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Welsh consultation on shock collar ban gets underway

THE WELSH Assembly has launched a public consultation on its plans to impose a ban on the sale and use of electric collars and similar training aids on dogs and cats in Wales amid concern over animal cruelty.

Some of the shock collars on sale to the public give the animals a small electric shock, which their supporters say startle them, rather than cause pain.  Owners can activate the devices in response to behaviour such as barking and they can be used for training.

But as the Assembly government begins consultation, critics claim the devices are cruel and unnecessary. Ministers will gather the views of animal experts and organisations on the collars that can be bought from pet shops or on the Internet for £25 or more.

Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones backs a ban which could be introduced using the Animal Welfare Act powers, which are new to the Welsh assembly. The Scottish Parliament is also working towards a ban. However, DEFRA is opposing moves for any similar ban in England.

There are a number of different electronic training aids, including an anti-bark collar, remote control collars used to control any unwanted behaviour, electric shock training leads and electric boundary or ‘freedom’ fences.

In a consultation document, the Kennel Club and the RSPCA expre ss concerns about the potential misuse of these devices. Holly Lee from the Kennel Club’s Press Office said electric collars delivered a painful shock to dogs.

‘It has been tried by quite a few Assembly Members I have met and they said it was painful,’ she said.  ‘They are the most highly aversive training devices and the only way they can change a dog's behaviour is through pain and through fear.’

Neither the British Veterinary Association (BVA) nor the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) supports the use of the devices, according to the document. In a statement, the BSAVA said that shocks received during training could be stressful, painful and frightening for the animal and may also produce long-term adverse effects on behaviour.

Campaign group Advocates for Animals said research from the University of Bristol claimed that anti-bark devices had been activated by noises in the environment.

However, the Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association (ECMA) said failsafe systems on the devices prevented this from happening. It also claimed that the electric training aids had saved ‘thousands of animal lives’ because the devices had helped to successfully train them not to chase livestock or game, attack other pets or people, eat dangerous material or chase cars.

Roger Matthews, who manufactures the collars and is a member of the ECMA, disputed the claim that the devices inflicted pain.

‘It's unpleasant, but it does not hurt,’ he said.  ‘We are talking about very, very small amounts of energy. It is an electrical impulse, but it is 5,000 times less powerful than the electrical impulse we are happy to see used in stock fencing for horses and cattle.’

Mr Matthews said he had not seen any evidence that the collars caused any lasting harm to animals.

‘There are hundreds of thousands of these units in use throughout the UK... where is the documented evidence of abuse?’ he added.

The consultation paper is being sent to veterinary surgeons, animal welfare organisations, local authorities the police and companies involved in the manufacture and sale of electronic training aids.

Those wishing to comment on the electric training aids have until 1 February 2008 to do so.