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Look after your dog properly - it’s the law!
- Scottish Parliament plans to make Code Of Dog Care Law -

THE SCOTTISH Assembly has launched a consultation on its plans to make a code of responsible dog care part of the country’s law. The code will be part of secondary legislation arising from the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act which came into force last Spring.

If dog owners fail to meet the criteria laid down in the proposed legislation, then they may be found to be guilty of breaking the law in relation to any cases of causing ‘unnecessary suffering’ to the dog brought by a third party against the owner.

The document, entitled Consultation On The Draft Dog Welfare Code Of Practice was launched on Thursday, February 7th by the Animal Health and Welfare Division of the Assembly’s Rural Directive and seeks responses from interested parties by May 1st 2008. The document was posted to every canine club in the UK, which indicates at least some degree of careful research by the document’s authors. Other recipients include every Scottish local authority and a large number of animal welfare charities.

The Preface of the report commences: ‘The aim of this code is to help you to look after your dog properly. Under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 (“the Act”), if you own or are in charge of an animal, you have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to ensure its welfare. This code explains what you need to do to meet the standard of care the law requires…

‘…If you are a parent or guardian of a child less than 16 years old, you are responsible for the child’s animals, even if the animals are registered in the child’s name.

‘Breach of a provision of the code, whilst not an offence in itself, can be used in evidence where somebody has been accused of an offence under the Act. Equally the code can be quoted by anyone who has acted in accordance with its provisions, as a defence against any prosecution under the Act. You should also be aware that failure to meet your ‘duty of care’ may result in unnecessary suffering, which could lead to the more serious offence of cruelty under the Act. ‘

This code is said to apply in Scotland only and has been issued by the Scottish Ministers, following its approval in draft by the Scottish Parliament, and covers all domestic dogs.

However, a dog which is under veterinary supervision and which may have additional or special needs resulting from treatment which will supersede the requirements of the code.

The document refers to ‘pet care specialists’, which it explains as being: ‘…people who, through qualification or experience, can provide expert advice on welfare and some aspects of health for one or more types of pet animal. Examples are animal behaviourists, veterinary nurses and dedicated welfare organisations.’ Dog exhibitors, breeders and judges, it would appear, are not listed as pet care specialists.

The document outlines specific clauses (numbering as included in the document): ‘…animal owners and keepers have a legal duty of care for the animals for which they are responsible.

3. The duty of care placed on an animal owner or keeper is based on the ‘Five Freedoms’ and include:

• its need for a suitable environment;
• its need for a suitable diet;
• its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns;
• any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and
• its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

4. These needs are explained in more detail in this code, however, your dog may have other needs that should also be met to ensure its welfare. If you are unsure what these might be, seek advice from a veterinary surgeon, a pet care specialist or a professional organisation such as the Scottish SPCA, the Dogs Trust or one of the other dog welfare charities.

5. People are responsible for an animal if they own or are in charge of it. An owner has ongoing responsibility for their animal even if it is in the care of another person. If you are the parent or guardian of a child under 16 years old, you are responsible for any animal that youngster is in charge of or owns. This ensures that an adult can normally be identified as having responsibly for an animal.

6. Responsibility for an animal includes having an understanding of the specific health and welfare needs of the animal and having the appropriate knowledge and skills to care for the animal. Those responsible for animals will also have to be aware of and comply with the legislation and codes, and to know when to seek qualified advice and help.

7. Every animal is different and as you get to know your dog, you will recognise familiar characteristics. Observing your dog enables you to judge whether it is relaxed, healthy and comfortable. It is important that you are able to recognise any changes in behaviour, as these might show that your dog is distressed, ill, or is not having its needs met in some other way.

8. You control your dog’s lifestyle, such as the amount of time it spends indoors and the exercise it receives. It is your responsibility to make sure that its needs are met, whatever the circumstances.

9. If you are worried about your dog, or you would like further advice about how to look after it and any future health care programme, vets or professional organisations are the best source of advice to help you.