The SHG response
to the
Consultation on Tackling Irresponsible Dog Ownership

The Self Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA (The SHG) provides support and legal advice to people being investigated or prosecuted for animal related offences, usually by the RSPCA whose activities and prosecutions are often controversial and have attracted a great deal of criticism. That remit has grown and we run a legal help line and put people in touch with solicitors who are experts in Animal Law. This puts us in a unique position of hearing how legislation affects individual dog owners and breeders, and their fears and concerns.


We enclose a copy of our response to the first consultation which we believe is still relevant to this consultation.


Also enclosed is a copy of a new peer reviewed paper which says there is no real evidence for the seeming growth of abuse of dogs and their involvement in crime and anti-social behaviour:

Despite the plethora of legislation since the nineteenth century, there remains little systematic statistical evidence regarding trends and patterns in recorded animal abuse. As Pierpoint and Maher ([35] pp.485-6) note, the little that is known about the prevalence of reported animal abuse is derived from court records and animal welfare charities. Throughout this period it would appear that the RSPCA has consistently brought the majority of prosecutions to the courts. However, there is a major evidential hole awaiting any attempt to assess systematically the trends in prevalence of animal abuse both over time and cross-sectionally at any given time in Britain. Most significantly, it was accepted by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the post-legislative assessment of AWA in December 2010 that there was no national enforcement database regarding the enforcement of the Act despite the original intention of this being part of a regulatory impact assessment [11].
Furthermore, animal cruelty offences recorded by the police are not collected by the Home Office – we therefore have little other than anecdotal testimony in the absence of sustained criminological research to rely on in dealing with the seeming growth in the problem, for example, of abuse of dogs and their
involvement in crime and anti-social behaviour (see Hughes et al. [26]).

RSPCA and the Criminology of social control
Gordon Huges and Claire Lawson

Without proper statistics to work from the whole of this consultation is deeply flawed and risks producing the wrong results. It is clear that the government should re-think its strategy of punishing every dog owner for the perhaps non-existent increase in crimes of the few.

Our suggestion is that the government should obtain some hard data and proper statistics and then consult again, because to act on supposition and hearsay is to risk imposing grave injustice on dogs and dog owners and to put the legality of such an action in question. This is especially true when the statistics and hearsay provided are essentially from those who have an interest in imposing controls and databases to which they would have access.


The SHG notes that the Law Commission is due to conduct a review into wildlife crime legislation. This would be an ideal opportunity for them to consider all animal legislation, including the Animal Welfare Act 2006 . Any review of wildlife crime legislation which failed to include the AWA would be incomplete since the AWA covers wild animals that are under the temporary control of man. This would be far more beneficial than the current policy of amending animal based legislation piecemeal as and when campaigning bodies such as the RSPCA put enough pressure on government to force the issue.


From the statements in Annex B one statistic is very clear. There is public resistance to microchipping, even with free and subsidised microchipping provided by various charities. This means there will be significant public resistance and disquiet should compulsory microchipping be introduced.


If the aim is to increase dog welfare, microchipping will have no such effect. Far better to introduce an Animal NHS if only for the animals of pensioners and when financially possible for all of those on low incomes. This would have done more for animal welfare than any of the legislation that has been passed since the Protection of Animals Act 1911.

Q1 Which of the following options do you prefer and why:

a) microchip all puppies only; or
b) microchip all dogs on change of owner only; or
c) microchip dogs on change of owner and then after a period of time (suggest length of time) for all dogs to be microchipped; or
d) microchip all dogs within a year of legislation coming into effect; or
e) no change to the current situation whereby owners can choose whether or not to microchip their puppies and older dogs.


Preferred option is e. no change to the current situation whereby owners can choose whether or not to microchip their puppies and older dogs


Compulsory microchipping of dogs and registration of their owners is a dog licence by another name. It is the creation of a register of a particular class of people, dog owners. It is an attempt to sneak compulsory dog licenses in under the radar of dog owners. There are serious civil liberties concerns.


Microchipping does nothing to prevent dog theft or to help find dogs that are lost. Indeed, reading reports of missing dogs there seem to be as many lost and stolen that are microchipped as those that are not. There is no evidence that this leads to an increased percentage of dogs that are microchipped being found when either lost or stolen.


The greater the penalties the more the incentive to interfere with, or remove microchips becomes. Whereas tattoos can be removed by cutting off an ear, to remove a microchip is a far more invasive and serious process.
For instance in an Australian case earlier this year involving a cat with a 'severe' laceration:

“The laceration is likely to have come from someone trying to dig out the cat's microchip, so they could claim her as their own. “

Family distraught after 'healthy' cat put down


Microchips will do nothing to identify the stray dog that runs off or the dog that attacks someone in the street. They will not help the person who finds a stray dog outside office hours and has no access to a microchip scanner. Far better to rely on the collar and tag or a tattoo in the dog's ear.


There are serious health issues with microchips. They may move within the dog’s body. There are certainly instances where chips that have been inserted for pet passports have not been found resulting in dogs facing long stays in quarantine. Microchips appear to be associated with the appearance of tumours at the site of the chip. and


No responsible pet owner is going to want to risk the health of their animal for a dubious benefit. For this reason the procedure might well be in breach of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, although we note that state sanctioned cruelty is exempt under the act. Section 4(3)(b) of the Act states:


4 Unnecessary suffering


(1) A person commits an offence if-


(a) an act of his, or a failure of his to act, causes an animal to suffer,
(b) he knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that the act, or failure to act, would have that effect or be likely to do so
(c) the animal is a protected animal, and
(d) the suffering is unnecessary.
[. . . ]


(3) The considerations to which it is relevant to have regard when determining for the purposes of this section whether suffering is unnecessary include-


(a) whether the suffering could reasonably have been avoided or reduced;
(b) whether the conduct which caused the suffering was in compliance with any relevant enactment or any relevant provisions of a licence or code of practice issued under an enactment;


Compulsory microchipping will work against animal welfare. People who care deeply about their dog/s health will be reluctant to comply. Those who, for whatever reason, fail to comply will find they cannot access veterinary help for their animals because the vets will be duty bound to report non-microchipped dogs that show up.

  17. The idea of microchipping being part of the AWA is a nightmare. It would enable the RSPCA and others to go round demanding to scan dogs for chips. It would give them access to a complete database of dog owners throughout the country. This goes against every aspect of a right to privacy. It goes without saying that the AWA has failed miserably in its promises and as an Act intended to promote animal welfare.
  18. There is no indication of how the imposition of another layer of bureaucracy on dog owners will help animal welfare. Penalising those who either cannot afford to comply or fail to comply will only damage the care of the dog and the relationship between the person and the dog. It will ultimately lead to fewer dog owners and an increase in the numbers of dogs needing new homes.
Q2. What sort of a financial impact (negative or positive), if any, will requiring all dogs to be microchipped have on:

(a) individual owners
(b) enforcement agencies
(c) animal welfare/re-homing centres
(d) dog breeders
(e) pet shops
(f) microchip database companies


Charities claim to be suffering financially during the recession., It would be wrong to depend on them to provide free microchipping to pensioners and others on low incomes, not because the charities do not intend to supply these free services, but because there might come a time when they simply cannot afford to provide them.


Whoever actually pays for the microchips to be inserted and for changes to the register, the cost will eventually be passed on to the prospective owner. It is inevitable that these costs will rise. We note that the government is considering an increase in the cost of placing a dog on the register. People simply do not have the money.


Fewer people prepared to buy puppies or to keep dogs in general is going to have a serious effect on all small businesses. This included animal welfare/rehoming centres, many of whom are importing Irish dogs because they cannot obtain sufficient English or Welsh dogs to sell. Note that it is the belief of the SHG that when a rehoming charity puts a minimum donation on an animal it is effectively putting a sale price on the animal and that those centres should be licensed under the Pet Shop Licencing Act.


It is clear that microchipping companies will do very nicely out of compulsion.


Enforcement agencies who claim that they have to kill many dogs will see the numbers to be killed rise dramatically as a result of compulsory microchipping. Just as the SHG accurately predicted a rise in the numbers of animals dumped and abandoned as a result of the implementation of the AWA (it has nothing to do with the recession, previous recessions had no such effect, in fact the number of people prepared to take in animals actually rose) we now predict a rise due to microchipping.


A 2007 press release from the Dogs Trust revealed that the number of stray dogs in the UK fell by 25% between 1997 and 2007 without such extreme measures being introduced and the Control of Dogs Order 1992 already creates an offence of a dog in a public space not wearing a collar and name tag.
Of course, it was in 2007 that the AWA came into force and the number of stray dogs that were not reclaimed started to rise. It is certainly not likely to be a result of under reporting as claimed in Annex B. Nevertheless, we believe that the cost of retrieving a stray dog from the pound also has a real impact on the number of dogs which are reclaimed, and that it has a greater impact in times of economic hardship.


Laws like this provide fodder for neighbour disputes. The vast majority of cases that come in on the SHG help line are the result of neighbour disputes over other matters. Complaints are made about dogs (and other animals) as an easy way to “score”. Even if the complaint is unfounded an official calls and investigates, thus using resources that could be better utilised elsewhere.


The only way to prevent the problem of legislation being used to further neighbour disputes would be to include a severe penalty for false complaints, and that penalty would have to be seen to be imposed in order to get the message across that time wasting complaints would not be tolerated.


Organisations like the RSPCA, who originally campaigned for the DDA, would not hesitate to use the legislation and to push the police to prosecute. It is inevitable that there would be an “RSPCA generated” increase.

Q3: Do you think that any regulation introduced on microchipping should set minimum standards for commercial databases, e.g. they should be ISO compliant?



There are too many different types of chip and scanner. Without minimum standards that require all chips to be readable by one scanner there will be confusion and an increase in costs to everyone.


For what reasons do you think that the offence, under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control, should:

(a) be extended to include all places, including where the dog has a right to be (inside and outside the home);
(b) or be extended to include places where the dog has a right to be but not inside the dog owner’s home;
(c) remain as now (only applies to public places and places where the dog has no right to be).


Preferred option c. remain as now (only applies to public places and places where the dog has no right to be). Note however that our real preferred option would be to repeal the DDA in its entirety and go back to the Dogs Act.


We dispute the claimed statistics. There is no real proof that dog attacks have risen.


We also dispute the claimed financial benefits of extending the DDA to private property. There is no evidence that there will be any fewer incidents as a result. The inevitable stress (and maybe breakdowns) to the owners, the cost of defending themselves, the break down of neighbour or family relationships has not been taken into account. People will either fail to seek medical attention for themselves or their children because they fear their dog will suffer or they are afraid of prosecution. People will beg friends and neighbours not to seek medical attentions which will lead to an investigation and prosecution. The result is likely to be far more serious and costly medical intervention being needed at a later date. This is dangerous policy and cannot be in the public interest.


Historically, as the state began to take over prosecutions from the individual, criminal law was applied to things that happened in public in situations where the individual would find it too difficult or costly to obtain the evidence needed to bring a prosecution. So a dog which caused an accident or attacked someone in the street could disappear with its owner and the individual who had been harmed would find it impossible to find either dog or owner. This became criminal. The owner or person responsible for a dog on its own property is clearly known. This places the claim firmly in the civil domain. A criminal prosecution does nothing to properly compensate the injured person.


Criminal legislation should only be imposed where there is a clear need for it and no other means of obtaining the same result. The main concern appears to be the protection of public sector employees. The Royal Mail already notifies people that post will not be delivered if there is a dog loose that frightens the postman. Their protection is easily achieved by lockable post boxes being positioned outside properties. Alternatively people collect their mail from local post offices. Both of these approaches also occur in many country areas where the Royal Mail refuses to drive down rough tracks.


Other people who need access to private property as part of their work can easily ring in advance to ensure that dogs are locked in another room, or can request that they are properly contained before they enter the property.


An unintended consequence of making it a criminal offence instead of a civil claim should a dog harm someone on private property is that people will be far less likely to invite official 'strangers' into their homes. So an issue that involved, say, the local council, that would normally have been cleared up over a chat and a mug of tea will now result in a brief discussion of the issue on the doorstep and the likelihood of more official intervention. It will drive up costs both to the enforcement agency and to the individual.


In terms of emergency situations it is impossible for a dog to tell the difference between a violent burglar and the door being broken down by the police. All the dog is aware of is that its owner and home are in danger. It is completely wrong to condemn an animal in such circumstances.


By leaving the Dogs Act 1871 in place dogs on private property can be dealt with in a proportionate manner and people do not face the problems that having to declare a criminal conviction can cause in both their work life and travelling abroad, for example.


The availability of civil proceedings for negligence provides an adequate remedy for those who are injured by dogs on private property without the need to criminalise the owner. With the associated costs to their future employment and life in general.


Do you think that there would be a financial impact upon the police/court service/ Crown Prosecution Service in the short or longer term?



How much?


If there is a criminal provision then people are going to use it. Every little scratch will lead to a complaint. The police and CPS are already stretched. The last thing they will want to deal with is a huge raft of complaints that have arisen mainly out of neighbour disputes.


We predict an exponential growth rate which will only stabilise as people start to get rid of their dogs.


Do you consider that any special provisions should apply if a dog attacks an intruder?

We do not.


Is it acceptable to exempt the owner of a dog from prosecution even if it appears that the dog was dangerously out of control when it attacked the intruder?
Or should it be left to prosecutors to use their discretion in individual cases to decide whether to bring charges against the owner of a dog who has attacked an intruder?

There is no real evidence of any need to change the law. Prosecutors should not be given such discretion. How is the necessity and severity of an attack on an intruder to be established in dog terms? Public outcry over householders who were prosecuted for protecting themselves and their property led to a halt in over zealous prosecutions. There is no reason to believe that prosecutors would be any more reasonable in dealing with cases involving dogs. If there is not to be an exemption there should be very clear and unambiguous guidelines for prosecutors to follow.


We have to ask what the situation would be if an intruder broke into one of the secret, unmarked kennels used by the police to house dogs seized under the DDA and was severely mauled? Would the police or kennel owner be guilty of a criminal offence? Clearly the owner would rightly claim that he had no control over the situation whatsoever..

Q8: Do you agree that there should be no need to seize suspected prohibited dogs considered by the police to be no threat to public safety between when the case goes to Court and the owner is issued with a Certificate of Exemption?



The SHG does not believe that dogs should be judged on their physical appearance. The Dangerous Dogs Act should be repealed in its entirety. The Dogs Act 1871 combined with civil claims for compensation provided adequate redress.


Nevertheless, if the DDA is intended to continue then we can see no reason to remove dogs who have no history of aggression and whose only fault is their appearance.


This begs the question of why dogs which the police believe to be no threat to public safety should be entered on the register at all. If the aim is to reduce regulation and bureaucracy, or to reduce costs, here is the very reason to remove Breed Specific Legislation from the DDA or any replacement Act.


Placing dogs who have no aggressive tendencies on the register could result in their becoming aggressive as a result of the spay/neuter requirement. The requirement to neuter dogs and microchip them should be removed due to the health problems these procedures can cause and the fact that it can lead to an increase in aggression. See attached:

The long term health effects of spay/neuter in dogs, Laura J. Sanborn march 27, 2007,
Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete One veterinarian’s Opinion, Chris Zink DVM, PhD, DACVP, 2005. Behavioural and physical effects of spaying and neutering domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), Parvene Farhoody & M. Christine Zink, 2010

Q9: Do you agree that unnecessarily kennelling dogs could lead to those dogs becoming maladjusted and developing behavioural problems?



The problem is the secrecy in which the dogs are kept. No-one can access the dogs or their environment to ensure that it is suitable or that their welfare needs are being catered for. There are incidents where dogs have been returned in bad condition or with behavioural problems. Unfortunately the state has placed itself beyond the reach of any claim by the dog owner because it has effectively hidden any potential wrongdoing behind closed doors. This would not be permitted in any other circumstances. Even prisons are accessible to prison visitors and inspectors.


Regular visits from their owners, if necessary paid for out of police or government funds, would go a long way to ensure the welfare of these animals.

Q10: Do you think that owners should be able to apply directly to the Courts to have their dogs placed on the Index of Exempted Dogs?



How would you ensure there were common standards of assessing banned types of dogs and the danger or otherwise to public safety?


Of course dog owners should be able to apply directly to the Courts. The problem is funding. Dog owners will, quite reasonably, be suspicious of police experts. How can they afford the services of an independent expert?


Clearly any dog whose owner is making such an application would not have been involved in any danger to public safety or the police would be dealing with the matter. The courts are quite capable of assessing any potential danger to public safety.


There would need to be proper legal aid in place to enable such applications by owners.


Do you think that the Courts or Police are better placed to deal with contingent Destruction Orders?
Please explain your reasons including any relevant experience that has influenced your views.

We do not believe that any dog should be put down without proper authority from the court. While the police should be in a position to issue a CDO the owner should be provided with proper public funding to challenge it in the courts. People have a right to enjoy their property without state interference and to leave the police in charge with no court oversight gives no protection to vulnerable members of society.


(For the Police Only) How many private kennels are used to house banned types of dogs awaiting issue of Contingent Destruction Orders?

The SHG notes that this question is supposed to be for the police only but wishes to state that we are appalled that the government is effectively admitting that they have no idea what the police do with seized dogs and where they keep them. No changes to this legislation other than to suspend it should take place without those facts being known to government and the basic statistics being in the public domain. Indeed, if there are concerns that dogs cannot be kept securely then proper government funded secure kennels should be built (doggy prisons). To do otherwise is to risk a chance break in and removal of these dogs. Where is the public safety associated with such a situation?

Q14: Do you agree that in the circumstances described the application fee be increased to £77 plus VAT?



We do not agree with any increase in fees. People are not going to be able to afford increased fees. Worse, how is this going to encourage voluntary applications for dogs to be entered on the register? What fee exemptions are going to be made for those in financial difficulty who have a dog that has never been accused of being dangerous and whose only crime is its appearance?


Do you think reviewing the fee after 3 years is reasonable?

The only result of such a review will be a fee increase. We do not agree.


Anne Kasica & Ernest Vine


The Self Help Group for farmers, pet owners and others experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA
(The SHG)

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