The Crackdown on Animal Cruelty Leads to Tougher Prison Sentences

A crackdown on animal cruelty led by Secretary of State Michael Gove has led to the passing of a new Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill. Forthcoming laws in 2020 will ban puppy farms and wild animals in circuses.

The parliamentary bill introduces tougher sentences of up to five years for hurting puppies or kittens, dog fighting, and the neglect of farm animals. 

Although dog fighting has been illegal for more than 180 years, the practice still occurs today in the UK, with dogs being trained to fight and inflict horrific injuries onto their opponents. According to the RSPCA, the injuries are treated by owners without the use of anaesthetic to avoid confrontations with the police. 

The recommendation of five-year sentences is a breakthrough for animal rights campaigners and a sharp contrast to the six-month sentence currently in place. Speaking of the legislative changes, Claire Horton, Chief Executive of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, stated: “The introduction of this bill is a landmark achievement, which will make a profound difference to dogs and cats in England and Wales.

“We, and many other rescue centres, see shocking cases of cruelty and neglect come through our gates and there are many more animals that are dumped and don’t even make it off the streets.

“Research shows that tougher prison sentences act as a deterrent to would-be criminals, so today’s announcement should prevent the suffering of many animals in the future.”

How Finn’s Law Led the Change

The recommended five-year sentence of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill mirrors Finn’s Law, which was implemented in early June. Finn’s Law incorporates a five-year sentence for harming service dogs and horses and was passed under the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act. The law was named after Finn, a German Shepherd service dog, who protected PC Dave Wardell in a 2016 attack. Both PC Dave Wardwell and Finn were stabbed in the attack and it was at first thought that Finn would be unlikely to survive. After the 2016 attack, PC Wardell campaigned to end suffering inflicted on service dogs, which is often regarded as self-defence. He appeared on this year’s Britain’s Got Talent with the recovered Finn to raise awareness and the duo even landed themselves a place in the semi-finals. 

Moreover, the Animal Welfare Bill will expand to include bans on wild animals in circuses, and a new law, titled “Lucy’s Law” will call for a ban on selling puppies and kittens via third parties. Buyers will have to liaise directly with breeders and purchased animals must have been reared in a safe environment with their mother. 

Lucy’s Law was inspired by a King Charles Spaniel, who died as a result of neglect at a puppy farm. The new law, which will come into effect next year on the 6thof April, will apply to England and aims to dissuade animal smugglers from transporting pets into the UK to be sold.  

In spite of the Animal Welfare Bills’ expansions and the introduction of Lucy’s Law next year, Paula Boyden, veterinary director at Dog’s Trust, the largest dog charity in the UK, believes more animal welfare measures should be enacted. 

She added, “There is time before April 2020 for the government to consider regulation of re-homing organisations and sanctuaries, ensure full traceability of all puppies sold, and strengthening of the pet travel scheme.”

Indisputably, Finn’s Law, Lucy’s Law and the new inclusions to the Animal Welfare Sentencing Bill of five-year sentences are all significant legislative changes in leading the fight against animal cruelty in the UK. Regardless, there are still additional changes to recognise and to be enforced, from improving the pet travel scheme to deter animal smugglers further, routine check-ups on animal sanctuaries for rescued animals and ensuring breeders posting animal adverts online are verified to stop the sale of farmed animals. 

Campaign initiatives to encourage aspiring owners to adopt from animal shelters, rather than online breeders can additionally help animal sanctuaries operate more efficiently. 

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