Animal welfare

On Friday I visited the PAWS animal sanctuary at Findon and saw the wonderful work they are doing.

PAWS is a small charity run by Stacey McSpirit, who has been rescuing animals for 30 years, and her neighbour Sheila Steere.

They deal with around 650 animals each year and normally have 100 animals at any one time.  And they rely on a dedicated team of volunteers to help to care for the animals and find new homes for them, and on donations from the public to keep going.

It is often said that we are a nation of animal lovers.  I think we are.  Most people love their pets and treat their animals responsibly.  And for many people, especially the elderly, animals like cats and dogs provide vital companionship.

But sadly there's a relatively small minority who treat their animals badly, as I was reminded when I visited the RSPCA's headquarters in March.  Last year the RSPCA investigated 141,280 complaints of cruelty and their work resulted in 2,579 convictions.

I still remember the shocking images from 2008 on a horse dealer's farm in Buckinghamshire where dozens of horses, donkeys and ponies had been kept in appalling conditions.  Fortunately, most of them have now been restored to health and re-homed.

Parliament has a role in passing the right laws, and I'm pleased that the new Coalition Government is committed, for instance, to ending the testing of household products on animals, and to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research.

But responsible ownership matters, too.  Of course many animals need a new home not as a result of deliberate cruelty, but because the owner has gone into a home, passed away or moved into a property where pets are not allowed.

But all too often children just lose interest in a pet, or adults just don't think through the commitment involved in taking one on.  Huge distress can be caused to animals as a result.  At worst, they can be neglected or abandoned.

So as we approach Guy Fawkes' Night, let's take care with pets who might be upset by fireworks.  And in the run up to Christmas, let's remember the brilliant slogan coined by Clarissa Baldwin, who I met earlier this year on a visit to the Dogs Trust Rehoming Centre in Uxbridge: "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas".

Christopher N Howarth