Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Written evidence submitted by Battersea Dogs & Cats Home
1.1 Founded in 1860, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home is one of the oldest and best-known animal welfare organisations in the world. Our expertise has been developed for over 150 years due to our work on the front line of animal welfare and our non-selective animal intake policy.
1.2 The Home aims never to turn away a dog or cat in need of our help. Our intake policy means that we take in dogs regardless of their age, breed, medical condition or temperament. Battersea reunites lost dogs and cats with their owners and if the Home is unable to locate an owner, no time limit is placed on an animal’s time at the charity until a new home can be found.
1.3 Battersea engages Government and politicians to help develop solutions to irresponsible dog ownership problems. Our main concern is ineffective legislation which does not help support these solutions. This makes it much harder to advocate responsible ownership with the public and local communities when it is not backed up effectively with legislation.
1.4 Following the previous 2010 dangerous dogs consultation, we had the expectation of a White Paper to suggest a way forward. Battersea was very disappointed that the Government decided instead to undertake a second consultation when the announcement was made on 23 April 2012.
1.5 Battersea supports the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Parliamentary Select Committee’s timely decision to hold this inquiry on dog control, legislation and welfare issues. We believe this inquiry will make a significant contribution to the debate to find solutions to dog control problems. We look forward to EFRA’s report and conclusions in due course.
2. Battersea’s response to the EFRA Committee’s Inquiry Questions
Q: Are the approaches proposed by Defra in its announcement on “Tackling Irresponsible Dog Ownership” on 23 April 2012 sufficient to ensure that there is a reduction in the number of attacks by dogs on people and animals?
2.1 No. Battersea believes that Defra’s proposals do not go far enough to reduce the number of attacks by dogs on people and animals. Furthermore, Defra’s proposals are also partly reliant on the success of the newly created Community Protection Notices and Crime Prevention Injunctions to be enacted by the Home Office.
2.2 Defra has consulted on four new proposals; microchipping, extending legislation to private property, allowing Section 1 dogs to remain with their owner during a court process and increasing the fee to add dogs to the Index of Exempted Dogs.
2.3 In March 2010, Defra consulted on seven different options for tackling dangerous dog problems. Defra released the conclusions of the previous consultation in November 2010, key headlines that Battersea welcomed:—
88% believing breed specific legislation is ineffective.
71% wanting breed specific legislation repealed.
68% believing Dog Control Notices are an effective preventative measure.
84% supporting microchipping of all dogs.
78% supporting consolidated legislation.
2.4 Since November 2010, Battersea and other sector charities have been trying to predict what measures the Government would bring forward and when and how they would be announced. We understand the Government indicated, up until the 23 April 2012, 6 announcement deadlines but did not manage to achieve any of them.
2.5 Battersea did not expect another consultation which gives no clear direction on when proposals will be enacted, particularly compulsory microchipping and an extension of legislation to private property, which we feel are particularly urgent. We hope the Government will give clear timelines when it reaches a decision after the consultation responses have been analysed.
2.6 Only one indication is given in the consultation when microchipping could be introduced, which is from 1 April 2014. We remain very concerned about this long timeframe and the number of potential serious dog control incidents that could happen between now and then.
Q: Is there a need for a more fundamental overhaul of dog legislation, and its enforcement, including that relating to dog attacks on people, livestock and pets?
3.1 Yes. Following the General Election the Coalition Government set out its “Programme for Government” where it stated that it will “…promote responsible pet ownership….and will ensure that enforcement agencies target irresponsible owners of dangerous dogs”1 We believe the Coalition Government must update and consolidate dog control laws to make them fit for enforcement agencies to use, if they wish to deliver on this commitment.
3.2 The earliest enforceable dog legislation dates from 1839 and there are around 18 dog control laws, often found within other Acts of Parliament. They are almost wholly reactive in nature and often a dog attack must take place before a law can be applied.
3.3 Given that central Government has not run any communication campaigns to make the public aware of their legal responsibilities with dogs, we believe there is a lack of public awareness of dog laws.
3.4 At present, enforcers have to wait for an incident to occur before they can step in and deal with the animal and its owner, which can be costly and does not protect public safety or animal welfare. There should be a similar approach to that contained in the Animal Welfare Act (2006) whereby authorities can take much earlier action, often only having to work with the owner rather than prosecute.
3.5 In 2010–11 there were 6,120 hospital admissions due to dog-related injuries. This represents a 5% increase from the previous year. This figure represents approximately half the 12,410 animal-related injuries during the 12-month period, which is up 1.8% compared to the last year.2
3.6 Between the closure of the first consultation on 1 June 2010 and the closure of the second consultation on 15 June 2012; Battersea has seen:—
350 Section 1 dogs brought into the Home, despite their ban in 1991.
5,943 strays, but only 1,564 were claimed by their owners.
Q: Is sufficient action being taken on pets raised as status dogs to ensure their welfare and reduce their impact on communities?
4.1 No, we do not feel sufficient action is being taken and Battersea has experienced the full effects of using bull breeds as the status dog of choice.
4.2 In 2011, bull breeds, such as Mastiffs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers (SBTs), made up 47% of Battersea’s intake. 61% of all SBTs arriving at the Home were stray dogs, with only 22% of these dogs reunited with their owners. Bull breeds are effective dogs for use by irresponsible owners who want to use them as status dogs, due to their obedient and loyal tendencies.
4.3 Battersea is also now experiencing new trends in status dogs. Since 2010, there has been a 35% increase in the numbers of Huskies and Malamutes being brought into the Home.
4.4 Some of these dogs are unsocialised when they come into contact with humans and other animals. As a result, Battersea is forced to make very difficult decisions and 29% of the dogs that arrive are not suitable to be rehomed and have to be put to sleep. They present real risks to public safety, or have been so cruelly treated that they have significant behavioural and medical problems.
Action being taken
4.5 Apart from the work of the Metropolitan Police status dogs unit, in Battersea’s experience limited preventative work is being undertaken by Local Authorities to reduce the use of certain breeds of dog as status symbols.
4.6 Battersea has advised Government that it must get to the source of the problem and to where these dogs are being bred. For example, the Government has no knowledge nor has undertaken any assessment of the numbers of Section 1 dogs that there are in the country. There is also a major loophole in the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) as there is no power to prevent the importation of a Section 1 dog into the United Kingdom. This issue is potentially further exacerbated with the January 2012 relaxation of the UK pet passport scheme.3
4.7 Internet websites have informed Battersea that they do not intend to stop selling dogs online, with one website displaying 13,000 adverts for dogs. As a solution, we are providing advice to these websites on how to recognise a potential Section 1 dogs being sold, preventing dogs being sold for fighting and baiting, and reducing the numbers of bull breeds being sold for £1. With our partners on the Pet Advertising Advisory Group, we are urging these websites to introduce self-regulation and adopt codes of practice to improve standards of dog sales.
4.8 Battersea is also advising Local Authorities on the breeding and welfare of dogs within the Local Authority council housing stock. We have worked closely with Lambeth Council, to encourage them to insert clauses into their tenancies to help prevent breeding and the sale of dogs from their properties and identification of legitimately owned dogs.
4.9 Whilst this is a small step, there is a vast section of private rented accommodation that Local Authorities do not control, which could have indiscriminate dog breeding and selling taking place. Local Authorities inform us that this is a huge issue, fuelled by the internet, but they do not have the resources to assess the scale of the problem, nor the resources or powers to enforce penalties.
Q: Will compulsory microchipping of puppies improve dog welfare and help prevent dog attacks at an affordable cost to dog owners? Should a dog licensing scheme also be considered?
5.1 Battersea supports the compulsory microchipping of all dogs, not just puppies. Although not a catch-all solution in its own right and one that will not prevent dog attacks, we believe that microchipping will help provide an essential framework for creating a culture of responsible ownership of dogs. But, even this would not be an enduring solution by itself.
5.2 In 2011, only 28% of the dogs arriving at Battersea were identifiable by a microchip, but one third of these dogs had incorrect information on the registered keeper. Where there are cases of incorrect information, over 90% of registered owners inform us that they have sold or passed the dog on and are not interested in reclaiming their previously owned dog. No enforcement action can be taken against these irresponsible owners and Battersea has to pick up the pieces and find a new home.
5.3 Identification of dogs in public places is already a legal requirement, but is unenforced. At present, basic legal requirements of identification are not being adhered to under the Dog Control Order (1992) which states that dogs must wear collar and tag identification in public at all times. In 2011, only 2% of the dogs arriving at Battersea had this legally required identification. This is existing legislation which could easily feature as part of Defra’s future new package of measures for irresponsible dog ownership.
5.4 The Government’s proposal to microchip just puppies will not tackle dog welfare or effectively identify stray dogs. Those people that are guilty of backstreet breeding puppies will continue to do so without any enforcement.
5.5 Without enforcement, we believe that the current proposals will only lead to a small section of dogs being microchipped in England and those irresponsible owners will avoid their dogs being microchipped.
5.6 Battersea believes that the system of dog licensing which was withdrawn in the 1980s should not be reintroduced. Microchipping is a modern method of identification and we believe that the element of compulsion should be enforced. A microchip stays with a dog, whereas a dog licence does not.
Q: Should the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 be extended to include offences committed on private property?
6.1 Yes, this is one of the urgent matters that we believe the Government should address as soon as possible.
6.2 Battersea believes that Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) must be extended to all places including where the dog has a right to be (inside and outside of a home).
6.3 According to the Communications Workers Union, 70% of attacks take place on private property, where a dog is permitted to be. 4 NHS statistics show that the age group 0–9 years are at significant risk of being attacked, injured or killed within domestic premises, more than any other age group. 5
6.4 It is important to note that extending the legislation in this way will not prevent dog attacks from taking place on private property, as the law will apply after the event has taken place. Battersea would prefer any legislation be extended and include Dog Control Notices, which may mean that a suspected dangerous dog will need to be controlled in a private place as well as public places.
Q: Are Defra’s proposals for wider community and educational approaches to support responsible dog ownership sufficiently ambitious?
7.1 No. Battersea believes that Government needs to provide better guidance on where the Government’s role in responsible dog ownership work ends and where the sector’s work realistically starts.
7.2 Battersea’s community engagement team works across London and target areas that have a significant operational impact on the Home, by the number of bull breeds received, high numbers of stray dogs, high numbers of Section 1 dogs and a working partnership commitment on community engagement from a Local Authority.
7.3 The Home is very proactive in promoting responsible ownership initiatives and in 2011 engaged with 12,000 young people across London, conducting workshops on safety around dogs, prevention of anti-social behaviour with dogs, raising awareness on the impact that buying a bull breed has on Battersea, and sought to help change perceptions that bull breeds are only a status breed.
7.4 The Home welcomed Defra’s £20,000 grant support for our community engagement work in Lambeth and Lewisham, which aims to engage 600 young people in target schools where there are dog control problems. We also plan to permanently identify through collar and tag or microchipping 500 dogs in these communities by March 2013.
7.5 Battersea understands that Defra’s grant for community engagement work will not be continued. However in reality we fear, £20k will not help achieve any long-term behavioural change, only limited awareness raising. We hope that this initiative can be re-visited by Defra as a policy priority.
7.6 We have expressed the need for Defra to do more to help promote responsible ownership of dogs by supporting on-going long term projects with sustainable funding. This could be achieved by improving its own website to remove messaging that supports a negative perception of dogs, and introducing more regular public endorsements of responsible ownership.
Q: Do local authorities, the police and animal welfare charities have the right roles in managing stray dogs under the current legislative regime?
8.1 Battersea believes that the Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act (2005) did create workable structures for stray dogs. However, in practice the legislation is too weak to separate the lines of responsibility and lacks proper resource. Stray dogs are still received daily by Battersea, directly from members of the public or the police, without any Local Authority involvement.
8.2 Section 68 of the Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act came into force on Monday 7 April 2008, which removed responsibility for stray dogs from the police to Local Authorities.
8.3 Battersea believes that the stark reality of the workings of Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act for stray dog services has created inconsistent funding for stray dog services. Central Government provided in the region of £4m this equates to approximately £12,000 per Local Authority (although the money was distributed proportionately) but it was not ring-fenced.
8.4 From an animal welfare perspective, the poor funding was met with weak guidance, issued by Defra in October 2007. It explained that: “…in short the minimum requirement of the extended duty is that where practicable Local Authorities provide a place to which dogs can be taken outside normal office hours.” 6
8.5 Battersea believes the phrase “where practicable” has created a situation where in some areas the service post-April 2008, no longer provided an out of hours service, with Local Authorities stating that it was not “practicable” to provide any kind of services beyond the normal office hours.
8.6 Battersea’s experience is that there is no appetite in Government to change this situation. However we understand from a Parliamentary Question that a review of stray dogs services, under Section 68 of Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act, is underway. At present, it is not clear as to the parameters of the review and when findings will be made public. 7
Impact of the Legislation
8.7 The impact of this legislation on Battersea was immediate. In 2008, when the new powers came into effect, the Home saw a large increase in stray dog numbers, resulting in over 1,100 more strays arriving at Battersea in 2008 than in 2007. This caused the charity to exceed its operational capacity in terms of its kennelling facilities.
8.8 In 2011, 54% of the dogs arriving at Battersea were strays. Battersea continues to accept stray dogs, from Local Authorities and members of the public 24 hours a day, even though we are not legally obliged to do so. This policy continues to assist Local Authorities with their statutory responsibilities, sometimes free of charge.
8.9 In London the level and quality of dog control service provision varies dramatically. It is now four years since full responsibility for local dog warden services was passed from the Metropolitan Police to Local Authorities under the Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act. However, there are still London boroughs that are failing to provide an effective and sustainable local service, resulting in Battersea taking in strays directly from members of the public, not through the dog warden.
8.10 Battersea believes that Local Authorities should be responsible for dog control. However, better resource should be given from central Government for those Authorities that are continuing to struggle with their legal responsibilities, and rely on Battersea to pick up their lack of service provision.
Q: Has the response by dog breeders and the veterinary profession been effective?
9.1 Serious welfare concerns regarding dog breeding were raised by a BBC television programme in 2008 and we understand the EFRA Select Committee is referring to the Bateson Report following health and welfare issues surrounding pedigree dogs.
9.2 It should be noted that in late 2009 and early 2010 three separate reports were published recommending the creation of an independent Advisory Council to provide advice regarding the welfare issues relating to dog breeding. The Bateson report in particular advocates developing breeding strategies, addressing issues of inherited disease, extreme conformation and inbreeding.
9.3 Battersea supported the setting up of the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding and we understand from the Council that they will be making recommendations shortly. We support the fact that a key team of experts should look at these issues seriously and make the necessary recommendations to Government for action.
Q: What actions should Government take to address these issues?
10.1 Battersea believes there are two aspects of breeding that need to be addressed. Firstly, welfare issues which are enforced by the breeding of dogs legislation, and secondly, tackling the overbreeding that is taking place within domestic properties to provide a cash-based income, often concerning bull breed dogs.
10.2 Battersea understands that Defra views current breeding of dogs’ legislation as sufficient to deal with welfare concerns relating to breeding and the requirement for Local Authorities to licence commercial breeding in breeding establishments.
10.3 We understand that any recommendations from the Advisory Council will be considered by the Government. Battersea would like these recommendations to be acted upon by Defra, with the potential to introduce new legislation to tackle overbreeding of dogs in commercial premises and their sale.8
10.4 Battersea has made representations to Defra regarding dog breeding, particularly the inability of Local Authorities to be able to tackle overbreeding of dogs in their communities. However, in a response to the Home, Defra informed us that it believed current legislation is sufficient to tackle overbreeding of dogs.
10.5 The Breeding and Sales of Dogs (Welfare) Act (1999) regulates breeding (and the intention to breed), more than five litters per year and sell dogs as a business which must be licensed. Battersea firmly believes that this legislation is unenforced and contains many loop-holes that allow overbreeding within local communities. 9
10.6 Local Authority partners have informed Battersea of their inability to tackle overbreeding in domestic properties as they do not have sufficient trained officers and they lack legislative powers to do so. Defra have informed us that they believe the best way forward is the non-governmental self-regulatory controls and better education, not legislation for backstreet breeding.
10.7 As a result, and instead of tackling the breeding, we have advised Local Authority partners to study the example of Dundee Council, which was able to reduce the numbers of unwanted dogs in its communities by neutering strays. Up until 1988, every year around 2,400 stray dogs were taken into a local shelter and about a third of them were put to sleep.
10.8 Dundee Council started a neutering programme for dogs that were to be re-homed from the pound and also for privately owned productive bitches. Within 5 years the number of stray dogs collected fell 50% and the number of puppies collected also fell dramatically (1988: 447, 1993: 73, 1998: 1). 10
10.9 On a pan-London level we have encouraged the Mayor of London and his Greater London Authority officials to support dog neutering schemes in local communities, to offer free or reduced neutering for dogs. The case of Dundee may be different in terms of the breeds of dogs that were being dealt with, however we believe this is a real potential solution to some of the significant unwanted dog problems in the capital and throughout England.
Q: Are further controls required on dog breeders, including puppy farms, and those selling or importing dogs to ensure the welfare of bitches and puppies?
11.1 Yes. Battersea believes that Defra must consider updating new legislation, once they receive recommendations from the Advisory Council.
11.2 Battersea is very concerned about welfare issues at puppy farms and in particular that bitches are often kept in small pens without natural daylight or contact with other dogs and are overbred from, then discarded when no longer required.
11.3 We would recommend EFRA examines the proposals of the Welsh Government on the breeding of dogs, given Wales’ considerable problems over the years with puppy farming and importation of puppies from Irish puppy farms through Welsh ports.
11.4 In England, given the lack of priority to tackle these issues, we have as a short-term awareness-raising exercise, recently worked with the Government website www.direct.gov.uk to improve the section on “buying a dog”.
11.5 We believe Defra should make improvements to its own website to ensure there is more information on responsible dog ownership and the buying and selling of pets, with appropriate guidance on the potential “puppy farmed” or backstreet bred origins of dogs bought from pet shops or internet websites.
2 NHS Information Centre http://www.ic.nhs.uk/news-and-events/news/hospital-admissions-caused-by-dogs-on-the-rise-say-provisional-figures-which-highlight-seasonal-and-regional-patterns
3 Hansard –– 4 November 2009 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm091104/text/91104w0013.htm#091104117001635
4 CWU – http://www.cwu.org/dangerous-dogs-bite-back.html
5 NHS Information Centre - http://www.hesonline.nhs.uk/Ease/servlet/ContentServer?siteID=1937&categoryID=864
6 Defra Guidance http://archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/local/dogs/strays.htm
7 Hansard 9 February 2012 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201212/cmhansrd/cm120209/text/120209w0002.htm#12020963001385
8 Hansard 1 May 2012 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201212/cmhansrd/cm120501/text/120501w0001.htm#12050228000452
9 Hansard 31 January 2011 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110131/text/110131w0003.htm#11013131001644
10 Dogs, Zoonoses and Public Health, (CAB International 2000)