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updated 2/11/01
Rescue centres to be licensed?

ANIMAL RESCUE centres and sanctuaries will need to be licensed and inspected by law if a Private Member's Bill becomes law next year. The Animal Sanctuaries (Licensing) Bill has been put forward by Labour MP Ian Cawsey, (Brigg and Goole) and is aimed at ending the scandal of badly-run private sanctuaries where rescued animals do not receive proper care and attention, sometimes ending up with worse welfare problems than before they came into rescue.

At present only larger-scale breeders and boarding kennels need to be licensed by their local authorities, whilst rescue sanctuaries require no licence of supervision.

The Bill is due to have its Second Reading in January 2002 and, if it becomes law, all such sanctuaries and rescues would have to be licensed and receive regular inspections.

"There is already a requirement for kennels and catteries to be licensed but there is none for people who call themselves sanctuaries or a pet rescue centre," said Mr Cawsey, who is chairman of the All-Party Animal Welfare Group. "Because there is no law to protect these animals, even if concerns are raised about their welfare, there is no right for local authorities to inspect conditions in the sanctuaries.

"I'm aware that there are people who are opening sanctuaries just to avoid being inspected."

Mr Cawsey added that there had also been problems with people who may have had the best of intentions when they opened their rescue centres, but had taken in too many animals to cope with and thus run into difficulties.

"It also happens that sometimes they take on species and breeds of animals which they have no experience in looking after," added Mr Cawsey. "Under my Bill, every sanctuary would have to be licensed by the local authority and would have to be inspected every time it is re-licensed. If people have concerns about the welfare of animals in a rescue centre, they can then contact their local authority about it and an inspection can take place."

Mr Cawsey explained how he had become aware of the problem. "I'm very pro-animal rescue as it happens, I got my own Labrador from animal rescue," he said. "Two ladies came to see me at my constituency office to express their concerns about a local animal rescue centre. The place was essentially a large old house that was falling to bits. Now, I've not got anything against that - I live in one of those myself! But the ladies were concerned. Apparently they'd gone there to see if there was a dog they could take on and an old chap who ran the centre met them at the gate, asked them what they wanted then left them at the gate and went back to the house, after which he brought out dogs for them to see, one by one.

"They reported their concerns for the animals' welfare to the local authority, the police, even the RSPCA, but they all told them the same thing, as the place was not licensed and their was no specific complaint of cruelty or malpractice, or anything which breached environmental health laws, these agencies could not act. I checked this out myself and found that this was, indeed, the law, which really isn't right.

"In this case the matter was resolved amicably, because the ladies went back to his old chap and managed to convince him that he'd taken on too much and the dogs were all taken by another sanctuary and he stopped operating as a rescue."

Mr Cawsey pointed out the deficiencies in the existing laws with an example concerning a large animal rescue in his area. "Jerry Green operates as a kennels and boarding business as well as a rescue, and they have branches in several areas," he said. "They are, as it happens, a very good organisation and I got my own dog Ben from them as a rescue. But the manager was telling me that when the local authority inspectors come round to license the commercial kennels, they never inspect the rescue section, as law does not require them to. It does seem to be very wrong that the same protection afforded to boarded animals, or those bred by registered breeders is not given to those in rescue."

Many small rescues and sanctuaries have indicated to OUR DOGS and its sister newspaper OUR CATS when contacted for features on animal rescue that their local authorities don't like them, or want them in the area. Perhaps a new licensing law would give these authorities the excuse to close the sanctuaries down for the wrong reasons. Would his Bill contain any safeguards?

"Licensing has a long history in local Government," replied Mr Cawsey. "Local authorities issue licences for so many different things. There are safeguards and appeals procedures, through the appropriate licensing committee, or even to the local ombudsman, so this should allow good sanctuaries and rescues the protection they need to appeal against any decision they feel is wrong."

But didn't existing health and safety laws cover all such organisations in any event? For example, if a sanctuary was piled with smelly refuse, then the local authority could act against it. "That is true, but this is under Environmental Health laws," said Mr Cawsey. "It doesn't actually allow them to act against the centre on the grounds of animal welfare, ands that is the legal loophole my Bill aims to close."

Currently, Ian Cawsey's Bill is being studied by Parliamentary Draughtsmen to make sure that it is legally correct and workable and framed in the correct legislative language. After this and before the Bill goes for its Second Reading, Mr Cawsey wants to hear from animal rescues and sanctuaries and other interested parties with their views on his draft Bill, copies of which should be available within the fortnight.

"I would be delighted to hear from anybody with an interest in this important matter," said Mr Cawsey. "If any readers from OUR DOGS have ideas or thoughts on my Bill, I will happily give them copies of my Bill if they e-mail me or write to me at the House of Commons."

Mr Cawsey added that he was uncertain whether or not his Bill would make it through the packed Parliamentary timetable and procedures process to become law. "There's a lot of Bills ahead of it in the queue and the Government are very concerned with their legislation against terrorism," said Mr Cawsey. "There only has to be one objection from another MP to hold up a Private Member's Bill, although I am pleased to say that it has wide cross-party support."

Ian Cawsey's predecessor as Chairman of the All Party Animal Welfare Group had previously expressed some strong views on the licensing and existence of smaller animal rescue centres and sanctuaries, going somewhat further than Mr Cawsey. Roger Gale, Conservative MP for Thanet North said: "I think there is the need for greater regulation of animal charities.

"I believe they should all be licensed by Central Government. In fact, there are far too many small animal charities and rescue groups and many of them do not have the resources to cope with the animals in their care, which then makes more work for the larger animal charities to clear up. " I believe that the smaller charities should all be amalgamated with the larger charities which would be far better for the welfare of animals all round."

Suzi Algar is Manageress of the Warnham Animal Sanctuary, Sussex, situated not far from the town of Horsham where, coincidentally, the RSPCA and CP have their respective headquarters.

Warnham take in over 400 animals per year, mainly cats and dogs, but also donkeys, small animals and birds. The total weekly running costs for the sanctuary, which includes the wages of two full-time and two part-time staff tops 2,000 every week.

"To be honest, we feel badly let down by some of the big charities," says Suzi. "We get the animals which they turn away. Just recently, we took on an adult stray cat which a major charity turned away, because it needed to be neutered. That will cost us 70. Cats' Protection never seem to have room for anything, but I have to say, the NCDL are quite good and will often help out with dogs that need rehoming if we are very full up."

On the subject of Mr Gale's ideas for small animal charities, Suzi is quite adamant. "Okay, there may be a few bad rescues out there, but the majority are well-run and do great work. A lot of animals depend on the small rescues for help. What would happen to the 400 animals we deal with every year if we were amalgamated? I just don't think they'd be helped. Every penny we receive in donations goes towards our day-to-day running costs and it's all for the benefit of the animals."

"It wouldn't be too bad if a few of the really appalling charities were closed down," says Roz Hayward-Butt, Secretary of Hounslow Animal Welfare Society which has been serving the needs of unwanted pets in the London Borough of Hounslow for the past twenty five years. "Certainly the criteria should hinge on what condition the animals are kept in. Their welfare should always come first.

"But for Roger Gale to suggest that it would be better for animals' welfare if we all amalgamated with the RSPCA... well - what planet is this man living on? Animals need small charities like HAWS - we pick up the animals that get overlooked by the larger groups. We take in 800 cats each year, and none of the big charities are interested in taking these on - not unless there's a camera crew in tow to broadcast just how caring and wonderful they are."

Roz points out that HAWS veterinary fees reach a staggering 45,000 per year and that very few animals are ever put to sleep unless they have a condition that cannot be treated. All the HAWS workers are volunteers, including Roz, who holds down a full-time job and devotes her free time to HAWS' work.

Roz concludes: "At the end of the day, it's up to the people to decide which charity they support," she says. "Hardly any of the animal welfare charities or rescue organisations receives lottery grants. What is always the most important consideration is the welfare of the animals. That's what we're here for."