Plans to strengthen animal welfare laws in Scotland could see offenders jailed for up to five years.
The Scottish Government wants to increase the maximum prison penalty for crimes of cruelty from 12 months and give courts the power to impose unlimited fines.
Ministers are seeking the public’s views on its planned amendments to the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.
The new, tougher penalties could also apply to attacks against service animals, supporting the initiative known as Finn’s Law, the Scottish Government said.
The legal changes would also allow quicker re-homing of animals removed by welfare inspectors.
Ahead of the consultation launch, Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon said: “The Scottish Government is taking bold steps to try to further improve the welfare of our animals, and we believe the best way to do that is to challenge and change negative attitudes and behaviour.
“As such, I hope that strengthening these powers will send a strong message that such abhorrent behaviour will not be tolerated in a modern, progressive and responsible society such as Scotland.”
Ms Gougeon said it is vital to gather feedback from relevant stakeholders, and those with experience of animal cruelty issues in particular, before introducing new legislation.
The campaign for a so-called Finn’s Law began after police dog Finn was stabbed in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, in October 2016 as he pursued a suspected armed robber with his handler Pc Dave Wardell.
The Scottish Conservatives have been campaigning for law changes that would make it a specific crime to injure or kill a service animal.
The party’s justice spokesman, Liam Kerr, said: “In Scotland, hundreds of service animals work with Police Scotland to keep us safe.
“Just two weeks ago three police horses were allegedly attacked, by a thug, while they were protecting others.
“Without the tireless efforts of Pc Dave Wardell and PD Finn, we wouldn’t have a commitment from the SNP to give service animals the legal protection they deserve.
“The Scottish Conservatives will continue to keep the pressure on the SNP Government to implement Finn’s Law.”
A spokesman for Dogs Trust said: “We are delighted by the Scottish Government’s proposal to increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty offences from a paltry 12 months to five years in prison.
“Animal cruelty in any form is abhorrent and inexcusable and these proposals reflect the seriousness of these offences that are sadly carried out on a daily basis.
“We hope that increased sentences, coupled with more robust enforcement, will act as a deterrent to criminals and protect more dogs from harm.
“These measures and the proposal for expediting the rehoming or selling on of dogs being detained in kennels during legal proceedings are important steps in striving for the highest standards of animal welfare in Scotland and we look forward to working with the Government on this issue.”
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