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Rights of Working Animals

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 2 Jun 2012 | comments*Discuss
Working Animals Law Riding Schools

Humans train and use working animals for many tasks. Animals work on farms, hunting estates, riding schools, in entertainment and for organisations such as the police. In all instances, they have rights enshrined in a variety of UK law.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is legislation that covers animals in general. It replaced the Protection of Animals Act 1911.

Under the Act, the owners of pets and working animals must meet five welfare needs. Owners must:

  • Protect animals from injury and illness, and arrange suitable treatment as necessary
  • House an animal either with or separate from other animals as necessary
  • Allow animals to behave normally
  • Provide animals with a proper diet and fresh water
  • Give animals a suitable place to live

The Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 includes general provision for the welfare of working animals. The Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925 has further regulations.

Under the 1925 Act, exhibitors and trainers of animals must register with their local authority. The local authority sends copies of the registration certificates to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The Act allows local authority officers and the police to enter any premises where someone is exhibiting or training animals. If the officers or the police believe the owners are being cruel or have neglected their animals, the matter can go before a magistrates’ court. The court has the power to limit or prevent exhibition and training. It can also suspend or cancel an owner’s registration.

The Riding Establishments Act 1964 and 1970

The 1964 Act obliges riding schools to gain a licence from their local authorities before they can operate as a business.

The local authority has a certain amount of discretion when issuing a licence. It may, for example, demand that the riding school meets certain conditions.

These generally cover issues such as the exercise of the horses, equine welfare, fire precautions and disease prevention. Other matters a local authority considers are the suitability of the horses for riding; the amount and quality of pasture; the condition of the stables; and the applicant’s competence in running a riding school.


Primates are mammals such as monkeys and apes. Although they don’t usually work, they may appear on TV or in films.

Although the Animal Welfare Act 2006 refers as much to primates as other animals, DEFRA has issued a special primate code of practice. This reflects the fact that primates have specific environmental and dietary needs.

The code places particular responsibility on keepers to monitor primates’ behaviour. This is because primates can act in complex ways. Without a keeper’s expert knowledge, it can prove hard to know if a primate is suffering from ill health or some form of deprivation.


Under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, a zoo must have a licence. This means that a zoo is subject to inspection.

The Act aims at maintaining high welfare standards for the animals kept in zoos. It also ensures zoos contribute to wildlife conservation and are safe to visit.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 covers all zoo vertebrates such as birds, mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles.


The Animal Welfare Act 2006 also applies to circus animals.

Estimates put the number of circus animals in the UK at around 40. The government uses the Act to make sure these animals live, train and work in suitable conditions. A circus that fails to provide high quality welfare loses its licence.

Government-approved vets carry out the inspections. Licensing conditions may refer to training methods; animal treatment; suitability of winter quarters; and limits on the time animals spend travelling from one venue to another.


Although most people wouldn’t regard fights as a working practice for animals, a minority take a different view. For them, fights between animals such as dogs are sport. As a result, they breed animals specifically for fighting.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 forbids animal fights to occur. People commit an offence under the Act if they attend an animal fight, arrange one, receive money for entrance to a fight, and publicise a fight.

People are also subject to prosecution if they keep or train an animal for use in a fight; make or take bets on a fight’s outcome; and publish or supply a video of an animal fight.

Infringements of Working Animals’ Rights

Inspectors from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) can check on the health and living conditions of working animals. The police may also become involved under the terms of the appropriate law.

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