For all of its small size the Netherlands is often a world leader when it comes to social policies. Its parliamentary representative democracy sparks legislation that is often the source of innovative social policies, ones that emerge as a result of coalition governments wherein the smaller parties are able to have their voices heard.
In 2010, just such a situation prevailed and the result was the enactment of far-reaching policies and legislation with regard to animal welfare and care. At the ground level, this legislation caused the establishment of an animal police force. In the years since, this group of 250 officers (many more are trained but do not carry out the function exclusively) has made a tremendous and positive impact on the lives of thousands of animals.
Like a humane society with guns, handcuffs and badges, these officers respond to calls to the animal emergency line – dial 144 from any phone in the Netherlands. On any given day the officers might rescue a sick seal stranded on a beach, call out a fire reel so that a dog left out on a balcony in a storm does not freeze to death, investigate a complaint from neighbours about an animal hoarder, or charge an owner who has brutally beaten his dog.
Penalties for such cruel, thoughtless actions can include stiff fines (up to $25,000), many hours of community service, a ban from animal ownership and prison terms. As with so many aspects of police work, however, the officers find that the education that can be carried out in the course of these investigations is of primary importance. Relationships develop during follow up visits and these often mean that ignorant behaviour can be forestalled. The work is a mix of animal protection and human social services, finding practical solutions to problems so often the result of ignorance.
Along with the establishment of the animal police force in the Netherlands, legislation known as the Animals Act became law in 2013. This Act assumes that animals are sentient beings (and not just property which is the case in Canada) and it guarantees animals freedom from thirst, hunger, physical and emotional discomfort, and chronic stress.
There is much to be learned from the experience and the reality of animal welfare support in the Netherlands. Theirs is an example worthy of being followed here in Canada by legislators and activists across the land.
Sandra Pady, Founder