Strays dogs are a major problem for local authorities. In 2007 105,068 dogs were collected as strays in the UK, which has increased by 3482 (+3%) from 2006. 7892 of these had to be euthanized or “put to sleep” which is 142 more (+2%) than 2006. In the North East a total of 6152 strays were found, 234 of which had to be put down. This is a decrease of -62% from 2006. However 9368 strays were reported in London, 181 of which had to be euthanized which is an increase of +15%. Put more clearly this shows that in 2007 21 dogs a day were destroyed, this works out at almost 150 every week.
These statistics are taken from the Dogs Trust who produced a survey by mailing a questionnaire to all 142 local authorities with a response of 79%. The figures are estimates based on the assumption that responding authorities are representative of authorities as a whole.
Strays are destroyed for several reasons:
- Injury or ill health.
- The owner can’t be traced.
- A new home can’t be found.
- Rescue centres don’t have enough room and they can’t be passed on.
- Kennel spaces are scarce.
- Resources or funds aren’t available to care for the dogs.
Clarissa Baldwin, Chief Executive of the Dogs Trust said: “This is the sixth year Dogs Trust has conducted this survey, and we’re deeply disturbed that despite increasing awareness of how to prevent it, so many dogs are still allowed to stray. It’s sad that, though we claim to be animal-lovers, the throwaway mentality is so evident in our treatment of our own pets. It’s also shocking that so many dogs are needlessly destroyed. Over 20 dogs die every single day just for want of a home.”
The most effective and humane way of reducing the number of stray dogs in the long-term is best achieved through neutering which involves removing the animal’s reproductive organs. Also micro-chipping pets provides a quick and efficient means of identifying owners and reuniting them. Since the Dogs Trust scheme began in 1999 150,000 dogs have been neutered and 184,000 have been micro-chipped.
What to do if you find a stray:
If you discover a stray dog then you are required by the law to report it to the local authorities and where possible return it to its owner. It may be useful to keep some items in your car so that you are prepared should you find a stray:
- A phone
- The phone number of a local dog warden, your local council, a shelter or a 24 hour emergency veterinary clinic.
- Collars and a strong leash
- Strong smelling food
However before you think about approaching the dog, consider your own safety first: are there any other hazards around? The dog may be scared itself, so it may behave unpredictably-are you near a road which the dog might run into? Most importantly though, if the dog appears threatening, aggressive or dangerous do not attempt to approach it, stay in your car or away from it and notify local animal control authorities. If you decide to approach the dog do so with caution-you do not know it and it does not know you therefore it may act unpredictably or you may shock it causing it to react aggressively. Here are some simple steps to follow when you are trying to take in a stray dog:
- Get the dog’s attention either by talking quietly or by making soft clicking noises with your tongue. You could throw food to the side of it so that it is interested or more trusting.
- Do not shout or make any sudden movements that might startle the dog
- Don’t make eye contact as this is seen as a challenge, also don’t look down on it as this is intimidating.
- Approach slowly without making sudden movements and try to talk to it calmly to reassure it. Only go within 10-15 feet of the animal at first.
- Try to appear as small as possible as this will be less intimidating, but don’t go on your hands and knees as this makes you more vulnerable should it attack.
- Make sure that you can see the dog at all times: don’t turn your back to it. Also let the dog see you: don’t try to creep up on it or catch it by surprise as this may cause it to attack you.
- Never try to corner an animal as it will feel trapped and vulnerable making it think that violence will be its only means of escape.
- Once you are within 10-15 feet, try to get the animal to come to you by calling it softly or patting the ground with your hand.
- If the dog comes to you remain still and let it sniff you, don’t offer out your hand as it may feel threatened and attack. Once it has sniffed you slowly pet the dog to calm and reassure it.
- Try to find an ID tag, make a note of the number on it or memorise it. Do not remove it: if the dog gets away again it will be much harder for it to be reunited with its owner.
- If the dog does not approach, continue to go towards it very slowly and steadily.
- If it becomes aggressive remain calm as dogs can sense fear, don’t turn your back and don’t run as dogs love to chase things. Instead back away slowly.
- If possible restrain the dog, maybe by putting it in your car or taking it home, so that it is not causing any more disruption and is more easily controlled. It is better to wait for help rather than drive with it unrestrained in your car as it could behave aggressively or distract you if it reacts badly in this unfamiliar situation.
- Offer the dog water and a small amount of dog food. If you give it a lot it may not have eaten for a long time and suddenly eating large amounts can make it ill.
When you report a stray dog to the local authorities you may be asked to give:
- Your contact details.
- A description of the dog.
- The time and date when you found the dog.
- Where you found the dog.
- Where the dog should be collected from (the local authorities should collect stray dogs, or if you find it out of office hours you may have to keep it until someone can collect it).
Even if you want to keep a stray dog you must report it to your local authorities: it is illegal to take a stray dog home without reporting it the local authorities first. When you are reporting it you can tell your authorities that you would like to keep it and, if after 7 days it has not been reclaimed, it may be possible for you to keep it, although this must be agreed upon by the local authorities. Also looking after a dog is a big responsibility as well as expensive. Strays can be more problematic as you don’t know their past history: you don’t know whether it is vaccinated, whether it has been trained and what its temperament is, it may behave aggressively towards or be frightened of you as you and your family and surroundings will be unfamiliar. These problems might only be temporary but they could also be long-term issues and it is worthwhile looking at all your options and thinking about possible outcomes before you decide to keep the dog.
What to do if you lose your dog:
If you lose your dog you should report it to your local authorities and they will probably ask for information including:
- When and where it was last seen.
- A description of the dog.
- Your contact details.
Your dog should be wearing a collar with an ID tag attached so if it is found you should quickly be reunited. However, if the dog was not wearing a collar with contact details on it, or the collar fell off while the dog was lost then it may have been found and treated as a stray. Strays are kept safely by local authorities for seven days, and if the owner is traced they are notified and have to reclaim the dog within a certain time. When you reclaim your dog you will be charged a fine of £25.00, plus administration costs and kennel board.
The responsibility of local authorities towards stray dogs:
Since April 2006 it is no longer the responsibility of the police but the local authorities to deal with strays. They must provide a dog warden service and appoint an officer to deal with stray dogs who must fulfil a number of duties. The dog warden service deals with:
- Noisy dogs
- Aggressive dogs
- Dog fouling
- Stray dogs
A complaint about any of these issues should be made to your local authority. Also complaints or sightings of stray dogs around schools or disrupting traffic flow will be dealt with urgently.
A dog warden’s duties include:
- Responding to complaints
- Responding urgently to sightings of strays at schools or those affecting traffic flow
- Seizing and collecting stray dogs and returning them, where possible, to their owners. (The first time a dog is collected it is returned with a notice)
- Collecting and keeping strays for a specified period of time if the owner cannot be traced.
- Trying to trace the owner of stray dogs and notifying them
- Promoting responsible dog ownership through talks to groups and primary schools
- Enforcing dog related laws: they can make orders for standard offences such as not clearing up faeces, not keeping dogs on leads in designated areas and allowing dogs to enter land from which they are excluded.
- Promoting micro-chipping dogs as part of responsible ownership
The normal period for a council to look after a stray is seven days. If the dog hasn’t been reclaimed after the specified period then the council relinquish ownership of the dog to the kennels which deals with the dog as it sees fit. The kennels must then fund the care of the dog.
The problems with stray dogs:
- Stray dogs may cause accidents as they may run into roads injuring either themselves or others.
- Not all dogs are friendly and they can intimidate people, acting aggressively or even biting them if they aren’t under proper control.
- Strays foul but there is nobody to clear up after them.
- Dogs like to hunt so they may wander into other people’s gardens and worry their pets (such as rabbits or guinea pigs)
- They may worry livestock and the farmer is within his rights to shoot it if this is the case.
- They may scavenge through rubbish bins and rip bin bags in search of food so litter gets strewn about.
- Strays may eat something that makes them ill
- The dog might get lost or stolen
- They may roam parks or other public places intimidating people
- If they are wandering freely, they may encounter other dogs, mate and have unwanted puppies
- They are costly either to the council who has to look after it for a certain period, to the kennel where they might be sent once that period is over, or to the owner when they go to reclaim it.
Stray dogs and the Law:
Environmental Protection Act 1990 defines a stray dog as one that is found in a public place and is not in the control of its owner. It states that the council has the power to seize any dog caught straying on public or private land. All seized dogs will be held in kennels for seven days by the local authority. If a stray is reclaimed then the owner will be charged £25 plus administration charges and kennel board. After seven days the dog will be re-homed.
It is a legal requirement under the Control of Dogs Order 1992 for any dog in a public place to wear a collar with name and address, including the postcode, and if possible the telephone number inscribed on it or attached to it. If a dog does not have a collar it can be seized and treated as a stray. If you lose your dog you must notify the authorities.
Under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 it is a criminal offence to abandon an animal or allow it to be abandoned “in circumstances likely to cause the animal any unnecessary suffering”.
The Environment Protection (Stray dog) Regulations 1992 states that all local authorities must appoint an officer to deal with strays. The dog warden must fulfil certain duties and keep accurate and detailed records concerning reports, complaints and strays.
When the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 came in the responsibility for stray dogs was transferred from the police to local authorities. It is the duty of dog wardens to seize stray dogs. The finder of a stray must either return it to its owner or, if the owner can’t be traced, report it to the local authorities. It is illegal to take a stray dog home without reporting it the local authorities first.