Below are a few statistics that ought to shock you. ‘A few’ because the context here is that the UK government has no department dedicated to tracking the welfare of domestic animals, and as we will see, there are no laws governing the behaviour of humans towards other animals before the fact that are effective, or could even hope to be effective. With regards to animal welfare then, no one has a remit to safeguard it – and worst still, no one is looking. So all that we have are the records of animal welfare charities, and Police or Hospital statistics for when things go really bad. These numbers are therefore simply a primer for our imaginations on just how terrible the situation might be:
– Every year Battersea Dogs Home euthanises 2,000 healthy dogs
– Every year the RSPCA euthanises over 500 healthy dogs
– Every year 10,000 healthy dogs die in relation to greyhound racing (most under the age of 3)
– The RSPCA alone rescues a total of 120,000 animals annually from some form of abandonment or cruelty
– Every year over 5,000 people are admitted to hospital in the UK after being attacked by a dog, many of them children and many requiring facial plastic surgery. And this figure does not include those treated in A&E
– Every year, on average, 5 people are killed by dogs in the UK
Of course, whilst still representing the most depressing research I have ever had to undertake, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are approximately 20 million cats and dogs in the UK alone, never mind rabbits, gerbils, etc. How many are being treated appropriately? No one has any idea.
One would imagine that tackling such remarkable levels of carnage and cruelty would be very high on our Governments agenda, but the reality is that there is no agenda concerning animal welfare. The misguided belief is that the combination of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act and the 2006 Animal Welfare Act are all that is required. These laws can be summarised as the banning of Pit Bulls and Japanese Fighting dogs, and the acknowledgement that pet owners have a duty of care which must be met.
The problem however is that these laws are reactive as opposed to proactive measures, and in any case they can rarely be enforced because they are either so ambiguous or the offences considered so minor (by the Police), that very often nothing of substance can be done.
Likewise, regarding potentially dangerous dogs, the law is simply no deterrent when we take into account the lure of having these dogs for some malevolent people – “as good as carrying a knife” is the oft quoted reasoning. Cross breeding makes the identification of a particular dog as ‘illegal’ almost impossible even for experts, meaning that the Police are increasingly reluctant to get involved. In the rare instances that they do, the punishments are minimal, with warnings, small fines or seizing of the dog in question as the norm. Most commonly though, (the still insufficient) action is only taken after an attack has occurred because only then does the law become clear enough to apply – but by this time both the person attacked and the dog have already become victims of our society’s lack of concern.
The good news is that the solution is painfully easy. As soon as we acknowledge that animals have a conscious awareness of their moment to moment happiness and are not just innate toys, then it is easy to see that our approach to animal welfare has actually not really got started. We are effectively still in the dark ages on this subject and have not moved with the prevailing moral zeitgeist or the current scientific understanding of the life of mammals. Accepting this is true is the crucial first step.
Animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. can currently be purchased off the shelf like a tin of beans – in fact there are more laws protecting the sale of baked beans than there are for the purchase of animals. A person with a long criminal record of violence, who lives in a fourth floor flat with two young children, can at present buy a large dog without any scrutiny. Also, anyone can breed and sell animals. This is quite obviously a situation ripe for disaster. Observing that this is the status quo is the next step.
From here everything is self-explanatory. Clearly we simply need to introduce strict laws and procedures surrounding the sale and purchase of animals. One should have to attend a training course for the particular animal they wish to care for, have their criminal history analysed, their household income evaluated (as it is if you want to rent a flat – if you are on welfare can you really afford another mouth to feed?) and their home assessed for the appropriateness of the environment that the animal will be living in. If a potential buyer (or seller / breeder) passes these ‘health’ checks, only then is a licence issued and registered. Annual check-ups must be carried out (or at least some random check-ups) and micro-chipping made compulsory for all animals where it is necessary and possible. This last point would have the added bonus of saving animal welfare charities substantial funds because currently most will pay for micro-chipping if someone cannot afford it, so essential is it to the welfare of an animal (I always wonder how people think they can afford an animal if they cannot afford the £10 it costs to micro-chip). Needless to say, dog racing must be banned immediately, as should horse racing, which I dealt with here: http://believethetruth.co.uk/why-horse-racing-is-cruel/.
One might imagine that this will all cost too much, but I think that a licence fee and the off-setting of costs against those saved by hospitals and the Police would more than cover it. And in any case, what would it matter if the waiting list for a licence was many months due to creaky bureaucracy? It’s not a hospital surgery waiting list – these people really can hold out. The priority should be to guarantee that an animal is going to a good home.
People who mistreat animals or use them as status symbols (like some people do with big dogs) do not really love or care about animals. They are not therefore likely to be prepared to go through the above process that I recommend if it was in place (and would be unlikely to be issued a licence if they did). If a database existed (like it does for your driving licence) then a Police officer could quickly check if someone was licenced to have an animal. This would enable speedier identification of issues and so prompt earlier intervention, as there would be tangible laws in place to guide and empower the authorities.
When we consider the fact that most domestic animals live only until they are about 10 years old, the situation regarding animal welfare in the UK could be completely turned on its head inside a decade.