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Leading the charge for better animal welfare legislation in Scotland

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We’re leading the way for better animal welfare standards, strengthening laws, and improving protection. As we celebrate a landmark change to Scottish animal welfare law, our CEO Kirsteen Campbell reflects on how far we’ve come in our 185 year history and how far we’ve still got to go. 

A black and white photo of three men inspecting a horse's hooves

Watching the cart horses trudging heavy loads up and down the streets of Edinburgh in the 1830s, Martha Gibson knew she had to do something to improve their welfare. Firm in her belief that animals deserved better, she founded the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1839. 

Sadly, Martha passed away just a few years later but her vision and her passion has endured to this day. 

Throughout our almost 185 year history, championing legal protection for animals has remained at our core. We’re making Scotland a better place for animals to call home by lobbying those with the power to legislate and influencing the detail that sits behind any legal acts affecting animals and those who look after them. Being part of groups like the Dog Control Coalition (DCC), partnering with other animal welfare organisations and working with cross-party groups amplifies our voice to create positive change for animal welfare. 

An empty metal snare lays wedged between branches

Last week, decades of campaigning, hard work and advocating for change finally culminated in the outright ban on all forms of snares in Scotland, as the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill was passed in the Scottish Parliament. The Bill also affords us enhanced powers to support Police Scotland in tackling crime by allowing our inspectors to search, seize and examine evidence in cases where we’re already on location helping a live animal. A truly momentous change that will improve the lives of countless animals, and one our Chief Superintendent, Mike Flynn, has been driving forward for over 30 years! 

We are unrelenting when it comes to calling for harsher sentencing for those who commit the worst kind of animal welfare offences. In 2020, the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 came into force , increasing the maximum penalty for animal welfare and wildlife crime offences to five years imprisonment and unlimited fines. The Act also allows us to rehome animals involved in court cases before a conclusion is reached, meaning they can find loving new homes much sooner than the previous 203 day average. 

In 2023, the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act 2023 also came into force after we successfully called on the Scottish Government to close loopholes in the existing legislation. And along with our partners, our call for the requirement for social media platforms to remove footage of animal torture from their sites was finally included in the Online Safety Bill. In addition it has finally been recognised that children should be protected from viewing violence towards animals as part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). We will continue to work with key stakeholders to influence the detail behind any new legislation that comes into force so that it is embedded properly in Scotland.

We’ve come a long way since the pioneering Martha Gibson started the Society. And we’ve still got a long way to go. That’s why our teams are prioritising a manifesto in time for the 2024 general election.

Kirsteen Campbell with her bichon frise, Martha.

Our manifesto will drive our agenda in tackling key issues in areas of animal abuse, animal breeding, animal ownership and the conflicts that occur between animals and the environment. We want to get ahead of issues, tackle that demand for our services and ultimately prevent animals from suffering in the first place. 

I often find myself wondering what life would be like for animals if the Scottish SPCA had never existed. One thing I’m certain of is that I’m grateful for people like Martha Gibson, Mike Flynn and all my determined colleagues who lead the way in securing better protections for animals in law, and make Scotland the best place in the world for an animal to call home. 




If anyone is concerned about an animal, please do not hesitate to contact our confidential animal helpline on 03000 999 999.

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