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Scotland has 'scope' to introduce animal offenders register, says charity

Scotland has 'scope' to introduce animal offenders register, says charity

A Scottish animal welfare charity has welcomed the idea of introducing an offenders register across the UK.

Scottish SPCA bosses say a central register containing information on animal abusers, hoarders or neglecters would assist police in securing lifetime ownership bans for repeat offenders.

The charity also say the policy would enable UK charities to conduct background checks before rehoming animals with new owners.

The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 currently places a duty of care on pet owners, but there is no central database for animal offenders in the UK.

As a result, people with lifetime bans for crimes such as dog fighting or badger baiting are able to travel to Scotland and take ownership of more animals, according to the Scottish SPCA.

It's a worrying idea - particularly while the RSPCA reported a growing number of cases of dog fighting outwith Scotland.

  (SSPCA)
via STV via STV

Pictured: Aberdeen animal left scarred after dog fight

While the Scottish SPCA admits an offenders register would be a "complex" system, it would alleviate the charity's reliance on their animal helpline.

The charity's chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: "There is scope for an animal offenders register which would tighten things up.

"At the moment we've got to rely on members of the public reading about offenders in the local newspaper and reporting to us if they suspect anything.

"There are people who are serial offenders - people who are constant animal hoarders, abusers or neglecters, people who have been found guilty in court and don't believe they have done anything wrong.

"There are mental health issues out there, some people are devoted to animals who can't care for them. But people sometimes see animals as a commodity and they can do what they like.

"But the law requires a level of care. We welcome penalties and lifetime bans, if you don't have a pet you can't abuse it."

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Public support

Animal lovers around the world have welcomed the idea after activist Jennifer Glasgow launched a petition in October to introduce new legislation in Scotland.

Glasgow hopes to gain backing from MP Phil Boswell and MSP Elaine Smith, having received a flood of supportive comments online.

Elaine Smith MSP said: "I was happy to sign Jennifer’s petition to introduce an animal offender register.

"In her petition she rightly points out that people that commit animal abuse do not always receive appropriate sanctions. I believe that we should consider stopping that people that have abused animals from owning animals again.

"Stricter laws should be implemented to help protect animals and an animal offenders register would seem to be a logical way to prevent repeat offenders."

The petition stating UK animal abusers "don't receive the punishments that fit the crime" has received over 1400 signatures in two weeks.

It comes as no surprise with a recent surge of animal neglect across the board.

Earlier this year the Scottish SPCA highlighted a flood of calls relating to the illegal puppy trade, where animals are farmed in poor conditions and can suffer from serious illnesses which can be fatal.

In July this year the charity also saw a rise in unwanted cats with over 200 felines in care at centres in Dumbarton, Glasgow and Lanarkshire.

But would an animal offenders register work?

The Scottish SPCA have already raised concerns on issues on the practicality of a register, saying it may broach issues of data protection.

Chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: "We would support any legislation that would protect animals - but I'm not sure whether a register would do it.

"You could argue whether it's right to publicise information on offenders to people who could use it against them. You would need to ask who has access to the information.

"As soon as you start putting registers in place, like Disclosure Scotland for instance, loopholes do arise."

At present a person convicted under sections of the Animal Welfare (Scotland) Act can face £20,000 fines, up to one year imprisonment and lifetime bans on taking charge of animals.

Government officials say an offenders register would "require very careful consideration", but that methods already in place make offenders known to "relevant authorities"

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government takes the issue of animal welfare very seriously. The introduction of an animal register is not something the Scottish Government is currently considering.

"Although there is currently no formal list, anyone who has been investigated for animal welfare offences is already known to the relevant authorities and, where appropriate, follow up visits may be made.

"A number of methods already exist to protect animals from those convicted of animal welfare offences, including court issued disqualification orders that prohibit convicted offenders from being responsible for specific or all types of animals in a variety of situations on a permanent or temporary basis."

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