Legal advice with Karen Walsh: Responsibilities come with owning animals

Legal advice with Karen Walsh: Responsibilities come with owning animals
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Gardai launched a major investigation into alleged animal cruelty, after a number of horses were seized in what was described as a highly malnourished condition, recently.

They were reportedly found to be abnormally thin and weak, when gardai went to a property.

There have also been reports of mistreatment of greyhounds recently.

As an animal lover, I find these reports extremely distressing, as do many people.

Animals have always played an important part in the lives of Irish farmers and, in many cases, the very livelihood of farmers has depended entirely on the production of animals, such as cattle, sheep, and pigs.

The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 outlines responsibilities of those who own an animal.

It applies, not just to farmers, but to all animal owners, or persons in control or in possession of animals.

The 2013 Act includes provision for increased powers for authorised officers to investigate complaints of animal cruelty, and it makes provision for stricter penalties upon conviction.

A person with a protected animal in his or her possession or under his or her control shall, having regard to the animal’s nature, type, species, breed, development, adaptation, domestication, physiological and behavioural needs and environment, and in accordance with established experience and scientific knowledge, take all necessary steps to ensure that the animal is kept and treated in a manner that safeguards the health and welfare of the animal, and does not threaten the health or welfare of the animal or another animal.

All buildings, gates, fences, hedges, boundary walls and other structures used to contain the animal shall be constructed and maintained in a manner so that they do not cause injury or unnecessary suffering to the animal.

Section 12 of the 2013 Act states that a person shall not do, or fail to do, anything or cause or permit anything to be done to an animal that causes unnecessary suffering to, or endanger the health or welfare of, an animal, or neglect, or be reckless, regarding the health or welfare of an animal.

Section 13 of the Act states that a person who has a protected animal in his or her possession or under his or her control, or transports such an animal, shall provide and supply to the animal a sufficient quantity of wholesome and uncontaminated drinking water or other suitable liquid appropriate to its physiological or behavioural needs, which satisfies the animal’s fluid intake requirements, and a quantity of suitable and wholesome food sufficient to satisfy the reasonable requirements of the animal.

Section 14 of the Act makes it an offence for a person who has in his or her possession or control a protected animal, to abandon an animal.

It is important to note that if he or she does abandon the animal, he or she is not relieved of responsibility for the animal.

Section 21 of the 2013 Act states that a person who has in his or her possession or under his or her control a protected animal for sale or supply shall ensure that the animal is kept at all times in accommodation that is suitable as respects the size, temperature, lighting, ventilation, cleanliness, and that the animal is supplied with, and has ready access to, a sufficient quantity of suitable food and drink.

An authorised officer may serve an animal health and welfare notice on the owner, occupier or person in charge of the land or premises, or person in control or possession of the animal, requiring the person on whom it is served to take action as specified in the notice.

A person who commits an offence is liable, on summary conviction, to a class A fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both, or on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €250,000, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or to both.

On a conviction for some offences, the court has the power, in addition to the penalty imposed, to order that the person be disqualified from owning an animal and working with animals for a period, including, where appropriate, for the life of the person, as the court considers appropriate.

The gravity with which the courts view breaches of the 2013 Act is illustrated by a 2015 Circuit Court Decision.

A pig farmer admitted to five charges of animal cruelty.

The charges to which he pleaded guilty included that he caused unnecessary suffering to a pig by failing to treat or euthanise it after it was found, having been partly eaten alive by other pigs at his farm. The court heard that the farmer starved his pigs and failed to give them proper supplies of water.

He failed to comply with a welfare notice that had been served upon him.

The judge imposed a custodial sentence of 18 months on the farmer, having referred to the mistreatment of the animals in question as ‘cruelty on an industrial scale’.

Animals continue to be a central feature of farming in Ireland. The farm dog is never far from his master’s side. Animals provide a livelihood and companionship to farmers. Owning animals is a privilege, and with privilege comes responsibility.

Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork (021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate and family law.

Email: info@walshandpartners.ie Web: www.walshandpartners.ie

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