Do people who commit animal cruelty offences deserve harsher punishment?

In the last few weeks the maximum sentence given to those who commit animal cruelty has been changed from six months with an unlimited fine amount to five years within England. The Scottish Government also recently announced that it is introducing a Bill to increase the maximum prison sentence for serious abuse cases to five years. Previously, England and Wales had some of the lowest maximum sentences for animal cruelty in Europe and the USA. Wales is still yet to follow suit and increase sentencing for offenders.

We asked members of the industry before the change if they believed the sentencing was correct.

Charlotte Longster, senior public affairs officer, Dog’s Trust

Dogs Trust feels strongly that the current penalties available for cruelty cases for conviction under the Animal Welfare Act are woefully inadequate. We will continue to urge the Government to take action to protect all animals by making changes that will allow the most serious cases of cruelty to be heard in the Crown Court and receive a sentence of up to five years imprisonment.

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“Currently, a person who injures or kills a dog can only be given a maximum custodial sentence of six months under the Animal Welfare Act. In comparison, recent changes to the Dangerous Dogs legislation mean that the owner of a dog that injures or kills an assistance dog can, quite rightly, be given a maximum custodial sentence of three years. This discrepancy in the penalties available highlights the urgent need for Government to review animal cruelty sentences and introduce punishments that reflect the seriousness of these offences that are sadly carried out on a daily basis.

“Last year Dogs Trust responded to the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines consultation which included a new draft guideline for animal cruelty offences. This updated guideline will shortly replace the current version which has been in use since 2008. While we agree the proposed changes are important to help ensure realistic sentences are passed, we strongly believe more needs to be done to ensure that animal cruelty convictions are a significant deterrent.”

Caroline Kisko, secretary, Kennel Club

“Deliberate cruelty toward any animal is unacceptable and we have seen some horrific examples of cruelty to dogs carried out by humans. At present the penalty for even the worst animal cruelty offences is a maximum of six months in England and Wales, which is woefully low compared to other European countries, and many other countries around the world. England has one of the shortest custodial sentences for cruelty in Europe, which does nothing to promote the value of animals here. As such the Kennel Club would fully support an increase in animal cruelty sentences to five years.”

Richard Clare, advocacy and government relations officer, Cats Protection

Cats Protection welcomes the Scottish Government’s recently announced plans to increase the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty from one year to five years. The Northern Ireland Assembly increased the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty cases heard in the Crown Court from two years to five years and Cats Protection would like to see the maximum prison sentence across the whole of the UK to be increased to five years. In England and Wales, the current maximum sentence is only six months. Currently cats are the victims of horrendous crimes including being shot, poisoned with antifreeze, caught in snares, abandoned or attacked by dogs that are not controlled. For example, we recorded around 200 incidents of cat shootings in 2016, 22 percent of which were fatal, and these are just those that were reported via the media or reported directly to us, so the actual number of shootings is likely to be much higher. Cats Protection is committed to prevention methods to promote animal welfare to avoid and minimise prosecutions. However we believe increasing the maximum prison sentence received for animal cruelty could help to deter people and reduce reoffending. As one of the UK’s leading feline welfare charities, we are always extremely distressed to hear about acts of cruelty against cats and believe it is important that sentencing reflects the seriousness of the crime.”

Philippa King, acting CEO of the League Against Cruel Sports

“Dog fighting is one of the most horrific forms of organised animal cruelty, not only for the violence the dogs endure during fights but because of the trauma they suffer throughout their lives. In spite of this it only carries a maximum sentence of just six months in prison, compared to five years for fly tipping.

“It’s then no surprise that animal cruelty is not treated as seriously as it should be. England and Wales are lagging embarrassingly behind when it comes to punishing those who abuse animals. If the law is going to serve any purpose of acting as a deterrent, the time must fit the severity of the crime.

“We investigate dog fighting and the cruelty involved deserves proper sentencing to reflect the violent nature of this activity. Dog fighting is also intrinsically linked to other crimes including violence against people

“A recent report by the Centre for Crime Prevention revealed nine out of ten cases do not result in a prison sentence and people found guilty of animal cruelty go on to commit a huge number of other offences – including murder.

“We are also calling for dog fighting to be made a recordable offence and for the implementation of a national database of individuals banned from owning animals to prevent further animals failing victim.”

Vicki Betton, veterinary policy and campaigns manager, PDSA

“PDSA strongly supports calls to increase the maximum custodial sentence for animal cruelty in England and Wales, which is currently amongst the lowest in Europe. We are encouraged by the tougher stance taken against animal cruelty by the Government of Northern Ireland and proposed by the Scottish Government, and would urge Wales and England to follow suit. As the UK’s largest veterinary charity with in-depth understanding of pet welfare issues across the UK, highlighted through the findings of our annual PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report, we are concerned with the welfare of all companion animals. Through our work with The Links Group, we also raise awareness of the proven link between cases of animal abuse, domestic violence and child abuse, which is a serious consideration in this matter.”

* www.pdsa.org.uk/pawreport


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