Jeremy Balfour: Time to update pet welfare law

In Scotland, 20 per cent of households keep one or more cats. Picture: Ian Rutherford
In Scotland, 20 per cent of households keep one or more cats. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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For many years now Brits have enjoyed the reputation of being a nation of pet lovers. Be they furry, fluffy, feathered or covered in scales, we are still as obsessed with our pets as ever. In Scotland, 20 per cent of households keep one or more dogs and 15 cent keep one or more cats. While there is not accurate data on the number of other species kept, we do know that animals like reptiles, birds and small mammals are kept or sold in their thousands in Scotland. In recent years, the pet market has increasingly diversified with high street pet shops selling a varied and diverse range of species, from hamsters to boa constrictors.

Every pet bought from a pet shop, no matter the species, is important to the purchaser; it is the latest addition to a family, bringing joy to our lives. Pet owners want their animal to have had the best start to life and be in good health when they buy a new pet.

Jeremy Balfour is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothian region. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Jeremy Balfour is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothian region. Picture: Ian Georgeson

While many of the animals sold as pets today are a little more exotic than a traditional dog or cat and may not appear as vulnerable, they have important welfare needs that must be met.

Animal welfare is devolved to the Scottish Government and it is the Scottish Parliament’s responsibility to ensure that our animal welfare system is strong enough to protect animals and to enable prospective pet owners to buy with confidence, safe in the knowledge that the pet shop they are buying from is a reputable, licensed establishment which has been subject to a stringent licensing process.

It is vital that Scottish legislation ensures that no pet suffers or has its welfare compromised and that, in situations where issues arise, the relevant authority can take action.

Licensed pet shops need a strong legislative framework to work within to ensure they are all able to come up to a high standard and local authority officers responsible for issuing a pet shop licence must be given the necessary tools to empower them to effectively carry out their duties. The current Act regulating pet shops is over 60 years old and is no longer fit for purpose. It is widely acknowledged by animal welfare charities and the pet shop industry that as we strengthen animal welfare rights, pet shops must also raise the bar.

I have launched a consultation on a proposed Bill is to ensure clarity and consistency for pet shops across Scotland. It is not the intention to hamper the trade but purely to ensure that pet shops operating in Scotland are licensed and inspected in a full and thorough manner and that they are meeting the welfare needs of the animals they are selling.

I welcome views on my proposed Member’s Bill and hope we can work together to develop legislation that will be effective in protecting pets.

Please follow the link to download the consultation document: www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/108075.aspx

Jeremy Balfour is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothian region