Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Further thoughts on licences and dog wardens

I suppose attitudes to this are very dependent on whether your view of the role of dog wardens is that it's primarily for the benefit or detriment of dogs.

The majority of calls about uninjured stray dogs that we get at evenings and weekends are from people who've found a dog and want it to be collected and taken somewhere safe to be cared for until the owner is found. Their main concern is usually that the dog may get run over if left. Legally these calls should be the responsibility of the local authority, but very few of these employ dog wardens outside normal working hours.

We get some calls demanding that we come and collect a dog who has bitten someone or savaged another dog and these are really the responsibility of the dog's owner or the police. It's comparatively rare for us to be called about loose dogs because someone feels they are a threat.

If your view of dog wardens is that they are a positive element for animal welfare you will want more cover. If you see them as roaming the streets "seizing" dogs who would be safer where they were you will want less.

It may be helpful to look at some of the material on the website of the National Dog Wardens Association and, in particular, their comments on an earlier government consultation on introduction of  a compulsory microchipping and insurance system which for practical purposes would be similar to a dog licence system (part of the DEFRA consultation on Dangerous Dogs).
[Q27: Do you think that requiring all dogs to be covered by third-party insurance could have a significant financial impact upon individual dog owners? Why?]
It is estimated that 25% of car drivers in the UK have no insurance, so you would have to assume that 25% of dog owners would not adhere to any licensing requirements.  If this were to be so, any dogs seized and not having a license would only be released back to the owner after the dog had been licensed (the statutory government charge for stray dogs would be waived to enable registration to be carried out for a year) A lot of dog owners leave their seized dogs at the holding kennels rather than claim them because they begrudge paying the fees, this shows that possibly it is better for that particular dog to not be with such a person. Where an owner’s dog is involved in an incident and he is found to be uninsured, this would constitute a serious offence (as with cars). We would support reductions for pensioners and multi-dog households,
[Q28: Do you think that requiring all dogs to be covered by third-party insurance will have a financial impact upon welfare organisations/dog homes? Why?]
Why would it?  If a stray dog is rehomed by a Local Authority to an animal welfare charity, when that charity rehome the dog, they should have a legal requirement to make the new owner fill in the registration form for the area they live in.  Example being, a person is adopting a Labrador and they live in Manchester, the new owners come to collect the dog and they have with them the Dog License complete with insurance. Dogs’ homes/charities should have insurance for the whole premises rather than for individual dogs.

[Q29: Do you think that all dogs should have to be microchipped? Why?]
Yes but microchipping of all dogs is not the be all and end all it is made out to be!  Dog Wardens average about 40% of dogs with microchips handled by them having out of date, incorrect or no details at all on the microchips?  Who would enforce any discrepancies regarding microchips……Local Authority Dog Wardens, not Petlog, not the animal welfare organisations or even the police?  Do Local Authorities have the resources to carry out this work in the current climate with Local Authorities cutting the size of Dog Warden Services or downgrading the important work they do? Compulsory microchipping would work well in conjunction with the insurance requirement (see above Q.25), otherwise it is difficult to enforce on it’s own as most people who move or give away/sell their dogs forget to change the details

[Q30: Do you think that all puppies born after a specified date should be microchipped before the age of one year? Why?]
As Q29. I think microchipping/insuring puppies is important and, with this proof of ownership, would help to combat the puppy farmers and irresponsible back-street breeders. Puppies should be insured and chipped before they are sold – there could be a specific clause that allows transfer of ownership with the insurance policy for puppies that are intended for gift/sale; this would apply to private as well as commercial breeders.
[Q31: How do you think such a requirement could be introduced and enforced?] 
Who would enforce it, hard pressed Dog Wardens who as this consultation document points out varies from highly motivated, well trained and knowledgeable to poorly trained ones.  Many Local Authorities fail to appreciate the important role that Dog Wardens play in community safety and those who have downgraded their services to stray dogs being dealt with by Pest Control Officers/Community Safety Officers for example are not going to have individuals who are spending 100% of their work day dealing with dog issues. Any enforcement needs to be carried out by motivated, well trained and knowledgeable Dog Wardens who are fully supported by their Local Authorities and properly funded. Again, works best in conjunction with insurance where insurance companies would run the database. It would tend to be enforced only when a problem dog comes to light that isn’t insured which is why the penalty for non-insurance should be an adequate deterrent. Yes, this would initially require extra enforcement by Police/Local authorities but could ultimately reduce enforcement.

[Q39: Do you think the government needs to do more to raise public awareness of the existing law and what to do if you are aware of a possible breach?] 
I think the public are aware of the existing law but they are also hopelessly misinformed with regards to dog behaviour and responsible ownership. The government need to lend more support to Local Authorities who should be at the forefront of public education. Instead, more local authorities are cutting their dog warden budget or outsourcing their stray dog contracts.
Relocating control of dogs to the "Pests" department is not likely to improve their care!

I think there's a more general problem about the public view of animals being "seized" (by RSPCA, Police, dog wardens etc.). Most of the time this is reactive, as a result of a call from a member of the public asking someone to collect an animal, because it's thought to be ill, injured or otherwise at risk in some way. Sometimes an animal may not have been seized in any meaningful sense of the word: for example where the animal's carer has asked to sign it over to the RSPCA. We've had situations where a third party referred to us "seizing" a dog when we'd in reality been asked by an owner to take the dog for rehoming as an alternative to euthanasia.


  1. I think attitudes on whether the role of dog wardens is primarily for the benefit or detriment of dogs depends a lot on the nature of the program being proposed.

    If the program is designed to allow people to opt in for the protection of their pets, and promoted as a pet's 'ticket home'. If it is supported by a high level of customer service to pet owners, has provisions for low income owners, and a guarantee that a registered pet will be returned directly home without being impounded... then its for the benefit of dogs.

    If its being proposed as a way to 'get' the bad owners, either for not registering, not desexing or having the 'wrong' kind of breed, or 'too many'... then it may very well be used to the detriment of dogs.

    Check out the 'Calagary' model from Canada to see a successful program. All their wardens are highly trained in mediation, work with the community to help them become better, more compliant owners and if you're a responsible pet owner they'll bring your pet home to you if it becomes lost. They are No Kill. They have nearly non-existent dog attacks.

    Check out Victoria Australia, for an example of dog laws gone mad and how by just making punishment tougher and laws more comprehensive, they've driven the state pounds to full, kill rates through the roof and non-compliant dog owners underground.

    Registration is a tool both pet owners and government can use to improve the situation for pets. Or it can be a stick used to punish the pet owners and it will fail.

    Getting the right people driving the program development and for the right reasons is vital.

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  4. Hmm, blogger seems to allow comment owners to delete, but not do any editing or corrections, other than by follow up comments. To add insult to injury it marked savingpets as spam for some reason. Now fixed.