Animal abusers could get up to five years in prison and repeat offenders could face as many as 10 years behind bars in Flanders, announced Flemish Minister of Animal Welfare Ben Weyts on Monday.
Previously, people convicted of mistreating or neglecting an animal faced up to €16,000 in fines or three months in jail for a first offence, and €100,000 in fines and 18 months in jail for repeated and severe abuse or neglect within a period of three years.
Weyts says these measures are ineffective when it comes to dissauding and punishing animal abusers.
Fines for first offences will be raised substantially: €800,000 for a first offence that is deemed serious, along with a prison sentence of up to five years.
“This is the moment when we say in Flanders: whoever mistreats animals will pay a real price,” Weyts said.
For the first time in Flanders, police will be able to immediately arrest an animal abuser for their first offence, then start an investigation right away.
Judges will also have the option to close down companies for five years, or even forever, in the issuing of sentences on businesses that mistreat animals.
Previously, a judge could order a business found to be engaging in the abuse or neglect of animals to close for up to three years.
The new option to close them for longer applies even to first time offenders, along with a judge’s choice to ban individuals from owning animals for life.
“We are working on a deterrence policy,” said Weyts. “In the past, there was not even talk of effective prison sentences for animal criminals.”
“A few years ago, we made sure that you could effectively go to jail if you continued to abuse or neglect animals. Now we are taking a big next step, with a clear message: in Flanders we will no longer accept it if you mistreat animals.”
For repeat offenders - businesses and citizens alike - the punishments are severe.
Fines for recidivists can now climb to €1.6 million, and the prison sentence can be up to 10 years.
The definition for recidivist is also being broadened: in the past, individuals had to commit several offences within three years in order to be classified as a repeat offender; now, that period has increased to five years.
According to Weyts’ office, in Flanders, the proceeds of fines go to the Animal Welfare Fund, which is used for the proper care of confiscated animals, awareness campaigns and scientific research, among other things.
“This is the crowning glory of our work: serious punishments for animal abusers who really deserve it,” Weyts said.
“Those who do not want to hear, will feel.”