Voluntary code launched for animal sanctuaries

  • The new code applies to Wales, while Scotland is due to go to public consultation over related proposals —and there are fears England may be “left behind”. H&H finds out more...

    A NEW voluntary code of practice for animal welfare establishments in Wales will form the basis for future regulation and aim to stop “problematic” sanctuaries and rescues – as concerns are raised England is “in danger” of being left behind.

    The code, published by the Welsh government and drafted by the Animal Welfare Network for Wales (AWNW) whose members include Redwings, World Horse Welfare and RSPCA Cymru, outlines a framework for rescues and sanctuaries to deliver “exemplary levels” of care and encourage the highest standard of husbandry. It is hoped sanctuaries and rescues will voluntarily follow these guidelines.

    The code defines an animal welfare establishment as a person or organisation that receives vulnerable animals with a view to rehabilitating and either rehoming or releasing (into the wild) or providing long-term care.

    National Equine Welfare Council chairman Nic De Brauwere, who also chairs the AWNW management committee, told H&H it was recognised that secondary legislation under the Animal Welfare Act was required to set standards for rescue centres.

    “We want to shut down the ones that do a bad job because animals suffer. We are not going to hide from the fact that this is not about saying all rescues are good – this is about saying we have some really problematic ones where there are serious welfare concerns and they need to either improve or stop,” he said.

    “We’ve got this black hole; the Animal Welfare Act is a very powerful tool if you can get into a premises but often the owners don’t let you so the only time we find out a sanctuary is a problem is when a member of the public spots something and complains. At that point you’ve already had animals suffering basic neglect or worse.”

    Mr De Brauwere, who is also Redwings’ head of welfare, said the new code took ‘the best of’ existing codes of practice created by NEWC, the Association for Cat and Dog Homes; the British Veterinary Zoological Society, and the code of practice for sanctuaries in Jersey.

    “It is a dynamic situation and having the Welsh government’s stamp of approval really sets public expectations – and it has a lot more clout than if it was just a new NEWC code,” he said. “We have spent too much time chasing after places that should have been the ‘home for life’ or ‘happy ending’ for animals, and have ended up being hell worse than the one they came from.

    That just shouldn’t happen, it’s been going on too long and needs to stop, and this is a really important step.”

    Mr De Brauwere said the Welsh government was “hugely supportive” of the code, and now there will be a two-year window to gauge its work before regulation is created. In Scotland the Scottish government has gathered evidence and is due to put forward proposals for a public consultation on draft regulations on animal welfare establishments.

    “Wales and Scotland have led the way on the secondary legislation under the Animal Welfare Act. They have been very progressive in taking the opportunities where they have presented themselves,” he said.

    A spokesman for the RSPCA told H&H it is working with the UK government on a set of guidelines for animal rescues in England.

    “Now Wales has their code, England is in danger of being left behind. We’re closely monitoring the launch of the Welsh code; which we hope will deliver consistent standards at sanctuaries.”

    World Horse Welfare deputy chief executive Tony Tyler told H&H the Welsh code is a “step in the right direction”.

    “This voluntary phase will allow the code to be trialled on the ground and any wrinkles ironed out before we tackle our ultimate goal; that these establishments are licensed to ensure they meet minimum welfare standards across the UK,” he said.

    “There is no doubt people usually have the best intentions when setting up rescues but, sadly, the realities and complexities involved mean we do see situations where they fail and become welfare concerns themselves. We believe these guidelines will enable those seeking to set up a sanctuary, rescue or rehoming centre to make better-informed decisions, helping ensure they operate sustainably and the welfare of the animals in their care is protected.”

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