THE ANIMAL Welfare Act was designed to protect animals against abuse, but fears have been raised that a lack of preparation means they will not be effective.
The AWA, the first overhaul of pet law in 94 years, includes harsher fines of up to £20,000 and maximum jail terms of 51 weeks, for animal cruelty.
It also introduces a new welfare offence giving animal ‘enforcers’, such as the RSPCA and local councils, more powers to seize pets if they believe they have been neglected, instead of having to build up a dossier of evidence.
However, fears have been raised by bosses of Norfolk's animal sanctuaries that not enough preparation has gone into ensure the measure is a success.
They fear neither the RSPCA or councils have the staff or funds to seize more animals. George Rockingham, who runs the PACT Animal Sanctuary, in Wood Rise, near Hingham, said: ‘The bill itself is very commendable in that it brings in a duty of care to the owner.
‘However, the problem is that neither the RSPCA nor the council have the time or the money to police it.
‘It needs to be done properly so that in every area there is a committee, made up of vets, animal sanctuaries and other relevant groups who are given money to make this work.’
Keith Hall, who runs Hallswood Animal Sanctuary, in Stratton Strawless, said: ‘I do worry that the RSPCA does not have the manpower to cope with this act.
‘They seem to be cutting back rather than getting bigger and if you try and ring them after 5pm these days you get no answer.
‘My other worry is what will happen to these animals that are being seized? If the RSPCA does not have room to keep them and the sanctuaries are full, will that mean more have to be put down?’
However, Sophie Wilkinson, an RSPCA spokeswoman, said the organisation was prepared for the act. She said: ‘At the minute our officers spend a lot of time making multiple visits to owners collecting evidence before we can prosecute.
‘However this will free up our time because it introduces a new animal welfare bill which means officers can remove the animal if the owner does not act on previous advice given to them.
‘We also hope the new act will make owners aware they have a legal obligation to look after animals and make them less likely to mistreat them.’