by Alexandra Semyonova
The politics of assembling the present Dutch coalition government were expected to put 100 new “animal cops” on the beat in the Netherlands by the end of 2011, and to eventually increase the Dutch animal police force to 500 officers, according to election promises.
But the Dutch “animal police” never became a reality. The formation of the “animal police” was promised in 2010 by the coalition government that included Geert Wilders’ Party For Freedom. Twelve million euros were spent setting up a new and unnecessary central telephone number for reporting animal crimes, developing a training program, and paying the first salaries involved.
Then the Party For Freedom withdrew from the coalition government, which collapsed on April 23, 2012. During negotiations for the formation of a new coalition government, the whole “animal police” plan was abandoned. Instead of “animal police,” investigating crimes against animals would be added to the job descriptions of up to 500 regular police. As of May 2013 there were actually 125 police officers for whom investigating crimes against animals had become an official duty.
In short, the situation in the Netherlands now is much how it was when the Dutch SPCA Inspection Service was the only agency handling animal-related investigations––except that millions of euros were wasted. Dutch SPCA inspectors still do almost all of the work. The 125 police officers who got a bit of extra training usually call in Dutch SPCA officers to assist if they respond to an animal-related call.
There were problems with the 2011 plan anyway.
The “animal police” would only have dealt with pets and companion animals, not with farmed animals. Only the Dutch SPCA inspectors dealt with and still deal with farm animals, including things like international transport.
The announcement of the “animal police” plan brought a 60% increase in reports of animal abuse and neglect, yet no extra money was appropriated to ensure the prosecution of perpetrators, nor for transporting, providing veterinary care, and sheltering any animals the “animal police” confiscated.
The maximum penalties for animal neglect or abuse were increased, but the perennial bottlenecks in prosecution remain, including lack of prosecutorial interest in animal-related cases, and lack of the specialized knowledge needed to prosecute crimes against animals effectively.
Judges also continue to lack interest in animal-related cases, and to lack the specialized knowledge needed to respond effectively to them. People convicted of abuse and neglecters still almost always get their animals back.
The 2011 plan has, however, led to the 125 police officers who have been designated as “animal police” having almost no time for their other duties.
Local Dutch SPCA inspectors continue to solve the vast majority of animal cases, not by means of legal coercion, but by talking to the alleged offenders, informing them about animal needs, making repeated visits to ensure that instructions are followed, helping the indigent to find financial aid for veterinary care and properly feeding animals, calling in social services to help when appropriate, etc.
This is the most effective way to handle most cruelty and neglect complaints, since most result from poverty and ignorance, and punishing people and confiscating animals often does not put the animals in a better situation.
The Dutch SPCA Inspection Service continues to have two sets of employees.
There are 15 “special detectives” empowered by the same section of law that empowers Dutch police of any kind. They are authorized to enforce only laws pertaining to the well-being of pets, farmed animals, and wildlife. In enforcing the Dutch animal protection laws, the “special detectives” can do everything regular police can do except carry firearms. They may enter yards and farms, but not homes, without permission or a search warrant in order to inspect animals. If they need to use force, they can call in regular police or ask bystanders for assistance.
There are about 150 local inspectors. Some are paid; some are volunteers. These are ordinary citizens. They have no special powers or authority given by any law. If they need assistance, they call regular police.
The SPCA is the official employer of both kinds of inspectors and pays their salaries. For volunteers, the SPCA pays expenses incurred in doing the volunteer work. (gas, bus tickets, telephone bills).
The humane situation has grossly deteriorated here in the Netherlands since the pit bull ban introduced in 1993 was lifted in 2008. Abuse and neglect complaints to my local SPCA inspection office increased by 50% in the first year after the ban was lifted––people were getting pit bulls, only to neglect and abuse them once they had them. Within three years, the flood of pit bulls coming into shelters was bankrupting many urban shelters. Hundreds of pit bulls, formerly seldom seen, are now euthanized every year because no one wants them.
Dogfighting is back. Dutch SPCA inspectors are not authorized to deal with that, only regular police. But the regular police are not effectively dealing with it, mostly because of the difficulty of catching dogfighters in the act.
Back yard breeding has increased, mostly of pit bulls, but breeding dogs is not regulated in the Netherlands. Owning inherently dangerous dogs is no longer illegal here, so even the regular police pay little attention to the mayhem that pit bulls are causing. Here in Den Haag, pit bulls in 2011 mauled or killed other pet dog every other day, on average, counting only cases in which police accepted a report.
However, the pit bull problem would be the same regardless of whether the “animal police” had ever become a reality. No one can enforce laws that don’t exist.
[Alexandra Semyonova, a dog behaviorist and former Dutch SPCA inspector, is author of The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs (Hastings Press, 2009.)]