Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Written evidence submitted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)

Irresponsible dog ownership is an increasing problem. Trends show an increase in the number of dangerous and stray dogs, prosecutions for cruelty and dog attacks. The RSPCA believes these can only be reversed by a holistic approach of preventative legislation, increased/targeted resources, and joined up education programmes.

Increased resources could be sourced from a dog licensing scheme. Government in England has proposed compulsory microchipping, which may improve stray dogs, but will not affect dog control. It has proposed some anti-social behaviour (ASB) measures and limited funding for education programmes whose impact is unclear.

No measures have been proposed to improve the scale/standard of dog breeding though in Wales such measures are being considered. The RSPCA fears that in England irresponsible dog ownership will continue to occupy more time/resources of enforcement agencies unless a more effective approach is taken.

1. As the leading private prosecutor for animal cruelty in England and Wales the RSPCA is pleased to respond to the inquiry into dog control and welfare. As a frontline responder we work closely with our colleagues in the police and local authorities to tackle these increasing problems.

2. Little data on dogs are centrally collected though dog bites, seizures, and prosecutions under relevant legislation.1 However a number of trends can be evaluated from data that does exist. The dog population in England is estimated to be 8.4 million and is rising. The number of dogs that are microchipped is estimated to be over 50% (4.2 million dogs)2 and is also rising.3

3. A number of parameters show increasing incidents involving dogs. Numbers of stray dogs have risen every year since 2008 (total rise 30%) after a steady decline in the previous 11 years. There could be a number of reasons for this including the increasing dog population, legislative changes, such as the change in stray dog provision, or the economic climate. The RSPCA is concerned that as the number of local authorities that do not provide 24-hour cover rises the stray problem will increase.

4. The number of incidents concerning prohibited and dangerous dogs has been increasing in the past six years. This could be down to a number of reasons such as fashion for certain types of dogs, increase in detection and enforcement, increase in irresponsible dog ownership.



S1(3) DDA4

S3(1) DDA5

S3(3) DDA6













































































5. Based on this information it is clear that even with increased enforcement in recent years the current legislation has not prevented attacks on people or animals or discouraged irresponsible ownership. This trend is not confined to England; legislation to control prohibited dog-types has also failed in other countries where it has been evaluated such as the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark.

6. The number of admissions to hospitals due to dog bites in England rose 5% over the past year to 6,120 people (2010–11). The RSPCA has seen a 16% increase in the number of convictions it has secured where the “victim” is a dog from 1,808 in 2009 to 2,105 in 2011.

7. Financial issues include police costs for kennelling dogs which are believed to be around £3.7 million per year (£2.6 million for Metropolitan police alone) and annual costs to the NHS estimated at over £3 milllion.

8. The RSPCA believes that these trends should be reversed as they are a drain on resources at a number of levels and pose a threat to dog welfare and human safety. To do this, a good understanding of the relationship between animal welfare and wider socio-economic issues is required and clear success indicators agreed. It is difficult to assess what problem Defra is trying to solve. The increase in dog bites is mentioned in their proposal and improving traceability is put forward as a policy objective but so is using microchipping as a deterrent and improving dog health/welfare.

9. Legislation on dog control has existed since 1871 and can be found in different places with different scopes which many enforcers believe causes barriers to its use. The Government has presented a number of proposals, including tackling the use of dogs in ASB,7 increasing the scope to cover private property, improving welfare of some seized dogs, requiring microchipping of dogs at birth, and grants for education programmes.

10. Increasing the scope of the law to include private property is welcome as it provides an opportunity for legal redress but it is not a preventative measure. There is scientific evidence to show that many dog attacks occur inside homes.

11. We support the proposal on seizure of dogs as it could reduce the time a dog is kept in a kennel. However, its impact on animal welfare or how it will work in practice is unclear. There are many other measures that would significantly improve the welfare of all dogs seized aside from those in the proposal such as deadlines for expert witnesses to produce reports, ability to re-home appropriate dogs to appropriate owners, or the ability to dispose of dogs when in their welfare interests prior to the conclusion of trial.

12. The proposal on microchipping is useful to allow for traceability of dogs back to their owners (providing the owner’s contact information remains up to date on a central database). RSPCA statistics show that only 48–49% of strays in England were returned to their owner between 2006–09. Microchipping can ensure lost/stray dogs are returned to their owners more quickly and may be useful for proving ownership in a prosecution but it does not solve irresponsible dog ownership. If it is to work there should be clear guidance on enforcement responsibility, a compulsion to update the database on change of owner and introduction within a year for all dogs.

13. Breed specific legislation (BSL) is not effective in tackling the real cause of the problem, which is often due to the owner’s actions/omissions rather than the type of dog. It is recognised that this is not on the Government’s agenda. Of three evaluation studies (Netherlands, Berlin and North Rheine/Westphalia) on the effectiveness of BSL only one, Berlin, found that legislation had any impact on dog bite incidents. Netherlands has subsequently revoked its BSL.

14. Improving irresponsible dog ownership should be delivered through clear and consistent legislation and education for the public, enforcers and others. This should see improvements to animal welfare and human safety. The RSPCA wanted to see preventative measures including much earlier intervention in any legislative proposals. At present the approach is reactive—authorities can only step in and deal with the animal/its owner following an incident which can be costly and does not protect public safety/animal welfare. The Home Office proposals on ASB appear to address this partly through informal interventions such as Acceptable Behaviour Contracts but the Defra proposals do not. We will be assessing the impact of both sets of proposals.

15. Education, especially for children, their parents and owners of dogs as children can be vulnerable to attacks is essential. Reviews of programmes are central but rarely undertaken. Only three countries have undertaken reviews of the effect of educational programmes on dog control and show owner education is important as is large scale advertising over a long period of time. The Defra proposals do not include any long-term funding for education or any review mechanism and it is difficult to see what impact the limited funding will achieve.

16. The RSPCA has looked at ownership of dogs and many young people own dogs for companionship but some do so as a status symbol. While there are an increasing number of projects providing information to young people, few are properly evaluated to determine their effectiveness. This is an urgent need for more effective coordination of resources so that a targeted approach can be carried out. Different communities have different dog-related problems which in turn impact on enforcers’ resources. The RSPCA is involved in a range of multi-agency approaches, some of which have shown that improvements can be made even with limited funding.

17. Defra may be placing too much weight on what compulsory microchipping can deliver. Effective responses require resources not currently available. Extra resources can be delivered through additional funding which can be released through annual dog registration. Having scrapped the dog licence in 1987, the costs of dog control, and improving health/welfare for dogs have been under-funded and may be partly responsible for rising trends in indicators above. The RSPCA estimates that an annual dog licence of £17, even at 75% compliance, could release money to pay for dog wardens and police dog legislation officers, the NHS costs and responding to imported zoonotic diseases from the pet trade. The RSPCA has estimated this to be around £107 million. An annual fee of £17–20 would represent about 3% of total annual costs of keeping a dog and two thirds of dog owners support a dog license and 70% would pay more than £30 for it. Northern Ireland reviewed and updated its dog license in 2012 and is one of the few areas of the UK showing a decrease in stray numbers.

18. Twenty-three countries in Europe have a dog registration scheme where it is considered an essential part of successful stray control. In some countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, it has controlled reproduction/dog overpopulation, and reduced risks from dog-borne diseases.

19. Although difficult to assess, it is apparent that too many dogs are still being bred and there is a deficit of suitable homes. It is estimated that in England some 8,000 re-homeable dogs are euthanised annually by organisations and local authorities. Despite an availability of dogs from rescue organisations, people are still obtaining dogs from other sources.



Per cent

Kennel Club registered breeders/non-registered breeders

circa 50%

Neighbours, friends or from the internet


Rescue organisations


Pet shops


20. Best estimates show around half the dogs obtained each year are bred by Kennel Club registered breeders or non-registered breeders, 30% from neighbours, friends or from the internet 10–15% from rescue organisations and only 5% from pet shops. However legislation only exists for pet shops and commercial breeders.8 Back-street breeders/other unregistered breeders are not covered by legislation other than the Animal Welfare Act 2006 with regard to neglect/cruelty. The relaxation of the quarantine rules in January 2012 has seen a rise in the import of dogs from central Europe and it is unclear what effect this will have on spread of disease.

21. Regarding dog breeding, in 2010 the Bateson report recommended the establishment of a Dog Advisory Council and for Governments to consider improving the regulation of dog breeding. The Advisory Council has undertaken a lot of good work on agreeing breeding standards and recommendations for the top eight priority welfare issues. The RSPCA gave 36 recommendations in its 2009 report on this issue; progress is slow although the veterinary checks at the 2012 Crufts were a welcome step forward.

22. No progress has occurred in England on dog breeding legislation. With new legislation unlikely due to better regulation, Defra prefers other means such as accreditation schemes or education programmes. In Wales the Government has developed new legislative proposals which are under consultation and due to progress through the Assembly in the autumn. This sets out a number of improvements concerning dog welfare and improved regulation. They are also looking at compulsory microchipping for all dogs.

June 2012

1 e.g. Dogs Act 1871 (DA) or Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (DDA).

2 PDSA estimate up to 70% but RSPCA has reported lower figures therefore 50% is reasonable.

3 If numbers of dogs on PetLog, the largest database are used.

4 Possession of a prohibited type of dog.

5 Owner/person responsible for dog at time allows it to be out of control in a public place.

6 Owner/person responsible for dog at time allows it to be out of control in a place it is not allowed to be.

7 Through Home Office proposals.

8 ie those that breed four or more litters per year.

Prepared 14th February 2013