is something that I am unsure about. The changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act that came into effect in May 2014 mean that sentences can be applied of up to five years for an owner whose dog injures another human. Yet if a human abuses or harms a dog the maximum sentence they will face is just less than 12 months (51 weeks).
The question that I have at the forefront of my mind is, if someone does commit an offence that involves harming an animal, and they serve the maximum sentence or pay the highest fine, then what happens after they have served their punishment? Yes they will be banned from keeping animals but what is to stop them from doing it again to someone else’s animal or a stray?
Unfortunately, as with a lot of people that commit offences, most of the enforcement of the law is reactive as opposed to preventative. In an ideal world, society would have a way of stopping people committing offences before they happen but that is just not realistic. All we can do to help the authorities is to stay vigilant and report anyone we are worried about or suspicious of.