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Communities are safer when animals are protected

Sarah Carr
November 24, 2023

Animals matter to the British public. We hear all the time that concerns about animal welfare dominate MPs’ post-bags. And yet it’s fair to say that animal welfare is still treated as a fairly fringe public policy issue. This needs to change for the sake of animals and people.

At Naturewatch Foundation, we campaign to end animal cruelty and advance animal welfare standards. We often take on difficult issues that can be distressing and complex. However, we know this is vital work, not least because cruelty and mistreatment of animals rarely happen in isolation. In much of our work, we see the wider consequences of animal abuse and exploitation on people and communities.

Take the illicit pet trade. There’re an estimated 11 million dogs in the UK, which means around a million dogs and puppies are bought and sold each year. A proportion of dogs are acquired from rescues and responsible breeders. But far too many are still supplied by illegitimate and illegal breeders and dealers whose only motivation is money.

The consequences for dogs are devastating. Whether it’s being kept in squalid conditions, being bred back-to-back and forced to undergo repeat c-sections, or suffering from a life-time of compromised welfare due to irresponsible breeding decisions that prioritise harmful looks over health. It’s clear we need to do more to protect pets used for breeding for the sake of their welfare.

However, we also need to consider the wider benefits for communities of cracking down on illicit pet breeding. Puppies have become a commodity for some criminals because trading in dogs is much lower risk than trading in drugs. In our work to investigate the concerning rise in amateur pet ‘fertility clinics’, for instance, we’ve seen time and again that there are links to organised crime groups. The prospect that gangsters are using vulnerable animals as a front for their criminal activity is horrifying and underlines the importance of taking illegal breeding seriously.

We see similar connections in our work to end wildlife crime. People who go badger baiting and hare coursing are often violent individuals. This is evident by their depraved treatment of animals, including the dogs they use to commit their crimes. However, their criminality is not just directed towards powerless wild animals. Research has shown connections between wildlife criminals and theft, drugs, firearms, and other violent offending.

However, the case for taking crimes against animals more seriously is perhaps best illustrated by ‘The Link’ between animal abuse and abuse of people. We know that perpetrators of domestic abuse often harm, neglect or threaten their victim's beloved animals as a way to coerce, control and intimidate. We know that, tragically, victims will suffer abusive situations for longer if they can’t find safety for their animals. We know that exposure to abuse - animal or human - can trigger a cycle of violence, meaning the story doesn’t change. And we know that animal sexual abuse has a disturbingly strong link with child sexual abuse. Yet despite all this, animal crime is still often seen as minor.

It’s estimated that one in five adults experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives, and many victims will share their homes with animals. There are benefits to greater animal abuse awareness amongst public protection personnel and throughout our criminal justice system. These are things Naturewatch Foundation is calling for as part of our ‘Protect Animals. Protect People’ campaign to aid with prevention and detection of both animal and domestic abuse. We also want to see greater support available for victim-survivors who need to flee with animals so that no one feels trapped in an abusive situation due to the special bond they have with their pets.

It’s estimated that one in five adults experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives, and many victims will share their homes with animals Quote

As an animal welfare charity, Naturewatch Foundation’s mission and focus is ending animal cruelty. But we cannot ignore the wider impacts of animal abuse and exploitation. That’s why we’re calling on all political parties to be ambitious for animals at the next general election because when animals are protected, people are, too.

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Sarah Carr is the Chief Executive of the animal welfare charity, Naturewatch Foundation.

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