The Environment Minister, MSP Roseanna Cunningham, has asked our readers to have their say on the public consultation to regulate and license animal sanctuaries and rehoming centres in Scotland.
Several high profile cases last year brought the welfare of animals at our sanctuaries and rehoming centres sharply into public focus.
There was perhaps none more harrowing than the SSPCA’s raid on the Ayrshire Ark premises in Patna in December 2016.
Inspectors were horrified to discover six dead dogs and a cat frozen solid inside a freezer at the centre.
The SSPCA team and police officers also found malnourished dogs tied up or in cages with no food or water and one pet was found lying dead behind a door.
The final death toll was 15 dogs and one cat, for which the rescue centre’s boss Zara Brown (29) was given a seven-month jail term last August.
It was a truly horrific case and one which raised concerns about the welfare of animals in some of our sanctuaries and rehoming centres.
In its 2017-18 programme, the Scottish Government had already committed to prepare legislation for a new system of registration and licensing to help better protect animals in such centres.
And a public consultation is now underway in a bid to ensure the new legislation comes into force, sooner rather than later.
Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham is keen for our readers to take part in the consultation, before it closes on March 4.
Explaining why, she said: “People understand the concept of animal sanctuaries and rehoming centres.
“But, the truth is, they are currently unregulated.
“Some fairly high profile cases last year gave rise to some considerable concern.
“The Ayrshire Ark case was a horrendous story. It was an animal sanctuary so people looked at it and thought it was fine, but it was far from it.
“The fact this has gone unregulated for so long is surprising; it’s surprising to people that it is not already regulated.
“I think, really, the time has now come.”
The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Dogs Trust are fully backing the government’s plan.
“The two biggest organisations in this field have been on board with this from the start, which is extremely important,” said Roseanna. “They are both happy to be part of it.
“The consultation is proposing that the SSPCA will, in fact, do inspections.
“The charity has indicated it’s willing to do that, which will also help ease the burden on local authority inspectors.
“Of course, the SSPCA can’t inspect itself so other arrangements will need to be made for its centres.
“But all of that still has to be worked out, once the consultation period closes.”
According to the Minister, the public has a major role to play in the decision-making process.
Appealing for readers to get involved, she said: “I’d encourage people to take part in the consultation.
“The idea is for people to think about how regulation and licensing might look and work; we want them to have a say in this.
“There are big questions around the number of animals being kept and where the thresholds for exemption, regulation and licensing should come in.
“I very much want to encourage people to have a think about all aspects of the proposed consultation and to let us know their views before the consultation closes on Sunday, March 4.”
The Minister stressed members of the public can help improve animal welfare now, by considering carefully where they purchase pets.
“If you’re going to a car park to buy a dog from the boot of a vehicle or meeting someone behind a warehouse somewhere, that should raise some huge red flags about what you might be getting,” she said.
“The internet is often our first stop when we’re looking to make purchases now but we would encourage your readers to ‘Adopt, Don’t Shop’ when purchasing an animal.
“If you buy a dog or a cat from the internet, you do not know what you are getting and in some of the worst case scenarios, these animals have had to be put down.
“Part and parcel of this is consumers taking the time to stop and think about what they are doing when they are acquiring an animal.
“If you want a dog, for example, go to a really reputable rehoming centre where you can be assured that the animal has been well-looked after.”
Puppy farming and animals being brought in from abroad are two other major issues – many of them are incapable of adapting to their new homes and already have serious health issues.
The thresholds for regulation and licensing proposed in the consultation could help to eradicate some of these problems.
They will also ensure against well-meaning individuals taking on more animals than they can truthfully handle.
“We all know people who take in animals with the best of intentions and become the cat or the hedgehog lady,” said Roseanna. “We’re not doubting these people have the best interests of animals at heart but it can become a bit overwhelming for them.
“There are often issues around their premises being too small so are they, in fact, doing the right thing for these animals?
“Some people are also operating as pet retailers – if money is changing hands, you can’t class the premises as a rehoming centre.
“I need to be very clear here: rehoming centres and animal sanctuaries are pretty vital and their standards are generally high.
“But there are isolated cases that pop up which cause a lot of public concern about animal welfare.
“So I think the time is right to move on regulation and licensing in this way.”
The public consultation was launched on December 11 and will end on March 4, meaning there is still plenty of time for you to have a say on what is being proposed.
The results will then be analysed and a number of steps taken before the new legislation comes before Parliament.
Roseanna added: “It will take a little time for the analysis to be done and for the legislation to be progressed to Parliament.
“But I would be hoping to put this through Parliament by the end of the year.”
Why the Scottish Government needs to regulate and license premises
The consultation covers the proposals for a modern system of registration and licensing of animal sanctuaries and rehoming activities, allowing for independent accreditation of applicants to reduce the burden on local authorities.
This includes the large charities and agencies, as well as rehoming animals from abroad.
There are some concerns that:
* Welfare may suffer if more animals are kept than the premises have room for;
* Animals might not be best matched to new owners, resulting in them needing to be returned or being placed in other rehoming centres;
* Some rehoming centres might be operating as pet retailers, circumventing the
need for license under the Pet Animals Act 1951;
* And some animals that are imported, legally or illegally, for rehoming may be carrying diseases not normally found in the UK.
The main feature of the new system is a proposed threshold number of cared-for animals determining whether light registration or stricter licensing is to be applied.
View and respond to the consultation online at https://consult.gov.scot/animal-welfare/animal-sanctuaries-and-rehoming-activities before the closing date of March 4.