Prevention or Prosecution?

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill had a first reading in the House of Commons (without debate) and is currently awaiting a date for a second reading. The Bill is part of recent DEFRA initiatives regarding animal welfare, including the introduction of the latest licensing regulations. The Bill proposes to increase the maximum custodial sentence for people convicted of cruelty from the current paltry six months to up to five years.

Whilst this is to be welcomed, the EFRA Committee made additional recommendations that have not been implemented, including that the RSPCA should no longer act as a prosecutor of first resort. The RSPCA slid into this unusual role because animal welfare prosecutions are largely private (not brought by public bodies such as the Crown or Crown Prosecution Services). The EFRA Committee concluded in 2016 that the RSPCA should “withdraw from acting as a prosecutor of first resort where there are statutory bodies with a duty to carry out this role. We are not convinced by its arguments that it is in a better position than the CPS to prosecute animal welfare cases”.

There are plenty of members of the public who are not convinced either.

Horrific cases of cruelty surface periodically and should soon be able to attract appropriate custodial sentences when prosecuted, the daily misery meted out to dogs goes unrecognised by the very people who are genuinely appalled at extreme cases. So many dogs spend their lives subdued under head collars, harnesses that rub, collars that choke and then are shouted at constantly by owners who don’t even recognise that they are doing it. They are rarely allowed time to sniff, eliminate and play without being dragged away or stopped for just behaving like dogs. Meanwhile owners profess to be their parents and ooze sentiment, thinking that the cowed resentment they get back is “unconditional love”.

So many of these problems could be solved by appropriate, fear-free training. As the adage says, “Properly trained, a human can be a dog’s best friend”.

Meanwhile, the improvements to legislation should be applauded but we desperately need resources to be put into educating owners and preventing problems from occurring in the first place.

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