Part Two – Sanctuary!
IN THE second of OUR DOGS’ in-depth features focusing on parts of the Animal Welfare Act that have a particular impact on dogs and dogdom, Nick Mays considers the Act’s provision for the licensing of Animal Sanctuaries and Rescues.
WHEN CONSIDERING the finer points of the Animal Welfare Bill – those points which will actually have a direct impact on animal enthusiasts (including dog owners), it is necessary to realise that most of these points are covered under the Secondary Legislation of the Bill. Although the Bill itself has been widely publicised – indeed there is an ongoing campaign in one national newspaper, backed by the RSPCA urging readers to in turn urge their MPs to vote for the Bill – what is less well-publicised it is that the AWB is simply an ‘Enabling Bill’, whilst it is the less well-publicised Secondary Legislation clauses that will have the actual effect.
One such area of Secondary Legislation, which has the provision of being one of the most controversial, is also one of the less debated by the larger animal charities such as the RSPCA, Dogs Trust etc. This is the segment referring to the licensing of animal sanctuaries and rescue centres. The clause reads thus:
Animal sanctuaries should be required to register with Local Authorities.
Registration will run for a maximum period of 5 years – there will be power for the Local Authority to inspect sanctuaries on a risk managed basis.
A code of practice covering issues such as rehabilitation and rehoming will be introduced.
On the face of it, this seems reasonable. After all, a well-run sanctuary deserves a licence, surely? If the sanctuary is no good, then it won’t get a licence. But the reality isn’t as simple as that. To start with, a licence won’t come cheap and many smaller sanctuaries and rescues operate on limited funds. Secondly, who has the objective know-how to say what does or does not constitute a good or bad sanctuary? A council health and safety inspector (who might not like animals anyway)? A vet? Or, as many believe, an RSPCA Inspector, because the likelihood that local authorities acting, not wishing to commit manpower and cost to inspecting premises, will ask the RSPCA to undertake this role. Indeed, many sanctuary owners believe that DEFRA already have the RSPCA lined up to undertake this role, particularly with regard to drawing up a Code Of Practice having granted them extra powers towards the end of last year.
The clause potentially stands to affect any kind of small sanctuary or rescue centre, including Breed Rescue. Jeannie Judd who runs the Phoenix Pet and Wildlife Sanctuary in Coat, near Martock Somerset, fears that the AWB will add an unacceptable amount of pressure to the work she carries out and may even force her sanctuary, and many others like it, to close.
"I do feel strongly that the new Animal Welfare Bill does nothing to improve animal welfare at all, rather more about increasing ‘Big Brother’ controls," says Judd. "It seems more about placing unnecessary legislation on those, like ourselves at Phoenix, who are simply trying to a do a difficult job under already difficult conditions.
"For small sanctuaries, placing an additional burden of expense upon them, in the form of a licence, is only going to erode already hard-gained and overstretched funds and take vital money from where it should be going i.e. to the care and needs of animals."
Judd worries that the RSPCA will be given responsibility for inspecting sanctuaries and rescues, and points out that many people come to Phoenix because the RSPCA has a destruction policy for animals that cannot be rehomed. "Our policy is the opposite," she says. "We care for any animal – wild or pet – for its whole life, if it has a quality of life. Many wild creatures can adapt happily to life in captivity, as we have proved many times from our own experience, the vital criteria being, as always, if the animal thrives.
"I foresee a situation where the RSPCA inspects a sanctuary, finds wild birds and animals present and conflict ensues because of their destruction policy. They are definitely not the people to hold such a role and besides, who will inspect their own centres?"
Andrew Meades, of the Safewings Wildlife Conservation Sanctuary, shares Judd’s concerns and adds: "Having run a wildlife Sanctuary for 43 years and been directly involved in the new Animal Welfare Bill since its first rumblings in 2001, when it was a Private Members bill, I, like other Sanctuaries, have become very concerned with regard to this new legislation.
"Many sanctuaries will simply cease their work and many are closing already. The main concern is in areas of wildlife rehabilitation where many Sanctuaries are self funded and run full time simply for the benefit of injured and orphaned wildlife. Simply, even the idea that these hard working, totally committed people are being controlled and charged fees beggars belief.
"All reputable Sanctuaries work closely with a Veterinary practice and this is essential for the well being of any animal. Surely the Veterinary Practice concerned would better supervise any control or inspection and any Sanctuary could be registered with twelve monthly inspections. Self-regulation, networking and a full Veterinary back up are all that should be required to comply with improving animal welfare. The RSPCA do not have the resources and most certainly do not have the experience to handle the vast amount of abandoned, injured, orphaned animals that will need care if the sanctuary legislation is introduced."
Sue Burton of the FEDERATION of BRITISH ANIMAL SANCTUARIES, which represents people who run or are involved with running animal Sanctuaries, points out that many FOBAS members have expressed similar concerns over licensing of sanctuaries and rescues.
"The Animal Welfare Bill has been hailed as the ‘biggest improvement in animal welfare legislation in 100 years," says Burton. "Most of the large welfare Organisations welcome the Bill, so why are so many smaller Animal Sanctuaries starting to come together to openly oppose it? In the entire history of animal welfare in this country no issue has ever brought so many animal Sanctuaries together. Usually those of us that run Sanctuaries are too busy to get involved with politics or what goes on generally outside of our Sanctuary/Rescue Centre.
"This Bill gives an "Inspector" such huge and ambiguous powers. If we could be sure that they would be used correctly then it would not be such a big problem. Who will these Inspectors be? State Veterinary Service? Vets? RSPCA? Trading Standards?"
Burton points out that the public are being dubbed ‘silly’ for assuming that because the RSPCA have officials called ‘Inspectors’ they are incorrectly assuming that Inspector will mean an RSPCA Inspector.
She adds: "Repeatedly the RSPCA are stating that they are NOT seeking these new powers. So do we need to worry about this or not?
"As of September 2004, the RSPCA signed an Agreement with DEFRA giving the RSPCA full prosecution status under the 1911 Protection of Animals Act. They had repeatedly said they did NOT seek these powers but behind the scenes it was a very different case and they do now have these powers . Why worry as it is only the 1911 Act? Because the Animal Welfare Bill will replace the 1911 Act and those powers will go with it.
"Sanctuary / Rescue work is very akin to hospice work – how can we then be overseen and regulated by a Charity that destroys so many animals? How can it be right for one charity to oversee another one? How can the RSPCA have this role when as a Charity they are not meant to participate in political lobbying?"
Not Seeking Powers
Brian McGavin of the RSPCA’s Press Office maintained that the RSPCA would be seeking any additional powers to ‘police’ sanctuaries and rescues. He told OUR DOGS: " (The) AWB proposes that these regulations will be introduced in consultation and in stages by the government using secondary legislation (coming into effect later than the date the Bill becomes law). DEFRA intends to phase in these new rules over the next six years or so.
"The RSPCA believes that licensing authorities should be given clear guidelines on the monitoring, licensing and inspecting of these establishments and government must ensure that licensing authorities are properly resourced to undertake this function fully.
"Although there is no lower time limit in the bill, the RSPCA does not believe that licensing authorities would perform more frequent inspections than three years maximum in the proposal, unless this is spelled out in the secondary legislation. The RSPCA would not be directly involved in inspections and licensing of such premises.
"Currently, there is no definitive data on the number of animal rescue centres in Britain. The RSPCA believes all animal sanctuaries should be licensed by local authorities, with an independent inspection linked to an assessment of risk. To help smaller premises, inspection fees should be proportionate to the size of the premises."
Doug Kempster of DEFRA sought to allay fears that any one organisation – the RSPCA or otherwise – would be in charge of licensing sanctuaries and rescues.
"Our initial thinking is that (sanctuary and rescue) registration should be renewable every 5 years and that applications for registration should be accompanied by a veterinarian assessment," says Kempster.
"It is proposed that the regulations would cover all types of sanctuary, including those offering re-homing and rehabilitation. A working group will be set up to consider this issue and advise on the most effective way to use regulation to address the problems which exist."
Kempster added that the Government was aware of the financial implications of any licensing plans, saying: "Any future regulation would be made in line with better regulation principles to ensure that those sanctuaries which provide for good welfare standards would not be forced to close due to the cost of regulation.
"Given the number and variety of sanctuaries, it is essential that resources are targeted where there is greatest need. We are therefore proposing a 'light-touch', risk-based approach to the regulation of sanctuaries."
However, incidents of the nature of the Stott case (see box) involving animal rescues are rare, and most animal rescues centres, sanctuaries and breed rescues do a good job. Crucially, these smaller rescues invariably deal with those animals that the larger charities have no provision for. Indeed, some of the larger charities ask the smaller, specialist rescues for help on occasion. However, this leads to another ‘loaded’ area, when some of the larger charities refuse to allow specialist breed rescues to take on and rehome dogs or cats of a specific breed that they have in their care.
If licensing for sanctuaries and rescues is, at some point, introduced, then the role of breed rescue is an area that could well be up for discussion during the consultation period. As regards animal rescue, big is not always necessarily better, no more than a license to operate guarantees better quality of care. It would be a crime if, for the sake of governmental controls, that animals in need would be denied sanctuary.
If YOU have any points about the issues raised in this article, or any other concerns relating to particular aspects of the Animal Welfare Bill, please tell us about them. Write to Nick Mays at OUR DOGS Publishing Company Ltd, 5 Oxford Road Station Approach, Manchester M60 1SX or e-mail ChiefReporter@aol.com
How It Can Go Wrong
The calls for licensing of sanctuaries and rescues have been rumbling on for some six years now. In 2000, animal welfare groups called upon the Government to introduce strict new laws governing the operation of animal sanctuaries and rescue centres following the conviction of a pet sanctuary owner who allowed over 140 animals in her care to die.
In 1999, Ann Stott, 57, was jailed for four months at South Cheshire Magistrates Court for causing unnecessary suffering to the animals. The court heard how police officers and RSPCA inspectors called at Stott's terraced house - her self-styled 'sanctuary' - in Eddlestone Road, Crewe, to be greeted with the traumatic sight of finding 140 corpses of dogs, cats, ferrets, cockatiel and a fox piled inside the rescue centre and a lock-up garage nearby.
After the case, many former friends of Stott and animal welfare officials slammed both the lenient sentence and the ease at with which people could establish animal sanctuaries and rescue groups, calling for more stringent laws to be brought in the prevent the tragedy occurring again.
DEFRA’s view on the RSPCA’s role following the enactment of the AWB is worded very similarly to the Society’s own statements on the subject:
The RSPCA will not gain, nor have they sought, any additional powers under the Bill.
We anticipate that most of the day-to-day enforcement work relating to pet animals will continue to be undertaken by the RSPCA who currently undertake the majority of cruelty prosecutions under the 1911 Act. We anticipate that the RSPCA will also undertake the majority of prosecutions under the new welfare offence, though the RSPCA estimate that this will only lead to an additional 100 or so prosecutions a year.
However, as now, where access to premises is sought, the RSPCA will have to be accompanied by an local authority inspector or constable who has powers of entry under the Bill.