Saturday, December 4, 2010

Official summary of the legal position on stray dogs in the UK

This is in fact from the Advertising Standards Authority website, which has published their adjudication on a complaint from a member of the public about the Dogs Trust's TV adverts, but it's a useful statement of the facts.


A viewer challenged whether the claim "Dogs Trust never put a healthy dog down", was misleading, because she understood that that the Dogs Trust handed strays over to the Council Dog Warden who, if they were not reclaimed by their owners after seven days, might put them down.



Dog's Trust said, under section 150 of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990, anyone finding a stray dog must "forthwith" either "return the dog to its owner" or "take the dog to the officer of the local authority (LA) for the area in which the dog was found". Therefore, if a stray dog was brought to one of their Rehoming Centres by a member of the public or was abandoned there, they had an inescapable legal obligation to immediately notify the local Dog Warden about where and when the dog was found. In view of that, it was not in their interest to suggest in their advertising that they could accept stray dogs found by members of the public.
Dogs Trust said it was rare for a member of the public to approach their Rehoming Centres to ask them to take in a stray dog. However, in those instances, the person was always advised of their legal responsibility to contact the dog warden. If the person was unwilling to do that or if the dog warden was unavailable, the Rehoming Centre might act as the "finder" of the dog and pass it to the LA at the earliest opportunity.
They added that section 149 of the EPA required the LA to keep any stray dog for a period of seven clear days in order to allow the owner to reclaim the dog. If the dog was not reclaimed after that time, it could be passed to Dogs Trust, or a similar welfare organisation, for rehoming; legal title to the dog then also passed to them.
Dogs Trust said, typically, their kennels contained over 1,000 dogs at any one time. They explained that their 17 Rehoming Centres around the UK cared for around 16,000 dogs a year; around 50% were handed over by members of the public no longer able to care for their dogs and the remaining 50% came from other animal rescue organisations or LA kennels after the expiration of the statutory seven-day period prescribed by the EPA.
Dogs Trust said the claim that they never put a healthy dog down was true. In 2009, they cared for 15,886 dogs. Of those, 226 either died in their care or were put to sleep on veterinary advice; that equated to less than 1.5% of the dogs in their care. Dogs Trust were proud of the fact that so few dogs were put to sleep given that many came to them with severe illness or injury. They said a dog could only be put to sleep on the advice of a veterinary surgeon and if there was any doubt about the dog's quality of life, then second opinions were sought.
Dogs Trust said they could not be held responsible for the fate of dogs passed to the LA under statutory requirements. They nevertheless pointed out that independently conducted market research for the year up to 31 March 2010 indicated that of the strays handed in to LAs, only 2.8% were put to sleep for reasons other than ill health.
They said the ad was not currently scheduled to be broadcast again but that they did intend to use it again in future.


Not upheld
The ASA understood that Dogs Trust only put down dogs on the grounds of ill health following the advice of a veterinary surgeon and that, in 2009, less than 1.5% of the dogs they had cared for were put down on such advice.
We also understood that Dogs Trust had a statutory obligation to pass any stray dog handed in to them to the Council Dog Warden for the statutory seven-day period stipulated by the EPA. We noted that, after that period had elapsed, if the dog was not reunited with its owner, it might be passed to Dogs Trust or a similar welfare organisation or it might be re-homed by the LA itself. Furthermore, we understood that the only circumstance in which Dogs Trust would not accept a dog from the LA was if they did not have the kennel space to accommodate it. We noted from the independent market research figures provided that a small percentage of those dogs received by LAs for the year up to 31 March 2010 had been put down for reasons other than ill health. We nevertheless considered that the fate of those dogs was beyond the control of Dogs Trust given their statutory obligations and, because we understood that those healthy dogs whose fate was within their control were not put down, concluded that the claim was not misleading.
We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising) and 16.3.1 (Charities) but did not find it in breach.

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