PETS across the area face a brighter future thanks to new laws for the welfare of animals.

On Friday, the Animal Welfare Act came into force, introducing a duty of care for pet owners to make sure their animals are looked after properly.

As well as increasing the penalties for those who inflict the most serious offences, the act makes it a legal requirement for owners to meet their pets' needs.

This includes a proper diet, somewhere suitable to live, any need to be housed with or apart from other animals, the ability to express normal behaviour and protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

The new law also increases to 16 the minimum age at which a person can buy an animal and prohibits giving animals as prizes to unaccompanied children under this age.

RSPCA vet David Grant said: "The Animal Welfare Act is of great significance to the many thousands of animals that suffer through neglect, and for those of us that work to help prevent suffering."

Local animal rights campaigner Nicky Brooks welcomed the legislation but says it raises further questions.

She said: "I hope it works, I really do, but I'd be interested to know how the rules are applied to dogs that are tied up all day, or ponies that are tethered.

"One of the points made is animals should be able to express normal behaviour but what about rabbits cooped up in small hutches - that is not normal for them."

According to The Blue Cross animal charity, 45 per cent of the population own pets and spend an average of £226 a year on their animals.

But as organisations such as Mid-Cheshire Animal Welfare, in Middlewich Road, can testify, not everyone looks after their pets.

Founder Pat Emerson said: "It can only be for the good because the RSPCA will get the power to stop the suffering before it starts.

"But there will be teething problems because there are a lot of other acts to consider.

"It will make people responsible for their pets but it is going to be expensive."

She added: "The point I would make is think twice before taking on a pet. You may have the best intentions but circumstances can change. The bottom line is you must be able to take care of them."

Under the new legislation, anyone who is cruel to an animal or does not provide for its welfare needs may be banned from owning animals, fined up to £20,000 and/or sent to prison.