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Trained to act
DEFRA advises Local Authority Officials on policing the Animal Welfare Act

THE ANIMAL Welfare Act came into force in England and Wales during the last six weeks and, as such, is still a relatively untried piece of legislation. To date, no significant prosecutions relating to animal welfare have been carried out under the Act, although undoubtedly these will arise in the coming months.

Responsibility for ‘policing’ the Act falls largely to Local Authority employees, who have to be conversant with the law in order the decide whether to seize animals that they perceive to be suffering or in distress, and also whether or not to pursue prosecutions.

Between October and December 2006, training sessions were held by DEFRA on the Animal Welfare Act for Local Authority employees who would have a direct responsibility for enforcing the Act. Attendees included Environmental Health Officers, Dogs Wardens and other employees with an animal welfare remit. Members of Animal Health and trainers from the RSPCA also attended these events.

The report relating to these findings, presented in Question and Answer format has recently appeared on the DEFRA website and makes interesting reading, as it give san insight into the problems that may be faced by LAOs and others, and also shows the DEFRA mindset on a number of issues relating to the Act.

OUR DOGS presents some excerpts from the report, which we believe may be of interest to our readers. Perhaps the most telling of all the statements is the point – referred to on a number of occasions – that there is no obligation on Local Authorities to enforce the Animal Welfare Act. In other words, they do not have to enforce a law passed by Parliament which affects animal welfare and also the lives of animal owners.

This, of course begs the question as to whether the Animal Welfare Act is, in fact, worth the paper it is printed on…

Finance and workload

Q: When we seize animals, how will their maintenance be funded?

A: There are powers for the court under s.35 of the Act to sell or otherwise dispose of animals once seized, and these decisions would be taken on a case-by-case basis. The court may order reimbursement of expenses incurred when carrying out an order made under s.35

Q: Why no additional funding if new powers have been introduced?

A: No additional funding is required because the new Act does not place a duty on local authorities to enforce the welfare and cruelty provisions. (OUR DOGS’ italics)

Q: Some members of the public come to local authorities because they can’t get through to the RSPCA. Won’t the Act mean we get even more calls?

A: The RSPCA anticipate that their national call centre will be able to cope with a potential rise in the volume of calls following the implementation of the Act. Nevertheless, more liaison is encouraged and DEFRA is working with all main parties who will enforce the Act on an statement of intent regarding enforcement procedures which should improve consistency to some extent. In addition, we would always encourage the development of informal relationships at local level to improve communication. Should there be a rise in the number of calls you take, it’s a matter for you whether you enforce the Act – there is no duty on you to do so. (OUR DOGS italics)

Improvement notices

Q: Why no offence for failing to comply with an improvement notice?

A: We would need an appeals process in order to be Human Rights compliant if we had such an offence. The right to make an appeal could delay taking action and this would undermine the value of improvement notices.


Powers available in emergency

Q: When do emergency powers come in?

A: When a protected animal is suffering an inspector or constable is empowered to take whatever steps may be necessary to alleviate that suffering by sections 18 and 19 of the Act.

Q: Will LA inspectors be able to get into 'private dwellings' where they are being used for a licensable activity (i.e. dog breeding from a garden shed?)

A: Yes, but 24 hours’ notice needs to be given.


Q: Why is the time limit for a prosecution 6 months?

A: Section 31 of the Act allows for proceedings to be taken up to three years after the commission of an offence under the Act; the time limit of 6 months relates only to the period between having sufficient evidence to justify proceedings being taken and proceedings starting, not the period of investigation. Nevertheless, it should be noted that as soon as sufficient evidence of an offence has been gathered, the six-month time limit starts running. This provision is from the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 and applies to most similar legislation.

Tail Docking Of Dogs

Q: What is happening with tail docking in Scotland?

A: There will be a complete ban on the docking of dogs with no exemption for working dogs. There is also be a ban on people transporting their dogs to England to be docked.

Q: What would happen if the Council of Docked Breeds submitted evidence to the government that dogs with undocked tails were suffering an increase in tail damage as a result of the ban?

A: We would have to consider this issue if it arose.

Q: Are all working docked dogs banned from being shown?

A: They will be allowed to take part in events for which the public is not charged an admission fee. Where the public is charged for admission, docked dogs may only be shown for the purpose of demonstrating their working ability, e.g. in such as field trials.

Q: Why are Springer Spaniels exempt from docking ban [In relation to police work]?

A: We understand that the police consider Springer Spaniels to be one of the most suitable breeds for use as sniffer dogs.

Q: A considerable number of docked dogs are imported from Ireland under poor welfare conditions. Won’t the tail docking ban increase this trade as demand in this country for docked dogs increases?

A: It won’t be illegal to import a docked dog into this country. Owners of dogs docked in this country must have a certificate from the vet. Owners of imported dogs should have an importation certificate. Dogs imported from other European countries will need to comply with the requirements of the Pet Travel Scheme. However, there will be a ban on showing docked dogs at events to which members of the public are admitted for a fee (unless for the purpose of demonstrating working ability), and we anticipate this will reduce much of the demand for dogs docked for cosmetic reasons.


Q: Will home boarders need to be licensed?

A: Yes – there is pressure from stakeholders to include home boarding in the new regulatory system. It is our intention to more clearly define home boarding to assist both enforcers and those running home boarding establishments. (OUR DOGS’ italics)

Q: What about animal charity home boarders? (volunteers keep animals in their home before animal is re-homed).

A: We need to look more closely at that – particularly the argument that they are more akin to sanctuaries than home boarding.

Q: How will home boarders be regulated when arrangements are made through a centralised service provider ?

A: We will need to consider this when drawing up regulations. However, it would be difficult to see how the organiser can be licensed if they do not keep any animals – it is the premises boarding the dog that need to be inspected and licensed.

Q: Will the boarding of small mammals be licensed?

A: No plans to - the welfare offence will, of course, apply.


Q: Have you a definition for an "animal sanctuary"?

A: Our working draft is as follows, but we recognise that this will be further refined when we come to look at sanctuaries in more detail, and welcome comments.

"An animal sanctuary is any facility which seeks to admit and care for displaced, injured or unwanted animals on a regular basis, whether companion, farmed, wild or other animals, with a view to either re-homing, rehabilitating or providing long-term care for them."

Q: Who will register animal sanctuaries?

A: We envisage that local authorities would register them, although this has not been finalised. (OUR DOGS italics)

Q: Could we refuse to register a sanctuary?

A: Yes - and therefore they would have to cease their activities.

Training and qualifications

Q: How do we improve the training for local authority inspectors?

A: We have provided several training sessions, but ultimately it will be up to local authorities to organise their training. Of course, DEFRA will provide support where appropriate and where resources permit.

Role of RSPCA

Q: Will RSPCA enforce cruelty/welfare offences?

A: Yes, the AWA is a common informers’ act, so anyone can prosecute. This is the same as the 1911 Act and a lot of other legislation. They have not been given, nor have they sought, any new powers.

Q: Sometimes people find the RSPCA uncooperative – we don’t know whether they have already taken action in a particular case.

A: We know that the relationship between LAs and RSPCA can vary. At present none of those who enforce the Act has a formal obligation to notify other bodies of any action taken, but we are working on a statement of intent which should improve the consistency of procedures to some extent. In addition, we would always encourage the development of informal relationships at local level to improve communication….

The RSPCA cannot issue formal improvement notices under the Act. They do, and will continue to, issue their own informal ‘improvement notices’. These are not formal notices under the Act and have no power in law.

Other factors

Q: A: Who will enforce under the Kennel Club’s Accredited Breeder Scheme?

A: We consider that the Accredited Breeder Scheme is a good starting point in deciding what needs to be in a modern system of regulation for dog breeding. There might also be scope for self-regulation for those who sign up to the Accredited breeder scheme. These are issues that can be considered further once the scheme has been evaluated and a decision made concerning the timing of secondary legislation in this area. (OUR DOGS’ italics)

*The full report can be found on the DEFRA website as follows: