Science - October 6, 2010

How effective are ‘animal cops’?

The new Dutch cabinet wants to appoint 500 police officers to combat animal abuse. How big a problem is this actually? And what are the priorities? The ‘animal cops’ are a proposal by PVV MP Dion Graus.

Elsbeth Stassen, Professor of Animals and Society:
'In itself, I find it a sympathetic idea, but it will immediately raise a discussion about the legal definition of animal neglect. Leaving a horse or pony constantly alone in a field is bad for the animal. But it is not an offence in the Netherlands, unlike in Scandinavia. Nor is it an offence to leave a dog locked up in the hall at home all day, whereas a dog is a social animal.
What is more, animal police will never be licensed to look inside every home. The most you can do is to take action on animal abuse that takes place in public and is reported.
The proposal focuses on pets and animals kept for recreational purposes. At the national society for the protection of animals (the LID), there were about 7,500 reports in 2008, most of them about neglected horses and ponies or dogs. Sometimes there are several reports of the same case. About half of the reports are found on investigation to be well-founded, mainly on account of poor shelter or care. Sometimes there seems to be an element of neighbours trying to get at each other. In 2008, the LID took about 800 animals away from their owners.
I am a bit bothered about the name 'animal cops'. It reminds me of those popular American TV shows in which animal abusers are clapped in handcuffs and fined hundreds of dollars. In the Netherlands it is still not at all clear what the mandate of this animal police force is to be. How are the new officers qualified to determine when an animal is being mistreated? What is more, you may wonder about the effectiveness of setting up yet another organization. We already have the LID for pets and recreational animals, and we have the 'general inspection service' (AID) for animals kept for commercial purposes. I would prefer to start by finding out whether the existing services and legislation are adequate, and if not, how they could be improved. What you see at the moment, for example, is that an unscrupulous dog breeder whose animals are taken off him can just start all over again. Many cases are dismissed in court. A sentence is rare.'

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