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Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, has published a consultation on proposals to protect service animals whilst on active duty in Northern Ireland.

Announcing the consultation, Minister Poots said: “Like many others, I was concerned to learn of Finn, the police dog in England that was attacked on duty in 2016. Despite sustaining horrific injuries, Finn continued to intervene to save his handler.

“Unfortunately, Finn’s attacker was able to claim that he was protecting himself during his arrest and he was not prosecuted for animal welfare offences. Instead, Finn’s attacker was prosecuted for criminal damage. These animals are living, sentient creatures and should not be compared to inanimate objects.

“Service animals carry out invaluable work that can take them into very unpredictable and often dangerous situations. They play an essential part in keeping the brave men and women who protect us safe. It is important that we recognise their contribution by ensuring that they are adequately protected by the law.

“This consultation paper proposes that the law in Northern Ireland is brought in line with that elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Under the proposed change, an attacker will no longer be able to inflict suffering on a service animal injured in the course of active duty and claim that they were simply protecting themselves. Changing the law in this way should also act as a serious deterrent to those who think that they can harm these animals without repercussion.”

Minister Poots added: “This consultation also invites views on whether or not the sentencing powers currently available for causing unnecessary suffering to service animals should be increased and on whether specific offences should be introduced to deal with injury to, or the death of, a service animal. I would encourage all stakeholders and the general public to actively participate in this consultation.”

The Consultation closes on 11 August 2021 and is available to download from: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/consultations/consultation-additional-protection-service-animals-northern-ireland