The law relating to the welfare of animals is not usually a hotbed of innovation, but developments are on the horizon. Here, Ison Harrison provides an outline of what’s new.

Sentencing Powers Increase

Maximum sentences in cases involving animal cruelty have increased as a result of legislation led by Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Those found guilty of such crimes will face up to five years in prison- in the past, six months was the upper limit.

The development had its origins in a public outcry. An online petition calling for tougher penalties attracted over 500,000 signatures after a case in Teesside, where two brothers repeatedly stamped on a dog’s head before throwing it down a set of stairs. The brothers filmed themselves abusing the animal, but did not receive custodial sentences.

Michael Gove was quoted as stating that “We are a nation of animal lovers and we must ensure that those who commit shocking cruelty towards animals face suitable tough punishments. These plans will give courts the tools they have requested to deal with the most abhorrent acts.”

Courts also now have the ability to issue unlimited fines and ban an offender from owning animals for a specified period.

Puppy farms

A ban on the commercial third party sales of puppies and kittens is now imminent, with a ban on licensed sellers dealing dogs or cats under the age of eight weeks old starting on 1st October.

The ban aims to reduce health problems and poor welfare conditions often associated with third party selling. Sales on a commercial basis can involve early separation of puppies and kittens from mothers, the introduction to unfamiliar environments, and the increased likelihood of puppies and kittens being transported across multiple journeys. Such concerns are said to contribute to a lack of socialisation and habituation, unfair environments, and an increased risk of disease.

The ban will prevent any pet shops, dealers, and any other outlet from selling animals unless they themselves have bred them.

In spelling out his intention to tackle such practices, Michael Gove was quoted as stating that ‘people who have a complete disregard for pet welfare’ would ‘no longer be able to profit from this miserable trade.’


Electronic collars used for cat and dog training are to be banned under an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Remote controlled e-collars trigger electronic pulses to the animal, and can be varied in strength, whilst other collars may spray a noxious chemical. The collars can be misused to inflict harm and suffering. There is also said to be evidence to suggest that e-collars also redirect aggression, making underlying behavioural and health issues worse.

Those collars which issue an electric shock to a dog or cat have long since been banned in Wales, where a person found guilty of this type of offence can receive a prison sentence, fine, or even both.

Further changes to come

The above initiatives form part of an overall plan to reform animal welfare in the UK. Other actions include making CCTV mandatory in English slaughterhouses, and taking steps to control export of live farm animals for slaughter, as the UK leaves the EU. Whether other changes are on the horizon remains to be seen, but there is plenty to take note of already.

If you have any queries relating to the content of this article, please contact Ison Harrison.

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