In Northern Ireland, the welfare of animals is protected by the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 (the 2011 Act). The 2011 Act includes a duty of care in respect of all “protected animals” (i.e. animals under the control of a person whether permanently or temporarily). Responsibility for the welfare of an animal remains with the owner at all times.


The 2011 Act sets out offences regarding animal welfare, for example: it is an offence to fail to take reasonable steps to ensure that the welfare needs of an animal are met; and it is an offence to take action, or fail to take action, that causes an animal to suffer unnecessarily.

The three bodies that are responsible for the enforcement of the 2011 Act are:

  • Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)(farmed animals only)
  • Councils (non-farmed animals, such as domestic pets and horses)
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) (wildlife crime, animals on the road and other criminal activity such as dog fighting)

Enforcement officers will investigate complaints and take action to ensure the owner or keeper complies with the legislation.

A review of implementation of the 2011 Act was completed in 2015 and, as a result, a number of recommendations were made regarding the animal welfare service. One such recommendation (recommendation no. 40) is that DAERA should produce an annual report setting out information relevant to the public in relation to the animal welfare service provided by each of the three enforcement bodies. Reports reflect the statistical information that has been provided to DAERA.

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