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The Animal Welfare Act of 2006 was the first major shake-up to the UK’s animal welfare laws since the now-obsolete Protection of Animals Act passed into law over 100 years ago in 1911. As well as taking over the remit of the Protection of Animals Act (1911) and being significantly updated and re-worded to be more relevant to our modern relationship with animals, the Animal Welfare Act (2006) also incorporated over 20 additional existing laws, regulations and guidelines pertaining to the care and welfare of animals too. As pet lovers and pet owners, the Animal Welfare Act (2006) applies to all of us. Unlike the various other laws and regulations regarding the ownership of animals and how they are viewed in law, this particular law is the one that is in large parts aimed at pet owners themselves, and is in place to ensure the protection of companion animals and all of the pets that we know and love. The full and detailed remit of the Animal Welfare Act (2006) can be found on the Government’s own website, here. However, with over 69 individual sections to the law as it currently stands and a significant amount of legal jargon and terminology used throughout the document, it is not particularly light reading! If you want to find out more about the Animal Welfare Act (2006), how it applies to you as a pet owner and what your responsibilities are under the law, we’ve got you covered. Read on to find out more!
The Animal Welfare Act (2006) is divided into eight separate sections, each of which are summarised for pet owners below.
The first section of the Animal Welfare Act (2006) covers the prevention of harm. This means that pet owners must do everything in their power to ensure that their pets and any other animals that they come into contact with are not deliberately harmed, and that any reasonable steps that can be taken to prevent accidental harm are also taken. This means that cruel and unnecessary procedures such as tail docking are illegal, and it is of course illegal to keep a dog for fighting, deliberately allow dogs to fight or attack other animals, or deliberately cause harm to any animal by any means, such as by physically attacking them or poisoning them. As well as the fact that direct involvement in activities such as these is against the law, a wide range of peripheral activities are also considered to be complicit in these acts and so prosecutable; such as attending or betting on dog fighting, even if not directly involved with the fight itself.
The second section of the Act deals with the promotion of welfare. This means that any person who is responsible for an animal, such as their owner or keeper, must provide for all of their pet’s needs. This means adequate feeding, bedding and veterinary treatment, providing a suitable living environment, and not selling or giving a pet to any person under the age of 16.
This section covers the licensing of various activities and ownership scenarios involving animals; such as providing licenses for pet shops, riding schools, dog shows and various other events or businesses where licensing is deemed appropriate.
The codes of practice section of the Act gives powers to national organisations and bodies involved in the ownership of animals or animal welfare to develop best practice guides in relation to the remit of the animal welfare act, and require their members to comply with them; for instance, The Kennel Club’s showing guidelines for Kennel Club members.
The animals in distress section of the Act is the part of the law that gives powers to appointed professionals, such as police officers and local authority inspectors, to override the wishes of the owner of an animal or to act in their absence in order to alleviate pain, suffering or distress in any animal. This includes the powers to order that an animal is put to sleep if they are suffering unduly and cannot be saved, or to remove an animal from an owner or establishment if said animal is in distress or has been abused or neglected.
The Act also provides powers to police officers, and lesser powers to local council inspectors, to use the remit of the Animal Welfare Act (2006) to intervene in cases of abuse or animals being kept for fighting, and to remove them from their owners without prior notice. It also provides powers for officers to enter business premises (such as farms or pet shops) for the purpose of inspecting the property and the resident animals, but this power does not extend to private homes unless one of the occupants is placed under arrest or a search warrant is issued for the premises.
The Animal Welfare Act (2006) means that any person who is found guilty in a court of law of an animal-related offence may be disqualified from owning or keeping animals in the future; either permanently or for a set period of time. This may also extend to being disallowed from working with animals or involvement in various other activities that may involve animals, such as transporting animals or living in a home where animals are kept, even if another resident of the house is the actual owner.
If a person is found guilty in a court of law of various offences relating to animals under the Act; for instance, causing unnecessary suffering by participating in cruelty, abuse or neglect, the automatic penalty for conviction can run to imprisonment of up to 51 weeks, a fine of up to £20,000, or both.
As a caring, responsible pet owner, you have nothing to fear from the remit of the Animal Welfare Act (2006), and you should of course contact the police if you know or suspect that any other pet owner or person may be in breach of any section of the law. If you or someone you know may be in breach of the law in any way; for instance, if an animal is potentially being neglected but is not in urgent immediate danger, then an Improvement Order may also be issued under the terms of the Act. This instructs the person in question to make clearly specified changes to the living conditions of the pet in question in order to comply with the Act before a prosecution is considered. The Animal Welfare Act (2006) is in place in England and Wales, and a very similar version of the law is in place in Scotland. Different laws apply in Northern Ireland, but the remit of all of Great Britain’s laws are very similar and were formulated with the same end goals in mind: The wellbeing and safety of pets and other animals within the UK.
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