RSPCA Cymru has given a warm welcome to a new Welsh Government announcement which could lead to “significant progress” in enhancing animal welfare standards across the country.

In a wide-ranging statement, Lesley Griffiths, the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs this afternoon (June 19) outlined her future plans for companion animal welfare in the National Assembly for Wales.

The Welsh Government confirmed it will work the Animal Welfare Network for Wales to explore whether the introduction of Codes of Practice for the keeping of primates and exotic pets is necessary, in addition to a greyhound code.

Compulsory microchipping of cats, and other species, is also to be considered by Welsh Government officials – something “long championed” by RSPCA Cymru.

It was also announced that the Welsh Government will consider a ban on the third party sales of puppies, and will soon implement a voluntary code of practice for animal sanctuaries, following work by the Animal Welfare Network for Wales.

The Welsh Government also reiterated its support for animal sentience to be fully reflected within the law in Wales after the UK leaves the European Union.

Support was also announced concerning the provision of financial assistance for veterinary care to those with pets in Wales who are potentially on low-incomes or in vulnerable situations.

Claire Lawson, RSPCA Cymru assistant director of external relations, said: “Today’s detailed announcement offers the potential for significant progress in improving animal welfare standards across Wales.

“We welcome this strong focus placed on enhancing companion animal welfare in Wales – from primates, to exotics, cats, greyhounds, and more.

“The Welsh Government’s continued and on-going support for animal sentience to be fully reflected in law, following Brexit, is also very welcome.”

She outlined the RSPCA’s response to the host of issues included within the Cabinet Secretary’s statement today, related to the welfare of companion animals.

On primates being included in a Code of Practice:

Ms Lawson said: “The RSPCA has long campaigned for a ban on the keeping of primates as pets in Wales – and will continue to do so. The RSPCA is firmly of the view that the only way to protect primates is to ban the practice of selling and keeping them as pets.

“In the absence of a ban, a code could potentially be a step forward and ensure some parity with England, by emphasising the very complex needs of primates and the high standard of care, expertise and facilities required to care for them appropriately in captivity – something that cannot be achieved in a household setting.”

On exotic pets being included in a Code of Practice:

Ms Lawson added: “It’s also positive that the Welsh Government has announced support for the exploration of a Code of Practice covering the care of exotic pets – which would make Wales the first UK nation to have an official code in place. Exotic pets can have very complex needs, which are challenging to meet properly.

“We look forward to working with the Welsh Government in the hope that any such Code will include the myriad of considerations any owner has to make when adding an exotic pet to their family. Some exotic animals, however, can never have their needs met in a domestic environment – and we will be making this point clear as part of any discussions around a new document.”

On non-statutory animal sanctuary Code of Practice

Ms Lawson explained: “Sanctuaries provide a service to communities and remain an integral part of the animal welfare provision across Wales. A Code of Practice for sanctuaries will help to guide individuals on how to ensure appropriate standards are met. As well as the RSPCA, the sector has been calling for any code to be made statutory, giving enforcement bodies the power to take action against those sanctuaries which fall below expectations.”

On greyhound care:

Ms Lawson said: “For too long in Wales there have been no additional legal protections for racing greyhounds. We look forward to opportunities being explored which could better protect greyhounds in this country.”

On the possibility of compulsory microchipping of cats and other species:

Ms Lawson outlined: “RSPCA Cymru has long championed the compulsory microchipping of cats. Regulations introduced in 2016 make provisions for the compulsory microchipping of dogs and puppies over the age of eight weeks. We believe similar provisions should be made for owned cats to aid better identification and reunification with responsible owners if lost or stolen. The microchipping of other companion animals – such as rabbits – is also considered to be desirable and is strongly recommended by the RSPCA.”

On support on veterinary costs for those on low incomes:

Ms Lawson said: “Many of the companion animal welfare issues we deal with daily could be avoided if pets were given timely support by a qualified veterinarian.

“We, therefore, welcome any moves to improve accessibility to veterinary treatment for those on lower incomes – something the RSPCA offers through our veterinary clinic in Merthyr Tydfil and a mobile clinic covering North Wales. We would wish to see this rolled-out alongside a public education campaign where the public are reminded as to the huge responsibility they take on when adding an animal of any kind to their family; and encouragement of pet owners to explore the role pet insurance can play in supporting them through unexpected traumas.”

On ending third party sales of puppies:

Ms Lawson explained: “Wales was the first country in Great Britain to bring forward more up-to-date regulations on the breeding of dogs. However – despite the introduction of these regulations – many unscrupulous traders, who put profit ahead of animal welfare, have been able to continue to find ways to sell puppies without regard for their welfare, despite the hard work of enforcement bodies seeking to disrupt them. By ending third party sales, and in conjunction with Wales’ unique dog breeding regulations, we can bring an end to the illegal puppy trade and end this multi-million pound business, which continues to bring misery to thousands of puppies, bitches and their new owners.”

The Welsh Government has also announced it is exploring the possibility of granting RSPCA inspectors powers under the Animal Welfare Act, offering the charity’s officers additional powers to keep animals safe.

Ms Lawson said: “We’re looking forward to continuing to work closely with the Welsh Government as to the feasibility of RSPCA inspectors being given formal powers under the Animal Welfare Act in Wales.

“Already, in other parts of the British Isles, agreements exist between animal welfare charities and government to empower their inspectors to take action for animals. Our inspectors are on the frontline for animals around the clock – and rescued more than 8,000 animals last year in Wales; so anything we can do to help deliver this is something the RSPCA is eager to explore.”

It was also confirmed on the floor of the Assembly that RSPCA Cymru has now submitted to Welsh Government a draft report exploring the feasibility of an animal offender register in Wales. The RSPCA has been exploring what can be done in Wales to ensure those banned from keeping animals are consistently prevented from buying or re-homing them.

RSPCA Cymru’s assistant director of external relations added: “We remain supportive of any measure that acts as true deterrent to animal cruelty and we welcome the Welsh Government’s support to increase sentences from six months to five years.

“The Task and Finish Group, chaired by RSPCA Cymru, has submitted a draft report to the Cabinet Secretary with a number of positive recommendations and we will now await Welsh Government’s comment on the report, before publishing with their approval. Publishing the findings is a matter for the Welsh Government. Whatever steps follow, it’s vital agencies work together to ensure those banned from keeping animals are not breaching these bans.”

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