Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Written evidence submitted by the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding

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?

Yes. The Advisory Council is undertaking a fundamental review of the legislation governing the advertising, sale and supply of dogs and will be providing advice to Ministers before the end of the year.

Is sufficient action being taken on pets raised as status dogs to ensure their welfare and reduce their impact on communities?

No. The Council is of the view both that the enforcement of the existing legislation requires improvement and that more effective statutory and non statutory measures are required.

Will compulsory microchipping of puppies improve dog welfare and help prevent dog attacks at an affordable cost to dog owners?

Yes, microchipping will contribute to improved dog welfare provided that the databases are linked, are consistently managed to an appropriate Code of Practice and the puppies are microchipped before they leave the breeder, as it is essential that all puppies can be traced back to the breeder. It is also essential that the legislation includes a requirement for the owner to keep their contact details up to date to ensure continuing traceability in the event of the dog straying or being out of control.It would help if it was made clear that the duty of care in the Animal Welfare Act applied to the person whose name was on the database.

However, although identification of dogs is one important element in reducing dog attacks, a more comprehensive programme is required to reduce the problems of human-directed aggression in dogs. Although status dogs are an important issue they represent a relatively small proportion of bite injuries in the UK—many more dog bites occur by owned dogs within the home. This issue needs addressing with appropriate education about dogs, such as a focus on dog owners receiving appropriate advice on the responsibilities of dog owning, and appropriate controls over those giving advice on dog training and behaviour.

Should a dog licensing scheme also be considered?

No. The combination of a registration/licensing system for breeders and effective permanent identification by means of a microchip will be sufficient.

Should the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 be extended to include offences committed on private property?

Yes. Most importantly the Government should take the opportunity to identify problems associated with the deed, rather than the breed. The current DDA is not fit for purpose and never has been. As mentioned above, many dog bites occur within families and prevention should focus on understanding why such injuries happen and ensuring appropriate education of those owning dogs and giving advice about dogs.

Are Defra’s proposals for wider community and educational approaches to support responsible dog ownership sufficiently ambitious?

No. The Council is of the view that there needs to be a high profile publicity campaign that involves all the bodies with dog welfare concerns, including Defra. Education must start with primary school children with animal welfare/responsible pet ownership as a topic that is formally included in the school curriculum. Publicity must be maintained once the high profile campaign is over. At very least it will help ensure that the various bodies involved in dog welfare put aside their differences and work together on the same issues in the same way. Dog owners need to be provided with consistent information about the responsibilities of ownership, and understand where to go for up-to-date and welfare-compatible advice.

Do local authorities, the police and animal welfare charities have the right roles in managing stray dogs under the current legislative regime?

In general the distribution of roles and responsibilities is appropriate, but for a variety of reasons the system does not work effectively, mainly because of insufficient resources and/or insufficient or inadequate training of the personnel involved.

Regarding dog welfare in relation to breeding practices, the committee is inviting comments on the following questions:

Has the response by dog breeders and the veterinary profession been effective?

What actions should government take to address these issues?

Are further controls required on dog breeders, including puppy farms, and those selling or importing dogs to ensure the welfare of bitches and puppies?

(i)Has the response by dog breeders and the veterinary profession been effective?

Breeders: It is unlikely that the concerns expressed have had any impact on irresponsible breeders, in part through ignorance, but also because some aim to make as much money as possible without any proper consideration for animal welfare. Responsible breeders will have paid attention to the concerns and begun to address them where necessary. There needs to be an accurate way for both enforcement officers and potential purchasers to identify those breeders who do a good job. The Council has defined what it regards as the standard which dog breeders should meet, regardless of what type of dog is being bred. The irresponsible breeding of dogs for commercial gain has huge welfare implications and requires a co-ordinated input from all those who seek to put animal welfare at the heart of the agenda.

Veterinary Profession: The veterinary profession is somewhat ambivalent. Whilst there are many who care passionately about dog welfare, there are others who may be concerned, but do not have sufficient resource or incentive to take action. Education about behavioural needs and welfare issues should be included in the core veterinary curriculum, must start early in the veterinary course and continue post-qualification; the profession must become more pro-active in this area.

The veterinary profession has a major role to play in enabling good surveillance of inherited defects. Only with good data on incidence can disease be tackled effectively by identifying those individual dogs who are affected or may be genetic carriers, allowing the defect to be bred out. The Vet Compass project co-ordinated by the Royal Veterinary College and the recently announced collaboration between the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) and Liverpool University on the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance (SAVSNET) project are to be welcomed.

The Kennel Club encouragesveterinary surgeons to report any surgical modification of a registered dog to them. However, reporting levels are low because of the inevitable conflicts in relation to client confidentiality that this may cause in a practice.The Council believes that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons should take steps to ensure that reporting is mandatory by including the requirement in their Code of Professional Conduct

(ii)What actions should Government take to address these issues?

Government should be ready to update the legislation controlling the advertising, sale and supply of dogs. These areas are already regulated, and the issue is not one of imposing additional regulation but rather of replacing old and outdated legislation with controls which are both effective and resource efficient.

Government should also consider providing some financial support to the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding for a specified period. The Council is currently wholly funded by charitable donations. A period of guaranteed financial support through a matched funding arrangement would enable the Council to work more closely with Government and to undertake more complex research and projects with confidence.

(iii)Are further controls required on dog breeders, including puppy farms, and those selling or importing dogs to ensure the welfare of bitches and puppies?

Yes. See comments above with respect to the Council’s review of legislation. The present situation makes it easy for people to breed large numbers of puppies, both in this UK and abroad, in appalling conditions. Both the legislation and its enforcement require improvement. Border controls must also be more effective since the ending of the rabies derogation has increased the risk of importing infected dogs.

July 2012

Prepared 14th February 2013