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Minister ‘reassures’ DTA about Act

THE MINISTER for Rural Affairs, Alun Michael, has written to Dog Theft Action after the lack of response from Mr Michael and his colleague Ben Bradshaw to the campaigning organisation’s letters as highlighted in OUR DOGS last week, writes Nick Mays.

DTA Co-ordinator Margaret Nawrockyi told OUR DOGS: “My communications to Ben Bradshaw have been forwarded to the Home Secretary - who is responsible for matters involving any kind of theft. Strange, that the DEFRA Minister for Animal Health and Welfare is not concerned with persistent and consistent thefts of dogs – but that’s another matter and, indeed, another letter.”

Saturday’s post brought Nawrockyi a reply from Alun Michael, Minister for Rural Affairs, who addressed her concerns about some aspects of the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Bill which was passed on April 8th 2005 and now becomes the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act.

In February Nawrockyi wrote to Mr Michael as follows:

"At the current time a dog found unaccompanied by its owner is considered to be stray. What happens to it then is determined by set of extremely random options. A stray dog can be:

taken by its finder to the nearest police station where it can be kept in a kennel until the dog warden arrives to take it to local authority kennels

it can be allowed to remain with its finder until a period of time has passed and the finder can then elect to keep it

it can be taken directly to the local authority kennel by the finder or the dog warden

it can be taken to a rescue centre or sanctuary.

If you visit the national database for lost, stolen and found dogs, www.doglost.co.uk, you will see that these measures consistently exacerbate the plight of hundreds of dog owners who have had their dogs stolen and who are desperately trying to recover them. It seems to me that the first option is perhaps the safest. However, as the bill proposes that all responsibility for stray dogs will be shouldered by the local authority can you assure me that 24 hr dog warden coverage will be arranged so that the whereabouts of each found dog is officially recorded by an appropriate person and will extra funding made available to accommodate this?"

Responsible

Mr Michael answered by referring to a Written Ministerial Statement he gave on March 22nd 2005:
"…Clause 68 of the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Bill and Part 6 of Schedule 5 to the bill provide for the responsibility of the police in respect of stray dogs to be repealed. When this provision comes into force local authorities will be solely responsible for dealing with stray dogs in their area. This clarity is in the public interest and in the interest of animal welfare. This additional demand on local authorities will be funded through an agreed and appropriate transfer from the Home Office to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and will not be brought into effect until the transfer has been made. The Local Government Association and the police have indicated support to this approval. This change will place the onus on local authorities to have arrangements in place for dealing with stray dogs on a twenty-four hour basis, seven days a week."

As pointed out elsewhere in this issue and as reported previously, now that the Act has been passed and once it becomes law, local authorities will assume total responsibility for stray dogs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and funding for this will be made available through the ODPM after the transfer has been made.

DTA does not feel reassured, after hearing of LAs who currently have no accommodation for stray dogs at all and send them to kennels, literally miles away.

"Some LAs have only part time dog wardens at present," says Nawrockyi. "Will these be put under so much pressure to offer 24/7 cover that the system will be totally inadequate and ineffective? The funding and the accommodation need to be made available in advance so that provisions can be made and dogs are not sent to other local authorities making the search for missing pets impossible.

“At DTA we can’t help worrying that the new act will make matters worse instead of better. It’s hard enough in many cases to find a dog that has been taken either maliciously or by a responsible member of the public, seeking to help a stray dog. The first port of call is often the police station where a kennel is available until temporary accommodation can be found but the new act removes police responsibility for stray dogs.

“Mr Michael points out in his letter that ‘the finder of a stray dog is legally required to inform and give details to the local authority dog warden, thus allowing dog owners to reclaim their pets’. General ignorance of the law where it relates to dogs is astounding and until this is redressed and the law is enforced and appropriate retribution is implemented in cases where the law has been broken, the current status quo will not improve."

Nawrockyi concludes: "I am grateful to Mr Michael for his final sentence though, where he assures us: ‘As the theft of a dog is a crime, the police will continue to have responsibility for such matters.’ I hope that police forces up and down the country will take note and act ccordingly."
lDTA’s website is: www.dogtheft action.co.uk