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Closed petition Create a pet task force to seek to reduce number of pets being put to sleep

We want the Government to form a pet task force to look at ways of reducing the number of pets being put to sleep. The task force should look at licensing arrangements for breeders, online sales and enforcement, including the adequacy of sentences for animal cruelty and breeding without a licence.

More details

It has been estimated that in the year to February 2022 around 3.4 million households gave up a pet. Many registered rescue charities in England are full, resulting in pets being put to sleep by owners and councils while new licences to breed are still being issued. Staff working in shelters are under immense strain, which can affect their mental health.

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Government responded

This response was given on 1 March 2024

We have no plans to create a pet task force. Defra already works closely with stakeholders to monitor the full range of animal welfare issues.

Read the response in full

We committed in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare to seek greater assurance that alternatives to euthanasia are explored before a healthy dog is put down. In 2021 we worked closely with the veterinary profession to find an approach that we believed worked for all parties, by incorporating the principle of scanning before euthanasia into the guidance that underpins the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ (“RCVS”)’ Code of Professional Conduct. The Code applies to all vets practising in the UK and requires them to scan for a microchip in dogs prior to euthanasia where, in their professional judgement, it is not necessary to put the dog down on animal health or welfare grounds. This will allow the vet to check whether anyone else has an interest in the dog who might provide an alternative to euthanasia.

The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 (the 2018 Regulations) were developed to help improve welfare standards across a range of activities involving animals that are licensed by local authorities. Under the 2018 Regulations local authorities have powers to grant, refuse or revoke a licence. Licences must achieve and maintain statutory minimum animal welfare standards, linked to the welfare needs of the Animal Welfare Act 2006: Animal activities licensing: statutory guidance for local authorities - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/animal-activities-licensing-guidance-for-local-authorities). Anyone who carries out a licensable activity without a licence is liable to imprisonment for a term of up to 51 weeks, a fine or both.

Subject to limited exemptions, the 2018 Regulations make it an offence for anyone other than a veterinarian, or a person who has been authorised by a veterinarian as competent, to euthanise any animal. Anyone found guilty of a breach of this provision faces an unlimited fine, or having their license varied or revoked, and may also be charged with offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Defra has been working on a post-implementation review (PIR) the 2018 Regulations in line with the requirements of the regulations’ review clause. This review considers whether the regulations have met their objectives, and where there could be scope for further improvements. As part of this review, officials worked proactively with partners, including local authorities and sector bodies, to collate data that can provide a picture of licensed and unlicensed activities involving animals in England.

In addition, DEFRA endorses the work of The Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG). PAAG was created in 2001 to combat growing concerns regarding the irresponsible advertising of pets for sale, rehoming, and exchange. The Group comprises animal welfare organisations, trade associations and veterinary bodies. PAAG engages with online marketplaces in the UK to help them distinguish appropriate adverts from those that should be removed. Defra have also backed PAAG’s Advertising Standards which several of the UK’s largest classified websites have agreed to meet.

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 came into force in June 2021, providing one of the toughest sanctions in Europe and strengthening the United Kingdom's position as a global leader on animal welfare. This realises our manifesto commitment to increase the sentences available to our courts for the most serious cases of animal cruelty. The Act increases the maximum sentence from six months to five years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine for animal cruelty offences.

The Government remains concerned about the impact of the rise in the cost of living on all aspects of people’s lives. We meet stakeholders regularly to understand issues and trends that are affecting the sector, including the impact of the rise in the cost of living on pet keepers and welfare organisations. We welcome the support stakeholders are providing through pet food and banks and financial support with veterinary treatment which is helping to reduce the pressure on pet owners.

We also welcome the support that the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes (ADCH) offered through its grant scheme, which provided up to £10,000 per grant to assist ADCH members who were experiencing financial difficulties due to cost-of-living pressures. The Mars Food Fund also offered grants up to £1,500 to ADCH members for feeding animals in their care.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs