Animal Welfare Act

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 And The Pet Owner

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the pet owner – its not just pet insurance you need but common sense too!

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 finally came into force in England in March 2007 and in Wales in April 2007. There was much media hype in the run up to this piece of legislation which left many pet owners worried that they would be jailed if they gave their pet dog one biscuit too many or deprived Tiddles the Cat of his favourite cushion.So what does the Act mean to you, the responsible pet owner? Are you covered by your pet insurance?

Perhaps the greatest controversy has surrounded Section 9(1) of the Act which says:-

“A person commits an offence if he does not take such steps as are reasonable inall the circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal for which he isresponsible are met to the extent required by good practice.”

In other words this imposes a “duty of care” on pet owners but what does that really mean?

Before the Act people only had a duty to ensure that an animal didn’t “suffer unnecessarily”. The new Act keeps this duty but also imposes a broader duty of care on anyone responsible for an animal to “take reasonable steps to ensure that the animal’s needs are met”. This means that a person has to look after the animal’s welfare as well as ensure that it does not suffer.

Section 9(2) of the Act tries to give some guidance by stating that an animal’s welfare needs include:
• a suitable environment (how it is housed);
• a suitable diet (what it eats and drinks);
• the ability to exhibit normal behaviour patterns;
• any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals; and
• protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Of course these are very general guidelines and it would be impossible for any statute to give examples of every situation it envisaged guarding against; that is why, in England and Wales, the Courts are called on to interpret what they think a statute meant where a dispute arises and that is how a body of what is called “case law” grows up over the years in England and Wales which lawyers have to research when they are faced with a novel situation.

OK though, that hasn’t really helped you, the pet owner, to feel any happier that what you are doing to care for your pet falls within the new laws. So how can you find out if what you are doing won’t land you in trouble if a neighbour decides to call in the law?

Firstly I would hope that sheer common sense would be your starting point. You may have seen the recently reported case of a Labrador that was so grotesquely overweight that he could hardly move; not surprisingly the owners were found to have been in breach of the Act; they were heavily fined and prevented from keeping pets for a year.

But if you are unsure at all as to what your pet needs by way of feed or care then search the internet for breed clubs or societies and ask them for advice. As the Act also encompasses the mental wellbeing of your pet there are many pert behaviourists who could give you advice – we have articles posted by a behaviourist on our Animal Friends Insurance pet insurance website for example. You can also consider contacting one of the many excellent animal welfare charities who will only be too pleased to help you. You may have dog insurance or cat insurance – maybe your UK pet insurance providers can help. Failing all else contact your local vet.

We have been concentrating on pets but does the Act apply to all animals?

The Act defines “animal” as referring to any living vertebrate animal (apart from man), although interestingly there is provision to extend this if future scientific evidence shows that other kinds of animals are also capable of experiencing pain and suffering.Some parts of the Act apply to any animal (for example, not using animals to fight), but other parts apply only to “protected animals” or to animals for which a person is “responsible”.The Act defines a “protected animal” as one that:
• is normally domesticated in the British Isles,
• either permanently or temporarily under a person’s control, or
• is not living in a wild state.

The duty of care applies to animals for which a person is “responsible”. So please note all those who work as pet sitters or dog walkers either professionally or as a favour for friend or family can be “responsible” for an animal on a temporary basis under the Act.What happens if someone breaks this law? The Act imposes criminal penalties so your dog insurance or cat insurance won’t cover any fines. The maximum fine is £20,000 and/or prison for up to 51 weeks. Before that stage is reached an “improvement notice” may be issued which will specify the breaches and the steps required to rectify them. If they aren’t taken then a fine and/or prison will follow.

So, if you are a reasonable and responsible pet owner you should have nothing to fear; we find those who have opted for pet insurance usually fall into this category. But if you have any doubts about the care of you pet there is plenty of help available so don’t be afraid to ask!

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Chris Fairfax is a Barrister and solicitor. He is a contributor of legal articles on animals and the law to major pet magazines and he is also a Director of Animal Friends Insurance, leading providers of cheap UK pet insurance. Animal Friends Insurance offer a wide range of pet insurance policies from basic to genuine full lifetime cover. They also insure older pets. Animal Friends can be contacted on 0844 55 70 300 or at where policies can be bought online.

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