Part II – Background Information
Animal sanctuaries and rehoming activities are currently not regulated. These include the premises of larger Scottish and UK organisations such as the Scottish SPCA, Dogs Trust and Cats Protection, as well as a number of smaller centres. Rehoming activities also involve organisations or individuals operating without premises to keep animals, such as organisations rehoming dogs directly from rescue centres in other countries.
While most of these are run by persons with the best interests of the animals at heart, there are some concerns that:
- Welfare may suffer if more animals are kept than the premises have room for.
- Animals might not be best matched to new owners, resulting in them needing to be returned or being placed in other rehoming centres;
- Some rehoming centres might be operating as pet retailers, circumventing the need for them to be licensed as such under the Pet Animals Act 1951.
- Some animals that are imported, legally or illegally, for rehoming may be carrying diseases not normally found in the UK.
Proposed licensing of rehoming centres and animal sanctuaries has been discussed with stakeholders alongside the concerns surrounding pet breeding and sale. The concept of licensing is supported by the larger rehoming organisations, noting the differences between rehoming (often required where life circumstances of owners change) and sanctuaries (longer term care of animals that are not always rehomed). Dogs are increasingly being imported, legally and illegally, for rehoming from abroad. Street dogs may struggle to acclimatise to a new environment and considering the number of dogs already waiting to be rehomed in the UK, there may not be an overall welfare benefit in these cases.
The Programme for Government 2017-18 committed The Scottish Government to prepare legislation for a modern system of registration and licensing of animal sanctuaries and rehoming activities, allowing for independent accreditation of applicants. The overall aim is to regulate this area to protect animal welfare in a way that is not unduly burdensome for those doing a good job at present, while being effective in dealing with cases where welfare is not being sufficiently protected or where such rescue activities are effectively operating commercially in the guise of a charity.
The main features of the modern system are proposed to be a threshold number of cared-for animals determining whether light registration or stricter licensing is to be applied; whether licences should be flexible and may be awarded, on a risk-based assessment, for a period of up to 3 years; and independent accreditation by an agent approved by the Scottish Ministers, to replace the need for inspection by local authorities.