In 2010, official veterinarians carried out about a thousand more inspections based on suspected animal welfare offences than the year before. The increased number of inspections may be the result of an increased number of official veterinary surgeons concentrating on animal welfare control at Regional State Administrative Agencies, as well as improved awareness among citizens.
In 2010, official veterinarians carried out more than 4,300 inspections based on suspected animal welfare offences. This is substantially more than in the preceding years, when the number of inspections has fluctuated steadily between 3,200 and 3,500 inspections a year. However, the number of separate inspection visits is lower, as if there are several animal species to be inspected on the premises, a single inspection visit is reported as several inspections. In 2010, the number of separate visits was about 3,500, while in recent years it has averaged about 2,500.
The higher number of inspections of production animals was particularly significant. Of the inspections carried out, about 2,700 concerned production animals and 1,400 pets. In the remainder of the cases, no information was available of the animal species on the premises. Dogs, cats and rabbits were the subjects of inspections in over 90 per cent of the inspections concerning pets, while on production animal farms, the inspections based on suspected offences concerned the conditions in which cattle (42%), equine animals (22%), sheep (9%) and pigs (8%) were kept.
Urgent action most often necessary to protect pets and hobby animals
Shortcomings found in the living conditions of production animals are mostly corrected by giving the animals’ owner or keeper an order to improve the animals’ conditions within a certain time to the minimum level required by law. After the deadline has passed, a repeat inspection is carried out on the premises to ascertain compliance with the order. On sites with companion and hobby animals, more often than with production animals, the situation may have deteriorated to the extent that urgent action is necessary to ensure the animals' welfare. Most often, the urgent action for production animals involves organising first aid measures of feed and water and a person to tend them, while in serious cases of neglect concerning pets, urgent possession of the animals is often necessary. If looking after the animals is not possible or expedient, they may be destroyed.
In 2010, 45 per cent of inspected production animal farms and 31 per cent of premises where pets were kept were ordered to remedy the shortcomings found. Urgent action was taken in 4% of inspected production animal farms and 9% of cases involving pets.
In the cases of animal species classified as production animals too, urgent action concerned proportionally more often species that are commonly also kept as hobby animals, in addition to production purposes. In 2010, it was necessary to take urgent action on almost six per cent of inspected horse farms and more than five per cent of sheep farms, while on cattle farms the figure was below four per cent and on pig farms only about one per cent of all inspections.
In premises with pets, the number of cases of neglect requiring urgent action was a little lower in 2010 than in previous years. In other respects, the results were similar to those of previous years. There are no statistics with detailed information on the shortcomings found, but typically they concern neglect in the care of the animals, such as feeding and hygiene, both in cases of production animals and pets.
Number of control veterinarians in Finland reaches about thirty
Citizens’ awareness and notifications of suspected breaches of animal welfare legislation appear to have increased in recent years. In situations giving rise to suspicions that an animal’s care or treatment contravenes the Animal Welfare Act, the correct action always is to contact the local animal welfare authority, for example the municipal veterinary surgeon, health inspector, or police.
The animal welfare inspection based on suspected breaches is usually conducted by the municipal official veterinarian. With the help of appropriations brought by the new Act on Veterinary Service effective from November 2009, about thirty local authorities or joint municipal boards have already made use of government funding to appoint an official veterinarian focusing specifically on monitoring of compliance, which permits the separation of animal welfare control from the other functions of veterinary surgeons. In addition, the new Act on Veterinary Service has meant the appointment of 15 new provincial veterinary officers at Regional State Administrative Agencies. These officers are mainly responsible for the statutory monitoring of production animal farms, but will also carry out particularly more demanding animal welfare inspections based on suspected offences at the request of local animal welfare authorities. The increase in the number of official veterinarians in local authorities and Regional State Administrative Agencies is also likely to have contributed to the increase in the number of inspection visits.
Inspections based on suspected animal welfare offences may also be carried out by health inspectors and the police, but only a small proportion of the animal welfare inspections conducted solely by these officials is reported to Regional State Administrative Agencies. Health inspectors mostly carry out animal welfare visits together with the municipal veterinary surgeon, in which case they are reported as inspections conducted by the official veterinarian. In addition to the authorities, animal welfare inspections are conducted by animal welfare officers authorised by Regional State Administrative Agencies.