Animal welfare in England: domestic pets Contents


1.The UK is a nation of pet lovers. Approximately one in two households owns a pet amounting to around 21 million pets in all (excluding fish), including 8.5 million dogs and 7.5 million cats.1 The Animal Welfare Act 2006, considered the single most important piece of animal welfare legislation in England and Wales for nearly 100 years,2 placed a legal obligation on owners and keepers of animals to care for them properly.

2.Yet in the 10th anniversary year of the passing of the Act, there are concerns about its effectiveness. The RSPCA investigated 143,004 animal cruelty complaints in 2015, including: 81,146 cruelty incidents against dogs; 33,844 against cats; and 15,965 incidents against horses. High-profile media cases, such as the teenagers who tortured Chunky the Chihuahua, or the two brothers who threw their pet bulldog repeatedly down wooden stairs, have shocked the public.

3.In addition, a number of older pieces of legislation regulate particular animal activities, including breeding and sale. Recent reports have highlighted the poor conditions in which some animals are bred and sold.

4.The Animal Welfare Act 2006 has not been reviewed since our predecessor’s examination of the draft Bill ten years ago, and it is useful to review their recommendations.3 The Act applies to England and Wales though secondary legislation is devolved. Scotland has the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and Northern Ireland has the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

5.We launched our inquiry into the welfare of domestic pets in England in February 2016, focusing on dogs, cats and horses. The Terms of Reference for this inquiry were: to examine the effectiveness of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 with regard to domestic pets; the Regulation surrounding the sale of domestic pets, including online sale and advertising; enforcement of current animal welfare legislation, including prosecution of offences by the police, local authorities, the RSPCA and others; and comparative approaches to enforcement in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

6.We took oral evidence from: animal welfare charities; local government; National Police Chiefs’ Council; classified websites; Christopher Laurence, a former trustee of the RSPCA; the Self-Help Group for farmers, pet owners and others experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA (SHG); industry representatives; veterinary representative; academics; and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We visited Battersea Dogs & Cats Home to learn about the work they are doing. We also visited a commercial breeder, and an animal rescue centre in Wales. We are extremely grateful to them and to those who provided oral and written evidence.

1 Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association: Pet Population 2016

2 The corresponding Act for Scotland is the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006

3 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2005–2006, The Animal Welfare Bill, HC 683

11 November 2016