It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when our MPs spoke out in favour of animal cruelty. During a debate in 1823, Sir Matthew Ridley said that he had attended dog fights as a young man, seemed to quite enjoy them, and that subjects such as these he "considered far below the dignity of the House". Most MPs didn't agree, Sir Matthew's views lost out, and in 1835 the Cruelty to Animals Act was passed, banning dog fighting.
181 years later, and I would hope there are no MPs or Peers who would be willing to stand up and defend dog fighting, much less admit to having attended one! Despite this, and all the animal welfare legislation that has happened since, we know dog fighting still occurs in many parts of the UK. What's more, we know people are getting away with it.
Under the current legislation, the maximum sentence for animal cruelty is six months imprisonment. This puts us embarrassingly far behind other countries - in France, the current maximum sentence is two years; in Germany, it is three years; while in the US, it's a felony offence in all 50 states...
At the League Against Cruel Sports, we've been working to uncover dog fighting across the country. The cruelty we've seen inflicted on helpless dogs is simply heart-breaking. Bait dogs that have had their teeth ground down, limbs broken, and suffered horrendous wounds; and hidden but always present is the psychological trauma that the dogs have suffered.
The injustice done to these creatures, and the failure of the law to respond appropriately, is why we are so pleased to see Anna Turley, MP for Redcar, lead a debate on animal cruelty sentencing on Tuesday, November 8th.
Earlier this year, the two men responsible for an appalling case of animal cruelty in Anna's constituency were given suspended sentences. The public were rightly outraged. With two pieces of legislation, one tabled by Anna and another from Conservative MP Kevin Foster, due before Parliament early next year, it's clear the momentum for tougher sentences is building.
We don't need to look too far to see how these individual cases can highlight broader injustices, sparking politicians into action. In Northern Ireland last year, four men were convicted of keeping animals for fighting, as well as related offences. An investigation found mobile phone footage which showed cats and badgers being torn apart by dogs as onlookers laughed. The four men were given suspended sentences. Such was the outcry, the Northern Ireland Assembly increased the maximum sentence for animal cruelty to five years.
How many times will the perpetrators of animal cruelty get to walk away scot-free before the Government toughens up the law? Personally I'm sick of having to look into the eyes of dogs who have been abused, knowing that the people who have done this will potentially be doing the same to another animal. Stronger penalties are just one way to put an end to this misery, but they are a vital step. It's time to step up and give these animals the justice they deserve.