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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Pets may get 'Bill of Rights'
Rescued cats
Pet owners would be forced to treat their animals well
Pets would get the legal right to a minimum quality of life under plans the RSPCA has put forward to the UK Government.


We are saying that every owner should have a duty of care to every animal

RSPCA
Ministers are expected to unveil proposals later this week which would mean pet owners facing prosecution if they failed to provide enough food and water or space in their cages.

The move would extend the same standards that apply to the care of laboratory animals to farm animals and pets in the home.

But the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) wants the government to go even further by making pet owners have a legal "duty of care" to their animals.

'Normal behaviour'

This would allow the RSPCA to take steps to prevent cruelty rather than waiting until there is evidence of harm before acting.

The charity wants "five freedoms" for animals enshrined in what would be a "Bill of Rights" for pets.

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Enough good food and water to keep them healthy
  • Freedom from discomfort - comfortable cages or resting areas
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease - and rapid veterinary treatment if they are ill
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour - so they have enough space and company
  • Freedom from fear and distress

The charity claims it is hampered under current animal cruelty laws because pets have to be actually suffering before any action can be taken against owners.

It wants animal welfare officers to have a similar role to social workers, educating owners on how to better treat pets if legal obligations are not being met.

"It would put the 'P' of prevention back into the RSPCA," a spokeswoman said.

'Suffering'

"We are saying that every owner should have a duty of care to every animal.


If pet rats and mice have rights then it raises the question of the way we treat farm animals, vermin and fish

Prof Michael Reiss
"This is to ensure that the animal will be looked after.

"Most people look after animals very well. But there are a percentage who don't."

She added: "If owners were bound by law by a duty of care they would need to ensure that their animals have been fed and given water.

"At the moment, legislation does not enable us to do anything with animals unless they are already suffering."

'Vermin'

The concept of a bill of rights for animals is hotly contested in academic circles.

Professor Michael Reiss, a bio-ethicist at London University, said: "This is a very contentious issue.

"If pet rats and mice have rights then it raises the question of the way we treat farm animals, vermin and fish."

"Once you start down that road it is hard to know where to stop," he told The Sunday Times.

The government's rural affairs department, Defra, is consulting on the possibility of modernising animal welfare law. The RSPCA has made its own submission to that.

A Defra spokesman said: "This is a sensitive area of legislation and the protection of animals act dates back to 1911 so what we need to have in place is legislation that not only protects animals against physical abuse but recognises quality of life."


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Animal welfare
Should pets get their own bill of rights?
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