A ground-breaking report was released by a key Westminster Committee last week - one that could make a huge difference to the lives of dogs and cats in England and Wales - but it didn't get its chance to make the impact it deserved.
The report, the result of a detailed enquiry into the welfare of domestic pets by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, called for a much-needed review of regulation around the breeding and sales of dogs, higher sentences for those convicted of animal cruelty offences and tougher laws on importing animals from overseas. Hugely important steps that could benefit animal welfare and stamp out the shocking and unacceptable practices of puppy farming and backstreet breeding that lead to thousands of animals suffering every year.
But the chances are that you haven't heard this news - because instead the headlines have been firmly fixed on EFRA's recommendation (from a much divided committee) that the RSPCA stops prosecuting animal cruelty cases.
The attention paid to this very small part of the EFRA report risks overshadowing all the positive outcomes that could come from the whole document. A great deal of work has gone into this report and I'm proud to say Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has played a part in that. We now have a report showing a clear understanding of how to help tackle the problems with the puppy trade and backstreet breeding, two of the most insidious and pressing animal welfare issues facing the UK today.
We've all seen the online adverts for designer puppy breeds - Pugs, Shih-tzus, and Cockerpoos, offered to a good home for a high price. Sadly, all too often the world that lies behind it is a cruel one. Puppies are split from their mothers at too young an age and unsuspecting, well-intentioned owners are left with dogs with serious health and behaviour issues.
Battersea has seen more than its fair share of the victims of this evil trade. Breeding bitches are dumped on our doorstep, their bodies exhausted and broken from having multiple litters, while their puppies suffer from hereditary health conditions. Over the last two years, Battersea has campaigned tirelessly for an end to backstreet breeding, influencing MPs and the Government with our two key asks - that any household producing two or more litters a year is required to obtain a breeding licence and that puppies should not be sold until they are at least eight weeks old. It's hugely encouraging to see EFRA respond to these calls with similar recommendations and more, requiring households producing fewer than two litters a year to register with their Local Authority and to increase the age at which puppies can be brought into the UK under the Pet Travel Scheme from 15 weeks to six months.
And what of the cruel breeders that keep dogs kept in cramped conditions, deprived of their basic needs and bred from again and again? It's just as important to see the Government implement the call for an increased maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences. Like all animal charities, we have seen dogs and cats come in to us having suffered torture and abuse, and we know that the maximum sentence for those convicted of these offences is just six months - the second-lowest sentence in Europe. Battersea wants to see this increased to five years, as it is in Northern Ireland. Only then can we be justified in calling ourselves a nation of animal lovers. We are glad that the EFRA Committee agrees.
There is so much positive news in this report - recommendations that, if heeded by the Government, could bring about tangible improvement for animal welfare. And while these recommendations are now in the Government's hands, there's much to celebrate. So we should not allow some politicians to hijack the media's attention onto an RSPCA issue and away from the other concrete recommendations that could well bring about tangible improvement for animal welfare. By working with the Government, charities like Battersea are helping to change the lives of not only today's animals but tomorrow's - and this should be celebrated.Suggest a correction