In the past decade, Ireland has enacted new, well-written and well-meaning legislation on animal welfare: the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 is the main change, along with compulsory microchipping of all dogs being introduced in 2016, the Dog Breeding Establishments Act, 2010, which came into force at the beginning of 2012, and just last year, new regulations governing the sale of animals online. These are all potentially game changing laws, and I’ve written about them recently. Last week, there was an interesting development in this area.
A Dail committee, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, met to discuss post-enactment scrutiny of the Animal Health and Welfare Act. Representatives of the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) spoke at the meeting, and the proceedings were broadcast live on the internet, allowing everyone with an interest to tune in and listen to the discussion.
The committee met because legislators are aware that 2013 Act was a major revision of the law relating to the health and welfare of animals. Previously, it was illegal to be actively cruel to animals, but the law was very loose about insisting that people actively cared well for their pets. Under the new law, pet owners are legally obliged to look after their pets properly, ensuring that the animals have all of their needs met. This legislation created stronger measures to prevent and deal with cruelty to animals, and should have led to a huge improvement in animal protection and identification. The big question is this: have the laws worked? If not, why not?
The aim of the committee was to examine the effectiveness of the legislation, with a particular focus on the issue of puppy smuggling.
This type of review is precisely what our government ought to be doing, and it was a particular bonus that the proceedings of the committee meeting were so transparent, allowing all voters and animal lovers to find out what’s being said.
Brian Gillen, the Chief Executive Officer of the DSPCA spoke well, filling in the committee members with the details of what’s really happening on the ground. He spoke about puppy farms, about how current legislation has no upper number on how many breeding animals there can be on one premises. There could be up to six hundred breeding bitches in a single establishment. Brian explained that this is far too many, making it almost impossible to give those animals, and their puppies, an acceptable quality of life.
Brian explained that Local Authorities are responsible for dog licences and dog breeding, while the Department of Agriculture is in charge of microchips and animal welfare. This means that many issues may fall between the departments, making it more difficult to ensure that all of the new laws are properly enforced.
He also spoke about the microchipping issue, explaining that enforcement of compulsory microchipping is not carried out effectively. In other countries, the police force are equipped with microchip scanners, and there’s much wider acceptance of the absolute need for individual identification of dogs, with legal linking to their owners. He talked about the fact that it is not possible to buy a car without having clear legal proof of ownership of the vehicle, and he explained that is would easily be possible to attach the same level of importance to dogs. The law is there for this to happen. More effective enforcement by authorities, at every level, is needed.
Mr Gillen also spoke about ear cropping, the trimming of dogs’ ears to give them a pointed, triangular appearance. This is illegal in Ireland: it’s a painful, unnecessary, cosmetic procedure. Sadly, it’s still widely carried out on certain breeds such as Bull Terriers and Dobermans. The loophole often used by people who are found with these animals, to avoid prosecution, is that they claim they imported the dogs from overseas, from places such as the USA where ear cropping is permitted. A useful suggestion was made that it should be made illegal for dogs with cropped ears to be imported into Ireland: this would remove the loophole, and prosecutions could then be successfully taken against those who perpetrate this cruel act on their pets.
The new regulations on the online sale of animals were also discussed in detail: again, these would be effective if they were enforced, but they are widely flouted, and nobody seems to be doing anything about it. Mr Gillen expressed the hope that the Europe-led Digital Services Act, may be the best way of sorting this out. This would give websites the responsibility of ensuring that all adverts on their sites comply with the law: they could be prosecuted if illegal adverts were hosted. This would effectively clean up the online sale of pets. Mr Gillen called for the government to give full, active, support to implementation of this Act.
Mr Gillen also called for puppy smuggling to be treated by the courts like drug smuggling, with serious deterrents for those who try to make money by abusing animals in this way.
It’s heartening that animal welfare is being debated so actively in government circles. We all know what’s needed now: effective action to follow up on the talk.