Dog Control and Welfare
Written evidence submitted by Greater Merseyside Dog Welfare Forum
1. Background to the Merseyside Dog Welfare Forum
The Dog Forum was established in 2002 to consider the issue of dog welfare and to give organisations the opportunity to work together to promote responsible dog ownership in and around the Merseyside area.
Forum membership includes representatives from ten local authorities, two police forces, the Merseyside Guide Dogs Association and has the support of a number of national animal charities (RSPCA, Dogs Trust and PDSA) as well as other professionals working on the ‘front line’ in all matters involving dogs and their care and welfare.
Each year The Forum hosts a three week dog welfare road-show, with events being held at various locations across the region, providing free health checks, free micro-chipping and offering advice on neutering opportunities and other aspects of dog ownership, care and welfare.
This is a great opportunity to promote responsible dog ownership in a very positive way.
The views contained in this submission are a summary of the thoughts and opinions expressed at forum meetings. The views have not been formally endorsed by each individual local authority or by the organisations that forum members represent, but nevertheless I believe them to be a true and accurate reflection of the strong feelings held by people who work on a daily basis with the issue of dog care and control.
2. Comments on Dog Control
The Forum welcomes the proposals made by DEFRA on 23 April 2012 in its announcement on ‘Tackling Irresponsible Dog Ownership’. The proposals are a small step in the right direction but it is felt that this has been a missed opportunity and that the government has not gone far enough.
It is hard to see how the proposals, as they stand, will effectively tackle the danger of irresponsible dog ownership to both people and other animals. The new proposals will not address the growing problem of irresponsible ownership and will not make any huge stride forward as far as dog welfare is concerned.
The Forum would make the following points:-
i. Dog control legislation needs to be consolidated, updated and simplified. The proposal to protect people against dogs that are dangerously out of control on private property is a positive move but it will do nothing to prevent dog bites and attacks. Dog attacks on livestock and pets should be made criminal offences and special consideration should be given as to how best to deal with attacks on guide and or assistance dogs.
ii. We do not believe that sufficient action is being taken to deal with pets raised as ‘status dogs’. We believe that more resources should be made available to improve the education of dog owners and children and young people should be taught the lessons and benefits of responsible dog ownership at an early age.
iii. Whilst compulsory micro-chipping will not, on its own, be a catch-all solution for protecting the public from dangerous dogs and irresponsible dog owners, it would be a great way forward towards identifying owners and making them responsible for their dogs actions. Micro-chipping brings with it so many benefits, but to have the greatest impact Forum members believe that the option to have all dogs micro-chipped from a fixed date would be the best way forward. Further legislative provision also needs to be made to ensure that any changes of ownership and owner contact details are notified to the national data base whenever they occur. The idea of a dog licensing/registration scheme could be considered with the problems and benefits being fully explored.
iv. The provisions of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 in respect of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control should be extended to private property. There should not be any area or location exempt from this legislation (if a person has a legitimate right to be there whether in a business or social capacity).
v. DEFRA’s proposals for community and educational approaches to dealing with irresponsible ownership are welcomed. A multi-agency approach in engaging with the dog owners within our community is our best chance of making a real difference. However the provision of £50,000 would appear to be a totally inadequate response to supporting projects and initiatives across the country if real progress is to be made and a change of attitude is to be brought about. The proposal is ‘commendable’ but could not be classed as ‘highly ambitious’.
vi. The roles and responsibilities in issues surrounding the management of stray and abandoned dogs are a little unclear. Statutory responsibilities need to be re-classed as duties, legislation needs to be updated and simplified and the benefits of a multi-agency approach involving local authorities, the Police and animal charities must be recognised and encouraged at every opportunity.
3. Comments on Dog Welfare
In respect of the concerns expressed by Professor Bateson’s Report over poor welfare that has occurred in the course of breeding dogs the Forum would make the following brief observations:-
(i) In general the response to the report from dog breeders and the veterinary profession has been slow and has appeared to have made little impact on improving dog welfare.
(ii) The matter of dog breeding must be addressed through animal welfare legislation. A specific code of practice should be introduced to cover the matter if any real progress is to be made
(iii) The problem of large numbers of stray and abandoned dogs will never be reduced until the unnecessary over breeding of dogs is controlled. As long as the legislative controls remain unclear and inadequate then people will continue to breed dogs, to sell and import them for financial gain with little or no regard whatsoever for the welfare of either the bitches or the puppies that are produced.