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Dog wardens conference success


The Twenty Fourth annual conference of the National Dog Wardens’ Association was held on the 25th & 26th October at the Strathallan Hotel, Birmingham with over one hundred delegates attending from all over the UK. Day one covered issues of great concern to all those present: health and safety procedures, stray dogs, animal welfare and legislative changes. The second day focused attention on the difficult and divisive subject of dangerous dogs.

Dave Holden, a long term NDWA member and senior officer of Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council Dog Control Service, opened proceedings by casting his experienced eye of over Health and Safety procedures for dog wardens and related services; he was followed by Alison Smith of the Highways Agency (HA) who explained the Health and Safety issues of dealing with dogs on the motorway network and partnership procedures now being developed between the HA and councils.

The much awaited information from the department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) with regard to section 68 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 (which deals with the removal of police responsibilities for stray dogs) had been provided to councils by letter only a few days previously. Tristan Crago was able to reveal that that a £4 million handover from the Police funds to the Local Authority funds had been negotiated (about £9,000 for each local authority) and local authorities would become solely responsible for all stray dogs from 6th April 2008.

He told delegates that this would necessitate councils to provide a location where the public would be able to take stray dogs they found although a 24/7/365 day service was not a requirement. Much of this depended on the interpretation of the letter which contained the word ‘practicable’. Delegates were less than happy at the paucity of definition being provided by DEFRA at this late stage of the transfer of responsibilities.

Advisor

DEFRA was followed by another famous acronym, the RSPCA, represented by Senior Local Government Advisor, Piers Coughlan who was keen to point out that ‘senior’ in this case merely indicated that he was the RSPCA’s only local government advisor! As such he admitted responsibility for the ‘freedom of information’ demand which required dog warden services to report figures to the RSPCA for 2006/7 despite already reporting the same information to the Dogs Trust.

Having previously been a political lobbyist, Piers was clearly adept at massaging the ego of politicians, and there is little doubt that he massaged the ego of the delegates to deflect criticism of the RSPCA’s attitude towards local authority services. He might have got away with it too had one of the delegates not listened carefully to what he said when he suggested that the RSPCA’s Animal Collection Officers (ACOs) might help out local authorities with the forthcoming transfer of responsibilities from the police!

‘How exactly will the ACO’s be able to help when the RSPCA is proposing to withdraw the ACO service and incorporate it into the inspectorate’ asked a delegate. Piers had no reply available with which to massage this problem away!

Day one finished with another long-term NDWA member, Dave Griffiths, Environmental Protection Officer with East Hampshire District Council talking about the introduction and use of the Animal Welfare Act by councils. The most important factor is that the contents of the Act are ‘powers’ not ‘duties’ for councils and the adoption of the Act’s use will be different throughout the country. This took us to the only question the NDWA contributed to the consultation on this Act – ‘who would be responsible for its enforcement’. Sometimes legislation is as dependent on that, and how enforcement is funded, as it is on the legislation itself being well thought out and drafted.

The end of day one and the whole of day two dealt in great detail with probably one of the most badly drafted Acts of all time. The 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act is heavily criticised law; but it is the law and until such time as it is repealed and replaced, or is reformed and amended more than it was in 1997, it is ‘in place’ and will be used. All those present, representing all sides of the debate, accepted this fact and much common ground was agreed upon without blood being spilled.

The Police were represented by specialist identification officer for the Metropolitan Police Dog Section Constable, Peter Tallack, and Inspector Neil Davies and a colleague from Merseyside Police, Deed Not Breed Chairperson, Mel Page, was accompanied by Mark Green. Trevor Cooper also brought his wide experience of the working of the Act(s) in many defenses to the podium.

Specific

Day two began with Cuthbert Jackson, long time NDWA member and author of the NDWA’s original response to the government’s consultation paper on dangerous dogs in 1990. In 25 pages 18 years ago he had presented the NDWA’s arguments against breed specific legislation to the Home Office. Though he is now known for dog identifications for the prosecution under Section 1 in Bolton he continues to encourage the NDWA to position itself away from dealing with danger as a breed specific issue.

The paper that Cuthbert’s presentation was based can be found on the public pages of the NDWA’s website at www.ndwa.co.uk in which he presents the detailed reasons for a change in the law and some radical proposals for how to do it.

Throughout the day’s discussions everyone present acknowledged the importance of working with the law as it stands until such time as it is changed, whilst recognizing the problems of doing so. The Police also clearly recognised in their presentations that those in possession of Section 1 prohibited dogs fell into both criminal and non-criminal categories. Deed Not Breed accepted that a decision by the court not to destroy a dog did not make ownership of Section 1 ‘type’ dogs legal and that these were guilty verdicts. All sides acknowledged that there was still much work to be done and the NDWA is likely to call a further meeting of these parties to ensure the inclusion of their viewpoints in government’s future considerations.

NDWA looks forward to it’s Silver Jubilee in 2008 but expects a busy year up to then dealing with many of the issues that the seminar looked at and which, no doubt, local authorities will be expected, immediately, to provide services to ‘Gold Standard’ by dog owners and non-owners alike bur – as always - with ‘Bronze Standard’ funding.