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Councils ‘not geared up for strays’

THERE ARE fears packs of dogs will be left roaming the streets after it emerged only half of Wales' councils have finalised their stray dog policy which is to be enacted as part of the Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act 2005.

From April, police will no longer have any responsibility for stray dogs, even ‘out of hours’ as the task is transferred to councils.

But according to BBC TV's Eye On Wales programme, only 11 of Wales' 22 local authorities had yet to finalise their responsibilities over the matter… and the situation is fared to be as bad elsewhere in the UK.

Leading canine charity Dogs Trust said it had concerns and feared a ‘disaster’. It said it had worries that ‘packs of dogs would be left roaming the streets' and owners would be unable to find missing pets. Currently the responsibility for stray dogs is shared between local authorities and the police. Councils have a legal obligation to employ dog wardens to pick up stray or unwanted dogs during the working day. At night and at weekends, the police have a long-standing legal duty to accept strays brought to them by members of the public.

But many police stations no longer have kennels and the system is about to change as a lately-enacted part of the Act. The implementation of this part of the Act has been delayed due to arguments over funding for Local Authorities for the extra ‘out of hours’ stray dogs services.
Local authorities need to establish ‘acceptance points’ where the public can take a stray dog out of hours. People will not be able to take a dog to a police station.

Rowan Hughes, Principal Environmental Health Officer with the Vale of Glamorgan Council and also chair of the All Wales Dog Warden Liaison Technical Group, said councils will need to make arrangements with commercial boarding kennels or charitable kennels.

‘Although there are normally a number of boarding kennels within each authority, most of these will not be interested in receiving stray dogs out of hours because of the obvious disease risk,’ he said.

‘Also it can be a big disturbance, set all the dogs of barking, and if the premises are near homes it can cause a noise nuisance.’

Gwynedd, Carmarthenshire, Wrexham and Blaenau Gwent councils are among those which have yet to finalise arrangements for stray dog ‘acceptance points’.

The Dogs Trust, the UK's biggest canine welfare organisation, takes in 1,000 strays annually in Wales alone. Veterinary director Chris Laurence said: ‘Our worry is that it's going to be pretty much of a disaster for the first few months. We're really concerned that this removal of the police from the equation completely is going to end up with a lot of stray dogs running around, nobody to pick them up, nobody to care for them.’

Mr Laurence’s comments have not gone down well with Dog wardens however. Sue Bell, President of the National Dog warden Association commented: ‘Angry Dog Wardens have contacted the National Dog Wardens’ Association to express their disbelief at the comments made on behalf of the Dogs Trust, as it is well known that this charity along with other well known dog related organisations, including the RSPCA and Kennel Club, were consulted by DEFRA on this so called transfer of responsibilities before it was introduced by Section 68 of the Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act 2005 - and did not object to it.

‘DEFRA’s guidance for the change only states that councils accept dogs ‘out of hours’ ‘where practicable’ and further states that there is no need for a dog capture or collection service only the provision of an ‘acceptance point’ or points to which the public can take stray dogs.
The DEFRA guidance on dealing with stray dogs out of hours caused dismay amongst Dog Warden’s and some Councils when it was first issued.

Ms Bell continued: ‘There is documentary evidence in the form of news items on the NDWA website as well as documents and discussion papers that NDWA has put forward, but sadly without the ‘clout’ that some wealthy animal welfare charities have.

‘NDWA was then and remains now opposed to ‘acceptance points’ due to the issue of liability, what happens when the finder of a dog is told by the ‘council’ to take it to their local ‘acceptance point’ and it attacks them or causes damage to the finders vehicle? As the council, as opposed to the law, told the person to take the dog to a certain location, will the council not be liable?
‘DEFRA and their advisors had plenty of opportunity to introduce a system for dealing with stray dogs that was fit for purpose for the 21st century, unfortunately it will be more likely, fit for the 19th century, but please don’t blame the councils or their Dog Wardens, blame the government, their civil servants and their advisors for this impending ’disaster’ as either leaving the status quo or realising in advance the size of funding and type of service necessary to be created to improve on it might have prevented this situation.’

The arguments apparently do not bother the police service, however, as they are clearly pleased to be rid of the burden of responsibility for stray dogs. The Association of Chief Police Officers has welcomed the transfer of responsibility for stray dogs to local authorities.

An ACPO spokesperson said: ‘Strays dogs are essentially an environmental and public health issue which in modern times should not remain as a function of the police.’