On Monday 6 April 2020, the Government brought into force new legislation in England to ban the commercial third-party sale of puppies and kittens, under six months old, by anyone other than a registered breeder.
The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 provided for the licensing of persons in England to carry out certain activities involving animals, including selling animals as pets. These Regulations were amended and updated in July 2019 and are now in place in England, as it is devolved legislation.
Anyone who continues selling animals as pets otherwise than in accordance with a licence, under the 2018 Regulations, commits an offence under section 13(6) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and is liable to imprisonment on summary conviction for a term of up to six months (or, after the commencement of section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c.44), a term of 51 weeks), a fine or both.
This new legislation is named after Lucy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who was rescued from a puppy farm in Wales where she was subjected to terrible conditions. ‘Dealers’ often distribute sick, traumatised, unsocialised puppies which have been taken away from their mother at just a few weeks old. Marc Abraham, vet and campaigner, has led a 10 year grassroots campaign to raise awareness and lobby the government to introduce this legislation. The campaign has been backed by prominent celebrities and charities, including the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Battersea reported that 2018 saw an increase in the number of pets sold online. A new ‘dog for sale’ advert is created online every two minutes, with a new cat advert every four minutes.
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood has said:
“Over the last decade RSPCA staff have dealt with almost 30,000 complaints relating to the illegal puppy trade. Our rescuers have saved dogs from unimaginable cruelty and hideous conditions; our vets have tried desperately to save the lives of tiny puppies riddled with worms and plagued by health and behaviour problems; and our carers have nursed dogs back to health, teaching them to trust people again, and showing them love for the first time.
We’re incredibly pleased that the Government is today introducing a ban on third-party sales of puppies and kittens. We believe that this, along with tougher licensing regulations that were introduced in 2018 and better education of the public on how to buy puppies responsibly, will help to crackdown on this cruel trade. We hope these laws will be properly enforced so that all dogs who are used for breeding and selling will live happy, healthy lives where their welfare is prioritised above profits.”
This legislation is a significant development in animal welfare legislation and represents a positive step forward in an area which has suffered from a lack of legislative attention. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is the principle piece of animal welfare legislation which was introduced to replace The Protection of Animals Act 1911, meaning nearly 100 years passed before this legislation was updated!
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is an enabling statute, but does not provide a detailed or comprehensive scheme to ensure adequate protection of animals. The Government has stated they are committed to supporting tougher sentences for animal cruelty, raising maximum prison sentences from six months to five years, and has pledged to bring in new laws on animal sentience and to end excessively long journeys for live animals. We are yet to see any firm plans, or draft bills from the Government to implement these aims, but Lucy’s Law is an important step in the right direction.
There are concerns that the outright ban on third-party sales will be difficult to enforce, because Councils do not have the resources to verify every sale of any puppy or kitten. Council enforcement officers will consequently have to rely heavily upon public scrutiny and whistle-blowers. The introduction of this blanket-ban should therefore be extensively publicised to encourage wide-spread scrutiny and whistle-blowing to occur.
Anyone thinking of buying a new animal companion must be aware of these new regulations and deal directly with registered breeders or re-homing centres. Furthermore, the enforcement agencies and lawyers dealing with these new cases will need to be aware of the associated enforcement and sentencing powers.