Animal welfare inspections based on suspicion 2012

Suspicion of animals being kept in breach of animal welfare regulations occasioned five thousand inspection visits in 2012. Although the percentage of sites that passed inspections increased slightly from previous years, official measures were required in two thousand inspections.

Animal welfare inspections based on suspicion are an important part of overall animal welfare control

The keeping of production animals is monitored with several regular inspections as is professional or other large-scale keeping of animals for recreational purposes. However, regular control is not sufficiently comprehensive to discover all sites which fail to meet the standards for keeping animals. Animal welfare inspections based on suspicion are also the only means to monitor the treatment of animals that are kept for recreational purposes and as pets by private persons. In fact, an animal welfare inspection can be carried out whenever an official becomes aware of a suspected violation of animal welfare regulations. Accordingly, it is important that officials are informed of all cases in which violations of animal welfare regulations are suspected.

Increased control resources are reflected in the number of inspections

The number of animal welfare inspections based on suspicion has increased during the last few years. Before the new Act on Veterinary Service, which made it possible to employ control veterinarians, came into force at the end of 2009, the number of animal welfare inspections based on suspicion was about 2,500 per year. During the two years after the act came into force, the number of inspections increased to over four thousand. In 2012 official veterinarians reported about 5,100 inspections, during which the care and conditions of production animals and pets where inspected. These numbers do not include the animal welfare inspections which carried out by the police or municipal health inspectors and the number of which is unknown to Finnish Food Authority.

Despite the increased numbers of inspections, the percentage of detected omissions has not decreased significantly. During the last few years, on the average every second animal welfare inspection based on suspicion has resulted in measures being taken by authorities. In 2012 such inspections made up 42 percent of all inspections.

Measures taken by authorities consist of prohibitions and orders issued to the animal owner and, in more serious cases, emergency measures carried out by the authority. Prohibitions and orders pursuant to the Animal Protection Act were issued on 33 percent of the inspection visits. When negligence is detected in the conditions or care of animals, the owner or keeper of the animal is ordered to remedy the deficiencies within a time limit. If the deficiency concerns negligence in the treatment of an animal, the owner or keeper of the animal will be prohibited to continue the practice which is in violation with animal welfare regulations. The purpose of these measures is to raise the conditions, care and treatment of animals to at least the level provided by the law.

Serious negligence which required authorities to take immediate measures to secure the welfare of animals was detected in 460 cases or 9 percent of the inspections. Such urgent measures usually involve, in the case of larger animals, giving the animals food and water and providing them with an attendant. Smaller animals are taken elsewhere for care. If it is not possible or expedient to arrange care for the animals, they can be sold or put down.

The most commonly inspected animals are dogs, cattle and horses

The results can also be examined by animal species. If there are several species of animals on the site inspected, a single inspection visit will be reported as several separate inspections. Thus the number of inspections by species is larger than the number of inspection visits. The number of inspections shows a distinct increase also when considered per species. In 2009 there were about 3,200 inspections per species, whereas this figure was well over 6,300 in 2012.

The number of inspections increased both in the cases involving pets and the cases involving production animals. Also large animals which are kept for recreational purposes, e.g. horses, are here counted as production animals. In inspections by species, over 2,900 inspections involved production animals and over 2,600 pets. In the remaining 800 cases the animal species was not reported, but even these inspections involved mainly pets and minor horse stables. This group also includes more unusual inspection objects, such as zoos, animal exhibitions and circuses, which cannot be classified as production animals or pets.

In the same way as previous years, the inspections of pet sites mainly consisted of inspections of dogs, cats and rabbits as well as various rodents, while the species inspected on sites with production animals were mostly cattle, equine animals and sheep. Also, considerable numbers of pigs, goats, chicken and other poultry were inspected.

The percentage of measures involving sites with production animals has remained almost unchanged during several years, even if the number of inspections has continuously increased. In 2012 prohibitions or orders were issued to 45 percent of the inspected farms with production animals; exactly as many as during the past few years. Emergency measures were resorted to on slightly fewer (4%) sites with production animals compared with previous years. 25% of pet sites received an order to remedy the detected deficiencies within a specified time limit, which is a little less than previous years. After a few better years, the number of emergency measures increased to almost the level of preceding years (11%).

Inspections are carried out by several different actors

An animal welfare inspection based on suspicion may be carried out by a provincial veterinary surgeon or a municipal veterinary official, the police or a municipal health inspector. In premises which are not considered as private premises an animal welfare inspection may also be carried out by an animal welfare inspector authorised by a Regional State Administrative Agency. In municipalities and municipal federations there are currently over forty official veterinarians focusing on control, so-called control veterinarians, whose existence has made it possible to separate animal welfare control from the other duties of municipal veterinary officials. The state-funded control veterinarians have also clearly increased the resources of the municipalities to inspect sites where animals are suspected to be kept in breach of animal welfare legislation. In addition to control veterinarians and other municipal veterinary officers, provincial veterinary surgeons have carried out inspections, particularly more demanding ones.