Shattered lives, broken spirits: We must be their voice

20 FEBRUARY 2017

Battersea's Chief Executive, Claire Horton, on why we must increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years.

If you were beaten, hurt and abused, you'd expect the person responsible to be properly punished.

If you were kept in a shed for weeks or months and deprived of food, water and companionship, you'd expect the person responsible to be properly punished.

And rightly so. Fortunately, England and Wales has a criminal justice system in place to ensure that anybody who hurts or threatens another person can receive a fitting punishment.

So why is it that - despite calling ourselves a nation of animal lovers - we don't do the same for the creatures in our care? Those who depend on us completely for their very survival, to protect them and keep them safe.

Research published today by Battersea Dogs & Cats Home confirms what we already sadly know, that the maximum sentence handed out for animal cruelty is actually, no punishment at all. England and Wales’ mere six months in prison and unlimited fine for animal cruelty offences is the lowest such sentence in Europe, the United States and Australia.  We lag far behind Germany at three years and Ireland, NI and Latvia at five years.

These facts would be laughable if they weren’t so shocking. Animal cruelty sentencing in England and Wales is a joke – but at Battersea, we don’t find it funny. Too often we see the terrible consequences for animals from cruel and hurtful treatment and so we are speaking out to call for all of that to change. We’re calling for the maximum sentence for the most severe animal cruelty offences to be increased to five years.

In our world, we get to see some of the best moments of an animal's life - the moments when lost, hurt and abandoned dogs and cats find love, care and companionship in a new and forever home – but the dark underbelly of animal rescue is heartbreaking. Shattered lives, broken spirits.

Since we were founded in 1860, Battersea has looked after more than 3.1 million dogs and cats. Many of those animals came in to us in a shocking state, with physical wounds and illnesses caused by deliberate cruelty or neglect.

Our highly-skilled Veterinary and care teams do all they can for every animal that comes through our doors. They treat the animals whose lives have been torn apart and whose eyes show nothing but pain and fear. Many of those animals make remarkable recoveries – like April, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier brought in to us on a freezing January night with terrible wounds on her face, caused by someone wiring her jaw shut. Despite her awful ordeal, April’s story turned around. She recovered after multiple operations in our Clinic, and went on to find a loving new home. Her permanent facial scars, though, are forever a sickening  reminder of her former life.

And then there was Arthur, a tiny tabby kitten found dumped in a cat carrier outside Battersea last year. He was foaming at the mouth, his tongue swollen and his fur crusted over, leading our vets to believe that a toxic substance had been poured over him. Arthur could only be fed through a tube for several days and it was desperately sad to see him suffering so much. Fortunately, he made a full recovery and was adopted by a new family weeks after he came in. These moments are what make it so worthwhile.

But what about the animals who come into us so badly abused or neglected that we cannot do anything more to help except make sure they have a peaceful and dignified end? What about little Angel, a Mongrel puppy abandoned in a gravel pit - shivering, soaking wet and severely emaciated? Angel was almost entirely hairless due to the infections that had ravaged her tiny frame. Our nurses sat with her through the night but she never made it, her tiny body so damaged, she simply had no fight left in her.

It’s these animals, and countless more throughout the country that we are speaking out for today with the launch of our campaign.

They don’t have a voice – so we must be their voice. We must stand up and speak up and we are calling on you to do the same.

Join us by calling on your MP to support our call to increase animal cruelty sentencing from six months to five years, by visiting

Only then can we ensure that offenders are properly punished and would-be offenders are deterred from causing unacceptable and unnecessary suffering to an animal in the first place.

For every abused dog or cat that we can help like April, Arthur and Angel, there are many more we’ll never get to see.

It isn’t acceptable that our courts are unable to hand out tougher sentences in animal cruelty cases, yet the likes of fly-tipping can result in sentences of up to five years. Let’s get this into proportion and let the punishment for abusing animals truly fit the crime.

Let’s prove once and for all, we truly are the nation of animal lovers we purport to be.