Introduction to animal welfare

The welfare of animals, including farmed and non-farmed animals, is protected by the Welfare of Animals Act 2011.

What are the benefits of the Act?

The key benefits of the Act include:

  • a duty of care for all protected animals
  • it allows action to be taken to prevent suffering as opposed to waiting until suffering has occurred
  • it provides robust powers to deal with animal fighting, including dog fights
  • it provides tough fines and penalties for serious animal welfare offences

A person is responsible for an animal if they own it or have responsibility for its day to day care.


The Act is enforced by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Councils and the PSNI.

DAERA is responsible for farmed animals (any animal bred or kept for the production of food, wool or skin or for other farming purposes). The Department also licenses riding establishments, boarding kennels, pet shops and zoos.

Councils are responsible for enforcement in respect of non-farmed animals i.e. domestic pets and equines (e.g. horses and donkeys etc).

The PSNI is responsible for incidents involving wild animals and animal fighting.

For further details, please visit our enforcement section.

Review of the Implementation of the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011

There has been considerable public, political, and media interest in the implementation of the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011 (the 2011 Act), particularly with regard to non-farmed animals. The following Private Members’ Motion was agreed by the Assembly on 31 March 2014.

"That this Assembly notes with concern the number of cases of extreme animal cruelty that have occurred recently, the low number of convictions and the failure to impose the maximum sentence available; and calls on the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, in conjunction with the Minister for Justice, to initiate a review of the implementation of animal cruelty legislation, particularly sentencing guidelines and practices, to ensure that the maximum effectiveness is being brought to bear to combat these crimes."

In response to this Motion, Minister Michelle O’Neill established a Review of the Implementation of the 2011 Act. The Review is being taken forward in conjunction with the Department of Justice and an Interim Report has now been produced.

The Interim Report shows the progress of the Review to date, and sets out the emerging thinking and recommendations. DARD undertook a public consultation exercise on the Interim Report; which ran from Thursday 26 February until Thursday 23 April 2015. 

Securing farms against rural crime

While investigating livestock theft is the responsibility of the PSNI, DAERA’s Veterinary Enforcement Branch (VSEB) assists the PSNI in tackling rural crime. In particular VSEB:

  • participates on the Rural Crime Partnership – a joint initiative between the Department of Justice, NFU Mutual, the DAERA and the PSNI (Strategic)
  • attends Agricultural Theft Multi-Agency Meetings (Tactical/Operational) on a quarterly basis
  • operates a 24/7 PSNI / VSEB contact procedure which has been set up so that PSNI Officers can trace animal identities
  • speaks at PSNI training days e.g. training police officers in animal identification and movement requirements - this is to be rolled out further following discussion at the UFU Rural Crime Conference on 4th November 2014
  • accompanies the PSNI at roadside checks - VSEB staff have been training PSNI Officers to read tags and check movement documentation
  • has devised a table for PSNI to accurately record details of stolen livestock e.g. ear tag number, colour, breed, sex and dob
  • undertakes joint inspections with the PSNI and other operation partners e.g. DHSSPS, HMRC, District Council EHOs, FSA, SIU in South and an Garda Síochána

Animal licensing applications

Relevant application forms are available if you are seeking a license for an animal boarding, a petshop, a riding or a zoological establishment.

Animal Welfare - Contacts

If you wish to speak to someone regarding the welfare of farmed animals (defined as any animal bred or kept for the production of food, wool or skin or for other farming purposes) or the licensing of riding establishments, boarding kennels, pet shops and zoos please contact the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs:

  • during office hours - Monday to Friday 9am-5pm telephone - 0300 200 7840
  • at weekends – contact a local Private Veterinary Practice or local Police station who will, as necessary, refer the welfare complaint to the relevant DAERA “on call” officer

Welfare of Non-Farmed Animals

If you wish to speak to someone regarding the welfare of non-farmed animals i.e. domestic pets of any vertebrate species and equines (e.g. horses and donkeys etc) please contact the relevant Council contact below.

  • Belfast - 028 90 270431
  • eastern Area (Lisburn & Castlereagh Council, Ards & North Down District Council) - 028 9244 7861
  • northern Area (Mid & East Antrim District Council, Causeway Coast & Glens District Council, Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council) - 028 2563 3134
  • southern Area (Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council, Newry, Mourne & Down) - 028 37 515800
  • western Area (Fermanagh & Omagh, Derry & Strabane, Mid-Ulster) - 028 82 256226
  • out of hours – contact the regional number above and the call will be diverted to an answering service.

Wild Animals and Animal Fighting

If you wish to report a welfare issue involving wild animals or one to do with animal fighting you should contact the PSNI.

  • You can contact your local police station on 101.

Straying animals

DAERA have produced a series of quick guides relating to straying animals, providing advice on key issues when an animal wanders onto the road, someone's land as well as sheep/livestock worrying.

More useful links

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