Scotland’s animal welfare charity, The Scottish SPCA, is backing plans for increased maximum sentencing and allowing rescue centres to rehome seized animals more quickly.

On Wednesday, January 9, Mairi Gougeon MSP, the minister for rural affairs and the natural environment delivered a statement on the Scottish Government’s work to improve animal welfare.

The minister outlined plans for a consultation to amend Scotland’s main legislation for animals, the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.

A consultation will be tabled to increase the maximum available penalties for animal welfare cases, including increasing the maximum prison sentence from 12 months to five years.

Plans were also announced to create Fixed Penalty Notices for lesser offences.

Mike Flynn, Scottish SPCA chief superintendent, said: “At present, the punishment does not fit the crime with some of the worst instances of animal cruelty we have witnessed. Whilst people can be banned from owning animals, increased imprisonment sentences should serve as a valuable deterrent to protect animals.

“The introduction of Fixed Penalty Notices should free up more time for inspectors in both the Scottish SPCA and local authorities to focus on the most serious cases of animal mistreatment.”

The minister also announced a consultation on permitting inspection bodies such as the Scottish SPCA to rehome animals removed from abusive owners much more quickly and efficiently than at present.

Currently, animals owned by a person who is being taken to court cannot be rehomed until the case concludes.

The charity seized 45 dogs from illegal seller Christopher Gorman in 2017 and spent approximately £440,000 caring for them for almost two years as they could not move them on until the case settled.

In a landmark decision earlier this year in a separate case, the Scottish SPCA pursued a civil order to allow them to move on dozens of animals seized from an unlicensed puppy seller as they awaited the criminal court case.

Mr Flynn added: “Court cases can take a long time to come around and many months can pass between us seizing animals and a judgement being passed. Keeping these animals at a rehoming centre does not benefit anyone. It is not in the best interests of any animal to be kept in a centre long term.

“On average, it costs the Scottish SPCA £15 per dog per day in our care. Holding dogs that cannot be rehomed immediately puts a massive strain on our resources and it means kennel spaces are unavailable for dogs which could perhaps be rehomed more quickly. For a charity reliant entirely on the generosity of the public, this is a real challenge.”