Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Written evidence submitted by Dogs Trust

1. About Dogs Trust

Dogs Trust is the UK’s largest dog welfare charity. Every year, we care for around 16,000 stray and abandoned dogs at our nationwide network of 18 re-homing centres. No healthy dog is ever destroyed. We also promote dog welfare substantially through educational, neutering and lobbying campaigns.

2. Dog Control—Overhaul of, and Future Dog Legislation

Dogs Trust believes that there is a need for a fundamental overhaul of dog legislation, especially in relation to irresponsible dog ownership. Any Bill must:

consolidate legislation concerning dog control;

give greater flexibility and discretion to enforcers and the courts;

include a genuine preventative effect; update some offences;

improve public safety and animal welfare; and

reduce the costs of enforcement.

To that end, we do not believe that the current proposals being considered by DEFRA go far enough and are merely tinkering around the edges of the problem.

Dogs Trust has long been lobbying the Government to repeal and replace the existing Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) 1991, often referred to as the worst piece of legislation ever to reach the statute book. We very much believe that, first and foremost, the biggest failure of the DDA is the breed specific part (section 1). Banning types of dogs such as the pit bull terrier has not reduced the numbers found in the UK, instead their numbers have exploded and breed specific legislation does not get to the crux of the problem.

Furthermore, the existing legislation currently only applies after an incident has taken place, rather than operating on a preventative basis. We would like to see police and local authorities given powers to deal with the irresponsible owners of dangerous dogs via Control Orders, for example ordering of dogs to be on a lead or muzzle in public places, for the dog to go to training classes, or in severe cases a court disqualifying irresponsible dog owners from keeping a dog.

Dogs Trust understands that the Home Office is proposing to look at this under Anti Social Behaviour legislation—we have grave concerns regarding this. We believe that this process may be overly complicated; for enforcers’ ease of use for we would like to see the proposals considered as part of DEFRA considerations and not under separate anti social behaviour legislation via the Home Office. We are concerned that owners who deem themselves to be “responsible”, but have dogs in need of training or causing issues in parks, would not associate themselves with anti social behaviour and will not consider that these new proposals apply to them.

We also have concerns that proposals seek to abolish Dog Control Orders which can be introduced under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act.

Finally, we would like to see either a move away from breed specific legislation (BSL) entirely or for a sunset clause to be put in place that would phase out BSL. If this was not deemed to be an option for Government, we recommend new provisions to allow responsible owners of potential crossbreeds, which could be deemed of being of “type”, to come before a court and let a magistrate decide whether their dog is a threat to the public rather than the dog being seized based on looks alone.

3. Impact of Status Dogs; Non Legislative Interventions

Dogs Trust has become increasingly aware of the issues caused by “problem” dogs or, more accurately, their problem owners. We believe that, in many cases, dangerous dogs are a social issue, rather than exclusively a “dog” problem. Whilst enforcing new, more effective legislation will be particularly beneficial, a legislative approach will only be able to do so much. Crucially, non-legislative interventions to influence irresponsible owners and better educate the public are needed. To that end, Dogs Trust invests £6 million a year in outreach work to combat irresponsible dog ownership across the UK.

One of these initiatives, the City Dogs project, was initially launched in Hackney in May 2010, a densely populated area of London, with the aim of helping young inner-city owners to become more responsible with their dogs.

4. Microchipping

It is important to stress that compulsory permanent identification, via microchipping, is a separate issue from “dangerous dogs” and “dog control” discussions. It is therefore unfortunate that DEFRA chose to look at these two issues as one consultation document, resulting in a misunderstanding, not least within the media, of the importance of microchipping in order to improve welfare.

In 2010, Dogs Trust formed the Microchipping Alliance, consisting of welfare organisations, vets and pedigree dog registration bodies, to jointly call for Government to introduce the compulsory microchipping of all dogs and a requirement for owners’ details to remain up to date on a national database.

Microchipping is proven to be the most effective way of ensuring lost dogs are returned to their owners. However, of the estimated 8.2 million pet dogs currently in the UK, more than a third remain unidentifiable by a permanent means of identification. According to recent independent economic research carried out by Dogs Trust on behalf of the Microchipping Alliance, if Government were to introduce compulsory microchipping it could save the public purse between £20.5 and £22.8 million per year. If more dogs were microchipped, more could be returned to their owners and in a timelier manner. As such the cost to local authorities would be vastly reduced. Dogs Trust is aware that the LGA believes voluntary microchipping is working. However, despite years of endless education and free microchipping offers from charities, only an estimated 59% of the dog population is currently microchipped and stray dog figures for the UK continue to rise year on year, last year being at over 126,000 instances of stray dogs were recorded.

Compulsory microchipping could be introduced via secondary regulations under the Animal Welfare Act (2006) and would therefore not require the introduction of new primary legislation.

Dogs Trust is adamant that a return to the dog licence would not help to prevent dog attacks. With 8 million dogs in the UK, we believe it would be completely wrong to penalise the millions of responsible owners because of the actions of the irresponsible minority: microchipping, unlike a dog licence, actually benefits the owner by directly linking dog and owner. The dog licence has been shown to be an ineffective measure in the UK. In Northern Ireland, where it is still a requirement, only an estimated one-third of all dog owners currently have a dog licence. Northern Ireland still has the highest number of stray dogs per head of population of any region in the UK. We do not believe that any money raised from the dog licence would be ring fenced for improving dog welfare/responsible dog ownership and would therefore be seen as another tax for dog owners.

5. Dangerous Dogs Act

Dogs Trust would like to see Section 3 of the DDA to be extended to cover private property for owners who allow their dogs to cause the most severe of attacks. However, for less severe cases, we believe that this should continue to be a civil matter, under the Dogs Act 1871, but for the law to be amended to allow for greater compensation for victims. Hence we support the Government’s proposal to extend Section 3 to cover all places provided:

the victim was present lawfully;

the victim did nothing to cause the dog to act dangerously;

the incident was serious; and

the owner could have reasonably anticipated that the victim would be present.

In addition, we would not wish to see a criminal prosecution brought if:

the dog attacked in self-defence;

the dog was provoked into being aggressive; and

the dog was a serving assistance dog.

In short, neither the dog, nor its owner, should be prosecuted if the dog had reasonable cause to attack.

6. Proposals for Wider Community and Educational Approaches

Dogs Trust believes that consideration should also be given to raise awareness of responsible dog ownership in general. Most animal welfare charities already have a large number of resources and ways of interacting and trying to educate the general public. Dogs Trust has 12 education officers based around the UK who visit schools to educate children about dog welfare and how to be safe around dogs and we operate an annual Poop Scoop Week to raise awareness about picking up after your dog to give just a few examples.

7. Roles of Local Authorities, Police and Animal Welfare Charities

Dogs Trust believes that is appropriate that the police are responsible for dealing with dangerous dogs and Local Authorities the responsibilities for dealing with stray dogs. However, the stray dog service being provided by each individual Local Authority varies greatly and therefore an inadequate service can have a negative impact on the welfare of some dogs, especially when a Local Authority does not have an out of hours stray dog service.

8. Dog Welfare—Breeding

Dogs Trust jointly funded Professor Bateson’s report into the breeding of dogs. As a result of this report, the Dog Advisory Council was formed to look closely at his recommendations and undertake further evidence based research in order to advise Government on this issue and present them with solutions that will help tackle this problem.

Whilst some progress has been made by some breeders, the Kennel Club and the veterinary profession to prioritise the health and welfare of pedigree dogs, there is still much to be done to protect their future health. Primarily, it is vital to establish and collate sufficient data on the prevalence of hereditary diseases in dogs to determine the scale of the problem and what needs to be done on a breed by breed basis. The veterinary profession has its part to play in better surveillance and reporting of genetic problems.

9. Actions by Government

Dogs Trust would like the Government to introduce legislation to help prevent inappropriate breeding practices, particularly the intentional inbreeding of closely related dogs or those with known debilitating genetic illnesses.

We believe it is unacceptable for dogs with genetic health problems, which affect their health and welfare, to continue be held up as a pinnacle for good breeding at dog shows. We would like to see a further review of Kennel Club breed standards to ensure that they are firmly focused on the health and wellbeing of the dog and for breeders and show judges to adhere to these revised breed standards. However, we very much welcome the Kennel Club’s decision to have veterinarian’s health check dogs at Crufts for the first time. This was a positive step in helping to discourage the showing of unhealthy dogs.

In addition, we would also like to see the gene pool of pedigree dogs to be increased ie allowing out breeding, limiting the use of popular sires to father litters and not registering puppies with a COI (Coefficient of Inbreeding) of less than 12.5%.

10. Control of Dog Breeding

With regards to unscrupulous breeding of dogs, Dogs Trust has long been calling on Government to strengthen the Breeding and Sale of Dogs Act to tackle this issue. It is generally accepted that the current legislation on the breeding of dogs is failing. This is largely because enforcement agencies find it difficult to detect people illegally breeding dogs and that the welfare of both the breeding stock and the puppies can be adversely affected as a consequence. Dogs Trust believes that breeding licences are granted too easily and that there are requirements that need to be fulfilled before a licence is issued needs to be tightened up significantly. Many commercial dog breeders and puppy farmers are operating without a licence and therefore not coming to the attention of Local Authorities. Puppy farms are establishments where dogs are bred intensively for profit with little or no consideration for their welfare. Puppies are treated as products, mass produced in order to create maximum profit for the breeder.

Dogs Trust is also concerned about the increase in the number of classified advertisements offering pets for sale in the UK. We believe that consumers are not given even basic guidance on the purchase of pet animals online and are at risk of making impulse purchases. As puppy farms and irresponsible breeders may advertise on classified websites there is a risk that a consumer could unwittingly buy a sickly puppy or one of questionable breeding so fuelling the pockets of unscrupulous breeders.

Dogs Trust chairs the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG), which is made up of numerous animal welfare organisations. PAAG’s focus is to curb the number of inappropriate or illegal classified advertisements for pets. PAAG aims to work with online advertisers in order to raise the standards of the advertisements which are being placed onto their sites. In an ideal world we would not want pets to be sold online as this method is largely unregulated. However, in the absence of immediate regulatory change on this issue we see an urgent need to work with online advertisers to improve the quality of their systems to try to filter out unscrupulous advertisements.

June 2012

Prepared 14th February 2013