This week the issue of animal welfare and the legislation was brought home with a couple of articles I saw in news reports.
The first involved a sadistic attack on a horse, clearly with the intent of causing damage and possible death, Fortunately the animal was very fit and healthy and survived the assault physically (although mentally I imagine it will be affected for life)
The other animal welfare event involved 17 kittens between the ages of 1-2 weeks old, that were dumped outside a local shop front at 5am. Fortunately they were discovered by the local post woman who knew someone at the animal rescue charity, Animals In Need.
Both these incidents had relatively happy endings although neither event should ever have occurred in the first place.
The question still remains though – what impact is the animal welfare legislation having on deterring acts of animal cruelty and protecting vulnerable animals?
ANIMAL HEALTH AND WELFARE ACT 2013
The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 was introduced into Irish law in March 2014 and was probably prompted by the media coverage on illegal puppy farming, which has been highlighted an escalating problem in Ireland.
It had also been developed in response to public pressure to curtail the numbers of abandoned horses, that had started to appear once the economic recession began to hit Ireland from 2011 onwards.
Under the legislation public reports of suspected animal welfare cases are usually submitted to the An Garda Siochana or to the ISPCA, if there is an inspector in the county.
The ISPCA currently has 8 inspectors covering most but not all the counties in Ireland. They have increased powers of authority under the new 2013 legislation, which means that much of the legal investigation work can now be carried out by people with specialist knowledge in animal welfare issues.
The ISPCA annual report for 2015 has yet to be published but according to the 2014 report there are still a number of areas of concern in relation to the outcomes of animal welfare cases that went to court. (These cases were taken under the previous legislation, the Protection of Animals Act 1911)
For example the case shown here is of a horse that was one of several equines that were poorly treated and left to stand in muck in confined pens. One small pony had no access to food or water.
There were several other animals left in bad conditions on the farm as well.
Outcome & conviction?
"None - Although the facts were not disputed the court elected not to convict the defendant provided further inspections on his property did not reveal further welfare issues." ISPCA 2014
Another case they cited resulted in 8 equines being surrendered to the ISPCA, 2 of whom subsequently died and another one was a mare in foal. Again the case went to court and the outcome was –
"None - Due to the defendant’s personal problems the court elected not to convict him. Further inspections are to be conducted on his property." ISPCA, 2014
The concern that I would have and probably many other animal welfare supporters as well, is that the legislation can enable evidence to be collected and a case to be prepared and submitted to court. It does not seem to extend as far as the legal outcomes, which are still being subjectively interpreted.
In other words if a judge doesn’t want to convict then it doesn’t happen.
Irish Legal System
Without getting sidetracked into a detailed analysis of the Irish legal system I would like to make a parallel observation from other areas of the law. The pattern of subjective interpretation by judges has been strongly criticised in the past from areas such as victim support in rape cases and advocate organisations in Domestic Violence situations.
The same pattern appears here as well, there is a strong legal framework to enable Gardai to bring cases to court, but there is no pattern of follow through from Judges and penalties can vary widely from judge to judge.
As a result the number of animal abuse cases continues to increase and it is usually left to local and voluntary organisations to pick up the pieces.
Voluntary Animal Charities
For most animals that are neglected the task of minding them and bringing them back to full health falls to voluntary run charities. The Irish Horse Welfare Trust is the largest equine charity in Ireland, but many counties also have their own local charity organisations such as Animals in Need in Donegal.
This Youtube video shows some of the 17 abandoned kittens mentioned in the start of this article, (since 5 of them are being fostered by me at the moment).
The work and cost of feeding and supplying medications to vulnerable animals is the reality that animal charities have to face and fundraise for, when animals are abused or abandoned.
Moving Animal Welfare Forward In Ireland.
The challenge for all supporters of animal welfare is to make sure that the legal system holds up from beginning to end, and if failures are noted then these need to be documented and highlighted to those responsible for overseeing the system.
The pattern from other areas of the law would imply that rights organisations can successfully bring about change at the legislative side, but changing attitudes and opinions amongst those that still carry great influence, namely judges, is still a challenge. And this represents a fundamental weakness of the Irish judiciary system.
This is even more important given that 25 new cases have now been initiated under the new Animal Welfare 2013 legislation, through the ISPCA. Without a strong clear message being given by the courts, the problem of animal neglect and cruelty cases will continue to increase.