Laws may be changing for animals...

Did you know, the UK Government are reviewing licensing for animal establishments in England?

This is great news for the thousands of animals that come under the care of licensed animal businesses in England – which can take the form of pet shops, dog breeders, riding establishments, and pet boarders.

Why is licensing important?

Licensing is important because it provides a platform for regulation of animal businesses, ensuring that they adhere to good practise in animal welfare.

The lives of tens of thousands of animals are covered by this. From a bearded dragon waiting to be sold in a pet shop, to a dog who’s being sold over the internet. How these animals are cared for by a pet shop worker or puppy dealer determines if their business gets the go-ahead to operate.

Why is the current licensing system being reviewed?

Captive veiled chameleon on branch.  © Andrew Forsyth/RSPCA photolibrary

There are many laws surrounding licensing, all of which are over a decade old – these outdated pieces of legislation haven’t adapted to the changing types of animal-related businesses, and to new standards of good practise in animal welfare.

The Pet Animal Act 1951, for example, hasn’t been updated for over 60 years – and doesn’t even factor in the internet!

The laws that currently require local authorities to issue licenses for particular animal activities include:

  • Pet Animal Act 1951
  • Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963
  • Riding Establishments Act 1964
  • Riding Establishments Act 1970
  • Breeding of Dogs Act 1973
  • Breeding of Dogs Act 1991
  • Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999

That’s a total of seven laws, all of which we believe need updating. We believe the license system needs to be simplified, and be made more transparent to enforcement agencies and easier for them to enforce. This would provide greater protection for the animals.

So, what needs to be changed?

Imagine, instead, simplifying the license system and having all of the above seven laws all in one place. That’s exactly what Defra are proposing to do.

Defra are proposing to introduce secondary legislation on licensing under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This would update and replace existing legislation for animal boarding establishments, pet shops, riding establishments, and dog breeding. The revised Regulations could:

Kitten being held by an RSPCA Inspector © RSPCA

a. Create a single ‘animal establishment licence’ for these activities that reflects current knowledge on animal welfare, the diversification of the sector (including operation on the internet), and refers local authorities to the existing bespoke Model Conditions.

b. Update the legal requirements for each licensed activity, including clarifying standards around the sale of puppies, the licensing threshold for dog breeding, and the provision of information alongside pet sales.

c. Allow licences to be issued at any point in the year for a fixed term (as opposed to within the parameters of a calendar year), allow licences to be transferred to new owners of premises, and require licence-holders to notify local authorities of major changes.

d. Increase the maximum length of time that a licence can be issued for by a local authority (up to a maximum of three years), and encourage them to use risk-based assessment to assess the suitable length of a licence.

e. Allow an exemption from licensing requirements for businesses affiliated to a UKAS-accredited body, provided that the accreditation scheme enforces, at a minimum, the standards required of non-accredited businesses referred to in the regulations.

What’s the RSPCA’s view on the proposals?

We believe the current law around licensed animal businesses is failing thousands of animals, therefore we welcome the opportunity for the government to strengthen important legislation.

Dog breeders and dealers that are making a fortune can flout the current law, and exotic pets such as snakes and geckos are being sold with little or no information about their complex needs. This needs to change!

We’ll be responding to the consultation with our views on the proposed changes.

We agree with some of the proposals – for example the proposal to license all people that sell an animal and to link this to welfare standards. We also agree that any puppies under eight weeks of age should not be sold.

Though some areas we think need strengthening, such as the numbers of puppy litters that can be born to breeders without a licence.

We’ll respond as such – to ensure animals get the best deal possible out of this new legislation.

If you too would like to make your views heard – you can fill in the DEFRA survey and let them know what you think about the proposed changes to the animal establishment licensing system.

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