Welsh Government urged to regulate animal sanctuaries

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Media captionCalls are made for a new law to be brought in to regulate animal sanctuaries in Wales

Calls have been made for a new law to be brought in to regulate animal sanctuaries in Wales, following a BBC Wales investigation.

Monday's Week In Week Out programme exposes poor conditions at Capricorn Animal Rescue in Flintshire.

An undercover volunteer found dirty conditions, overcrowding and some animals having no access to water.

The sanctuary's manager declined to be interviewed, but in a statement said the allegations were "unfounded."

Animal sanctuaries in Wales - and the rest of the UK - are not covered by law, meaning anyone can set one up and their activities are not regulated.

Capricorn Animal Rescue is a registered charity that appears to house about 350 animals on two sites near Mold.

It was founded and managed by Sheila Stewart and has been the subject of protests and online petitions by former volunteers concerned about its animal welfare standards.

In 2015, the rescue centre raised £250,000 in donations and income from its charity shops.

The undercover volunteer visited the centre over 10 days, and at the time just one member of staff and a handful of volunteers were seen working there.

The programme reveals dirty conditions, including in the cattery where the volunteer regularly found full litter trays and faeces on the floor.

It also shows overcrowding, poor disease control and animals sometimes not having access to water.

On one occasion, the undercover volunteer checked a rabbit pen and found about a dozen did not have any water.

On another day, she found a pen of chickens with no water and when she filled their bowl they drank for eight minutes.

Image caption Mike Jessop said the problem was "overcrowding"

The undercover footage was shown to vet and animal welfare expert Mike Jessop.

He said: "Some of the lack of water is truly concerning - I would be very, very worried about the fact that these animals weren't having regular access to water and also aren't being kept clean enough. Those are the key areas that bother me with the footage I've seen."

Mr Jessop added: "The problem is they've overcrowded it.

"You're then repeating the mistakes of disease transfer, lack of hygiene, stress on the animals - all of which shouldn't be happening. I would question whether this place should keep going."

Ms Stewart declined to be interviewed for the programme, but in a statement said cattery pens are cleaned more than once a day and that rabbits are given water every morning and volunteers top this up during the day.

She also said the chickens are checked twice a day.

She said unfounded allegations of overcrowding have been made over a period of 18 months to the RSPCA but that no action has been taken against the sanctuary.

Image caption Claire Lawson said there are a minority of sanctuaries falling below "acceptable standards"

The RSPCA said it had been aware of Capricorn Animal Rescue for "many years" and has been working to improve welfare at the centre, but the charity could not comment further for legal reasons.

In Wales, there are an estimated 268 animal sanctuaries, which the RSPCA defines as individual people or organisations advertising themselves as being able to rescue or rehome vulnerable animals.

Claire Lawson, an assistant director for the RSPCA in Wales, told the programme that sanctuaries are doing important work for animal welfare, but warns there are a minority falling below acceptable standards.

She said: "The number of sanctuaries that we visit on a regular basis where there are problems, suggests the problem is relatively deep."

Currently, the Animal Welfare Act regulates other animal establishments like breeders, boarding kennels and circuses, but does not cover animal sanctuaries.

The Welsh Government has the powers to introduce secondary legislation to ensure the law also covers sanctuaries.

Image caption Huw Irranca-Davies is calling on the Welsh Government to use its powers

In a statement, the Welsh Government said it is currently working with animal charities to develop a voluntary code of practice for sanctuaries.

But the RSPCA and Labour AM Huw Irranca-Davies said this does not go far enough.

Mr Irranca-Davies said: "The worry of the RSPCA and others in the field is it will be the good guys that sign up to voluntary approach, it will be the ones failing that won't. That's why we need statutory underpinning."

He said most are improving the lives of animals, but adds: "What we're calling for is a mechanism that gives real teeth to make sure the highest standards are there in all animal sanctuaries throughout Wales.

"That's what we're saying to the Welsh Government now: it's your call, do what needs to be done."

Week In Week Out Creature Comforts? airs on BBC One Wales on Monday at 19:30 GMT.

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