RSPCA Cymru has today made fresh calls for action to stamp out problems in the ‘hidden’ sanctuary sector, amid fears pets, wildlife and farm animals may be suffering in silence behind closed doors.
Animal welfare establishments – commonly referred to as sanctuaries or rescues – are often invaluable resources for improving animal welfare; undertaking a hugely important function – but, without regulation, major problems can occur.
There are around 90 known animal welfare establishments¹ in Wales – but, in reality, there are likely to be many more.
Anyone can set-up and run a sanctuary – regardless of whether they have the skills, knowledge or resources that many would expect would be required. These establishments care for a wide range of animals with complex needs. Often expert care is needed; and detailed plans required to manage problems caused by animal illness, staff absence, and financial pressures.
However, whilst riding schools, cat and dog boarders and dog breeders are all licensed and inspected by their local council – offering additional protection to animals – sanctuaries are not. When things go wrong, there is no safety net to ensure the animals are adequately cared for.
The RSPCA believe action should be taken to regulate the sector, offering vital assurances to the public about standards. Indeed, polling² commissioned by the charity found 83 percent of the public believe the Welsh Government should make animal sanctuary owners have a licence, and be inspected, to set-up or run such premises.
Claire Lawson, RSPCA Cymru Assistant Director of External Relations, said: “Many of the 90 sanctuaries in Wales are doing a great job in protecting animals – and their tireless dedication and passion towards animal welfare is exemplary.
“However there are sadly some that are falling short – and the welfare of animals being compromised in these settings is, troublingly, commonplace.
“We’re not questioning the commitment of the individuals running these establishments, but if the worst was to happen, and these dedicated animal carers could no longer do what they do, currently there are no measures in place to protect the animals in their care.
“Sadly, we are routinely receiving calls from concerned members of the public from across Wales – who so often act as our eyes and ears to help us uncover and investigate any alleged animal welfare issues within this hidden sector.
“It is often the case that RSPCA inspectors return to establishments on numerous occasions to ensure the welfare of the animals being cared for is met which absorbs huge amount of time and resources for our frontline officers.
“Welfare problems can escalate quickly if necessary contingency plans, management structures and procedures are not in place to deal with circumstances which can arise.
“Regulation of animal welfare establishments is already in force elsewhere in the British Isles³, and there are parallels with the regulation of riding schools, dog breeders, kennels and catteries in Wales. The RSPCA does not see why the situation should be any different for sanctuaries – and we feel that much of the general public already believe establishments are both regulated and regularly inspected.
“Clearly, what we urgently need is regulation on sanctuaries which will ensure that there are measures in place to protect these animals across Wales. The public expect this – and the pets, wildlife and farm animals involved deserve nothing less. Animal suffering behind closed doors needs to stop.”
Today (22 March), RSPCA Cymru has re-launched its campaign and are calling on our supporters to urge the Welsh Government to adopt mandatory regulation of the entire sector. Supporters are urged to back the campaign by visiting the RSPCA website, and add your name to an open letter to the responsible Cabinet Secretary.