Dog Control and Welfare
Written evidence submitted by Frances Ellis and Margaret Brady, Animals in Need
We would like you to consider the following comments concerning the measures on tackling irresponsible dog ownership.
We are retired research scientists and trustees of Animals In Need. We have worked at the Sanctuary for over 20yrs. We have experience of rescuing dogs of all types, including recently rising numbers of bull breeds. We do regular checks on homes to assess suitability of new owners.
We work closely with the RSPCA and Dogs Trust and liaise with dog wardens. Police officers have often referred members of the public with dog related issues to us. We have also re-homed bull terriers for the police (after being classed as not Pit Bull type). We offer a neutering and micro-chipping service as well as practical advice on responsible dog ownership and management of bull terriers. This includes home checking for safety. Our home checks are to a high standard and our judgement is trusted by other organisation as well as police officers who have requested that we re-home dogs on their behalf. The courts have also released dog into our care for re-homing.
In response to your bullet points:
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?
The dangerous dog legislation has been in force for over 20yrs and yet it has not been used to target the right people and dogs. Many friendly obedient and family pets have been seized and subjected to months and months in police kennels, often suffering welfare issues, all this because they resemble a banned breed. They have never offended and neither have their owners. Yet they are dragged through the courts at great costs to the tax payer, the owner and most importantly the dog’s welfare. The law should be targeted at owners whose dogs are out of control and injure livestock and pets as well as humans.
Is sufficient action being taken on pets raised as status dogs to ensure their welfare and reduce their impact on communities?
In our experience nearly all these dogs can be retrained. If owners are unwilling to comply remove the dog and rehome it. If appropriate, ban the owner under the animal welfare act. The RSPCA have the power to do this. Parents and family members should take responsibility for the choice of dog that they bring into their home and for the access they allow for children in relation to the dog. The buck should stop with family members to choose the right pet and safe guard their children in the family home. Owners should be encouraged to undergo training with their dogs and this should be made available through local councils and animal welfare groups. This is something that Animals In Need is actively promoting. Dogs are graded and carefully placed with appropriate owners.
At the end of the day, dogs do not commit premeditated acts of violence; they respond to a stimulus and to what is expected of them by their owner.
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?
A voluntary licensing with neutering and micro-chipping incentives is a starting point to distinguish between the most responsible and those that need guidance or a push in the right directions. Why can’t we offer this in the first instance?
We are very pro micro-chipping on welfare grounds. Chipping enables us to trace the dogs we rehome. This exists throughout the dog’s life as they remain registered to Animals In Need. The same protection won’t exist for privately owned dogs because we find that many dogs are given away indiscriminately. The new owner doesn’t register the dog with their details and often the original owner had disappeared. It leaves a dog with a chip but with no one willing to claim it.
We regularly assist and rehome dogs from dog pounds, although micro-chipped, many of these middle aged dogs are not claimed. We need to understand the reasons behind this. Micro-chipping will not prevent dogs from being abandoned or being used inappropriately. It needs to be asked ‘Why are so many dogs being abandoned?’
Should the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 be extended to include offences committed on private property?
The present Act doesn’t always target the right people. There is already misuse of the Act. Responsible law abiding people are caught up in a Draconian law. We don’t need to add to this, common sense should prevail and good guidance should be in place.
Are Defra’s proposals for wider community and educational approaches to support responsible dog ownership sufficiently ambitious?
Do local authorities, the police and animal welfare charities have the right roles in managing stray dogs under the current legislative regime?
Yes, if the welfare organisations such as ourselves are consulted, we are in the front line. We know only too well what happens on a day to day basis. We need to be empowered. We have access to home and people will talk to us about dog related issues before it becomes a major problem. They are often afraid to talk to officials of authority.
It is very important, at this stage, that animal welfare organisations have a prominent role. This will avoid the inhumane consequences when the dangerous dog act was implemented to target specific breeds. We have seen firsthand in court how this doesn’t work. It would seem that most right thinking people agree that the present breed specific legislation is not addressing the problem. To extend it would be compounding an existing injustice. No one breed is bad.
As we who run animal sanctuaries know, it’s not entire breeds that are vicious; individuals of any breed can prove to be aggressive.
The act has enabled dogs and their owners to be pursued in a way that can only be described as a ‘witch hunt’. It is lunacy to throw public money and police resources at dogs that are not vicious and who have responsible owners. The money and human resources could be better used to target bad owners and vicious dogs.
The full force of the law should not be used to seize dogs when there hasn’t been any criminal activity. The owner should be given guidance on registration. The animal welfare organisations could assume this role, i.e arranging micro-chipping, neutering, control and training. This has been done successfully in the past on Merseyside.
In respect to concerns expressed in Professor Bateson’s report over poor welfare that has arisen in the course of breeding dogs:
Most responsible dog owners already comply and others do with guidance. But its rogue breeders that need to be targeted. Individuals will breed dogs in their own gardens and kitchens as a cash crop. They don’t pay taxes. They are not interested in welfare at all. The dogs are sold in pubs, pet shops, advertised in shop windows, on websites such as Gumtree and in puppy farms for further breeding. Controlling the problem of dogs can only be done by controlling breeding. Only registered welfare-checked responsible breeders and rescue organisations should be allowed to re-home dogs. Steps can then be taken to ensure that the dogs are placed in a correct environment, micro-chipped and neutered where their needs, correct training and vet care are provided.
Sadly, what is overlooked are dogs being destroyed in their 1000s throughout the country. Dog rescues centres are overwhelmed with numbers and are finding it difficult to find homes for all breeds. Yet breeders still insist on adding to this problem by producing more litters in particular Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Crosses of this breed get caught up in the Pit Bull legislation. We believe there are 7-8 million dogs in the country and it’s something like .05% of those dogs that offend. Some of those offences are minor only the sensational cases reach the headlines. Every day we read of children being brutalised and murdered by individuals parents and entrusted family members. In these cases the law seeks to punish the perpetrator not just someone that happens to be the same colour, size and similar in appearance.
Has the response by dog breeders and the veterinary profession been effective?
What actions should Government take to address these issues?
Empower the animal welfare organizations. Consult us.
Are further controls required on dog breeders, including puppy farms, and those selling or importing dogs to ensure the welfare of bitches and puppies?
We have already covered some of this in micro-chipping and licensing. But would further like to state that there should be no sale of dogs from pet shops and puppy farms, as neutering and micro-chipping is very rarely enforced. Responsible breeders must apply for a licence each time and licences be denied if there are too many of a specific breed, ie the bull breeds. There are enough of these dogs in animal welfare organisations throughout the country to supply any need. A crack down on breeding in council houses and private homes is urgently needed. Welfare organisations have a vested interest in helping and supporting. We see the suffering firsthand. A controlled census with major input from animal welfare organisations offering neutering and micro-chipping. As stated before a voluntary is a starting point.
To summarise, this is not just a dog problem. There are major social implications. Dogs have played a big role in family life, but family life is not as it used to be.
It’s time for common sense to prevail and for the law to be applied with full force to the person holding or not holding the lead. The law as it stands is clearly not working.