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Successful prosecutions under the Animal Health & Welfare Act

Blog by ISPCA CEO Dr. Andrew Kelly

Over the last few weeks, the first three ISPCA initiated prosecutions taken under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, which came into force last year, have been finalised in court. In 2014, between March (when the legislation came into force) and December, our six Inspectors initiated 25 prosecutions. In 2015 up to the end of April, our Inspectors have initiated 16 – so we are on target to beat 2014. We will be recruiting two more Inspectors this year, so the numbers of prosecutions initiated will increase in 2016. What happens when these cases go to court and does the punishment fit the crime? The table below illustrates the outcomes for these three cases.


Case 1 On 16th April 2015, a Donegal woman pled guilty at Letterkenny District Court to a charge of abandoning a terrier. At court she was ordered to pay €405 costs to the ISPCA and sentence was adjourned until July. The terrier made a full recovery and has since been re-homed.






Case 2 On the 8th May 2015, two Roscommon men pled guilty at Ballaghdereen District Court to a charge of illegally docking the tails of six terrier puppies. At court, the facts of the case were not disputed, but rather than give the accused a criminal record, the judge invoked the Probation Offenders Act and ordered the two accused to pay costs of €250 to the ISPCA. All six puppies have been re-homed.






Case 3 On the 14th May 2015, a Wicklow man was found guilty at Bray District Court of cruelty to a lurcher that died of parvovirus at a halting site in Co. Wicklow. A fine of €150 was imposed and an order limiting the number of dogs that can be kept at the halting site to five. The court order will allow the ISPCA to take action if the order is breached and is the first order of its kind to be issued by a judge since the AHWA came into force. Another dog that was in poor condition was seized and will be re-homed.


The first three cases (all initiated by the ISPCA), brought to court under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and their outcomes.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

Many ISPCA supporters have indicated that they feel the penalties imposed in these cases are not enough of a deterrent to others who may neglect, abandon or cruelly treat animals for which they have a responsibility. But what should we expect when someone appears in court charged with an animal cruelty offence?

The Animal Health and Welfare Act allows for fines of up to €5000 and /or a prison sentence of up to six months. For more serious cases, there is further provision for fines of up to €250,000 and / or up to five years in prison. The Act also allows judges to ban those convicted from keeping animals for a period of time, up to and including life.

Whilst these penalties are higher than was provided for in the previous legislation (The Protection of Animals Act 1911), can we expect high penalties to be imposed in Ireland for animal welfare offences? The ISPCA will continue to initiate prosecutions, working with Gardai, Department of Agriculture and Local Authorities to bring those responsible for abusing animals to court. That is our job. That is what you, our supporters expect of us. However, once these cases get to court and there is a successful prosecution it is up to the judge to decide on the penalties. It is out of our hands at that point.

Getting the message across

What outcome should the ISPCA hope for when a case goes to court? Whilst we might welcome higher penalties and a ban on keeping animals imposed on offenders, it is equally important that we use the outcome of these cases to educate and inform the public. Many animal owners don’t know what their legal responsibilities are – for example, it still comes as a surprise to many people that tail-docking is illegal. What is important for the ISPCA is that we use these cases, regardless of the penalties imposed to inform the public of their legal responsibilities. I’d like to see animal welfare taught to primary school children as part of the curriculum and we will lobby government for that to happen. In the meantime, every time there is a successful prosecution, the ISPCA will do its best to get the message out there that abusing animals in any way will not be tolerated until such times that all animal owners treat their animals with empathy and respect.

Humanity Dick – a pioneer for animal welfare

I was reminded recently by a former colleague of mine at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in England of the first ever prosecution for an animal welfare offence anywhere in the world. The Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act was successfully introduced to British Law in 1822, thanks to Galway MP Richard Martin, nicknamed Humanity Dick.  Martin was present in 1824 when the RSPCA was founded and is recognised as one of the founders of the RSPCA along with William Wilberforce and Arthur Broom. The first prosecution under the Act was of two men for beating a donkey. This Act made it an offence, punishable by fines of up to five pounds or two months imprisonment, to “beat, abuse, or ill-treat any horse, mare, gelding, mule, ass, ox, cow, heifer, steer, sheep or other cattle”. In the first court case, Humanity Dick famously brought an abused donkey into court (see inset) to much laughter. The judge allowed the donkey to ‘speak’ through its injuries and its condition. The men were convicted of cruelly treating the donkey, but Humanity Dick requested that they be fined the minimum amount – and paid the fine himself. He was not interested in punishing the guilty pair – he was more interested in getting the message out that animals should be treated kindly.

Now, I’m not suggesting for a minute that the ISPCA will ask for the lowest penalty and pay it ourselves, but I understand Humanity Dick’s reasoning – it was about changing behaviour of those who owned animals. The ISPCA wants to change behaviour. We want to change the behaviour of those who think it is acceptable to abuse animals. We want to create an Ireland where animal cruelty is a thing of the past. So perhaps, we should focus less on the penalty and more on the fact that we now have legislation in Ireland that protects animals from cruelty and neglect. 

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