Friday, 10 September 2021

Pet Theft - New Criminal Offence

Positive News this month:

The Government has announced that pet abduction is to be made a new criminal offence - the Pet Theft Taskforce has delivered its report with key findings and recommendations: 

A new criminal offence for pet abduction is set to be introduced under government plans to crack down on pet theft following a reported rise in pets being stolen during the pandemic. The new law will recognise the welfare of animals and that pets are valued as more than property.

The new offence is one of several recommendations in a report published today by the Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce which was launched in May 2021.

The report found that seven in 10 of the animal thefts recorded by the police involve dogs. Evidence suggests that around 2,000 dog theft crimes were reported to police in 2020, causing considerable distress for owners and their pets alike.

The Recommendations include:
  • The creation of a new ‘pet abduction’ offence:

    Pet theft is currently treated as a loss of property to the owner, but we know that does not reflect the true severity of this crime. The new offence will prioritise the welfare of our pets as sentient beings and recognise the emotional distress to the animal in addition to its owner.

  • Identifying and tracking cases:

    Reliable data on pet theft is limited and improved recording and data collection about these crimes will build a stronger evidence base about the problem.

  • Improving the recording of ownership and transfer data:

    New requirements to register additional details and a single point of access to microchipping databases will support tracking lost and stolen dogs.

  • Tackling the fear of crime: Police will work together with partner agencies to raise awareness about police initiatives and prevention measures.

Further details are available on the Government website.

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

DDA - 30th anniversary this month:

 Ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Dangerous Dogs Act this month, small animal vet Robin Hargreaves looks back over three decades of breed specific legislation in the UK and explains why it's time the Government listened to the evidence around dog attacks, public safety and dog welfare.

I qualified from Liverpool in 1985 and entered fully small animal practice in 1987. This was around the time that we were starting to see increasing reports of serious dog bite incidents and dog “attack” stories involving this almost mythical beast, the Pit Bull Terrier.

Out in the provinces we had very little experience of dealing with Pit Bulls that we were hearing were becoming increasingly common, having originated in the United States. The fevered reports in the press had even professionals like me believing that these dogs were somehow different to the dogs I was used to dealing with.

I remember a client who had moved into our area from London who had become terrified that their Pit Bull Terrier might cause someone serious harm and he arranged for it to be euthanised.

We cleared the surgery for its arrival and even purchased our first aluminium pole dog catcher, assuming it would be very difficult to control. Sadly it was perfectly amenable to handling and as we now know, in temperament, probably no different to any other dog properly socialised and handled correctly by a sensible owner.

The introduction of breed specific legislation

In 1991, following the dreadful injuries inflicted on Rukhsana Khan by Pit Bull Terriers in Bradford only a little over 20 miles from our surgery, the government pushed through the Dangerous Dogs Act to make the ownership of these dogs illegal. This incident was the third very serious event involving Pit Bull Terriers which had inflicted life changing injuries in a short space of time.

The new Dangerous Dogs Act gave a brief window during which four breeds of dog- the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Fila Brasileiro- which were deemed inherently dangerous having been theoretically bred for fighting, could be licensed and registered.

In order to register one of the prescribed breeds of dog it had to be identified (at that time by tattoo), neutered, have third-party insurance, be muzzled in public, and not be in the hands of somebody below the age of 16.

Immediate consequences

In 1991 in East Lancashire where we practised, we had several dogs registered that were recorded as being Pit Bull Terriers or Pit Bull Terrier cross. All of these dogs immediately came under the Dangerous Dogs Act. In theory if all of these dogs were neutered, they would disappear from public ownership over the coming years. But we knew within weeks that the Act was not going to have the desired effect of eliminating these animals from public ownership.

We expected to be seeing these animals for neutering if they were to be registered. In fact, my recollection is that we did not neuter a single Pit Bull Terrier at that time and were involved in no registrations at all.

So in our relatively small area of the UK, all the Pit Bull Terriers and Pit Bull Terrier cross dogs that we had dealt with simply disappeared overnight. Obviously the dogs did not in fact disappear, but presumably cropped up elsewhere to be registered as Staffy cross or something similar.

My next experience of the consequences of the Dangerous Dogs Act was the requirement to visit and examine dogs impounded at a local kennel whilst their cases ground their inexorable way through the courts and arguments were made for and against their classification as a proscribed breed. These animals were confined for months on end and their physical condition could be seen to gradually deteriorate. It was obvious to me that regardless of the law the treatment of these animals was quite inhumane and the impact on their welfare was huge.

Paradoxically now 30 years later, we have young people contacting the surgery to register puppies that they describe as Pit Bull Terriers. Presumably these new owners are so young that they are simply unaware that the Dangerous Dogs Act even exists.

Follow the evidence

During almost 36 years of general practice, almost every breed of dog has tried to bite me at one time or another, usually with complete justification if you take into consideration their inherent anxieties and behavioural problems- problems which often stem from a woeful lack of understanding of the emotional development of young dogs by owners and, if we are honest, vets as well.

A review five years after the implementation of the Dangerous Dogs Act found no significant reduction in dog bites. In fact, a study published this year found that adult hospital admission rates for dog bites tripled in England between 1998-2018, and the incidence of dog bites in children had remained consistently high.

Back in 2018, I shared this evidence and my experience with members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee on behalf of BVA. The committee’s report later that year recommended a full-scale review of the existing dog control legislation and policy to better protect both public safety and animal welfare. It concluded that “changing the law on Breed Specific Legislation is desirable, achievable, and would better protect the public” and criticised the lack of Government action on this front as showing “a disregard for dog welfare.” However, three years on, the Government still hasn’t taken any action on the report’s recommendations.

It is clear from current evidence that the Dangerous Dogs Act has not improved human safety around dogs. Furthermore, the focus on breed specific legislation has detracted from efforts to properly understand the motivation behind serious dog attacks - an understanding which might have allowed us to better educate dog owners and the public at large on how to have a healthy relationship with dogs that is both safe and fulfilling for us and free of unnecessary fear and anxiety for dogs.

Saturday, 31 July 2021

DDA-BSL UK - further calls for total overhaul - the Vet Times:

 The Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) has been slammed in a damning new report as animal welfare charities and the BVA renew calls for an urgent review of the controversial legislation.

With the 30th anniversary of the act looming in August, the RSPCA has released a report titled “Breed specific legislation – a dog’s dinner” that blames laws surrounding supposedly dangerous breeds for harming dogs and dog owners.


The law was introduced in 1991 as a reaction to a period of highly publicised dog attacks which culminated in a law that the report admonishes as backed by “a surprising lack of scientific evidence”.

The report finds that while the DDA introduced a raft of measures intended to decrease the amount of dog bite incidents across the UK, it has in no way impacted the rate of such attacks.

Increased cases

Between March 2005 and February 2015, the number of hospital admissions in England due to dog bites increased 76% – from 4,110 to 7,227.

Samantha Grimes, an RSPCA dog welfare expert and lead author of the report, described the DDA as “letting down” dogs that look a certain way before going on to describe the DDA as “unfair, unjust and wrong”.


Dr Grimes added: “The Dangerous Dogs Act was a knee-jerk piece of legislation, introduced in response to a series of high-profile dog attacks.

“But in the 30 years since its inception, hospital admissions due to dog bites have continued to rise, tragic fatalities as a result of dog incidents have continued, and thousands of dogs have needlessly lost their lives.

“It’s high time the UK Government responds to the scientific research, follows in the footsteps of other nations around the world that have repealed breed-specific legislation and do not just what is right for dogs, but for public safety, and ensure both are better protected.”

Section one

The BVA has long called for a total overhaul of the law as part of its “Deed not Breed” campaign that urges the Government to consider new legislation that examines severity of incidents rather than the breed involved.

The association would rather see section one of the act – pertaining to specific banned breeds – removed entirely and an Australian-style database of known dog bites to be set up.

‘Total overhaul’

BVA senior vice-president Daniella Dos Santos said: “We have long campaigned for a total overhaul of the 1991 DDA because it targets specific breeds rather than deeds and gives a false impression that dogs not on the banned list are ‘safe’.

“Evidence gathered as part of our recent policy update further supports our view that breed-specific legislation has been ineffective in its intended aims, thereby failing to properly protect the public or safeguard dog welfare over the past three decades.”

Dr Dos Santos added: “We’ll be writing to the Home Office and Defra, and will be joining up with other campaign organisations in the lead-up to the act’s 30th anniversary in August to push for effective, evidence-based solutions.”

  • For the full story, see the 6 July issue of Vet Times.

Monday, 28 June 2021

MPs debate petitions relating to microchipping

The debate was led by Petitions Committee member Jonathan Gullis MP. MPs from all parties could take part, and Victoria Prentis, Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food, reponded on behalf of the Government.

Fern’s Law: Compulsory to scan & check microchips to reunite stolen dogs, cats

The petition, which received more than 112,000 signatures, states: “Many missing microchipped pets are never reunited as it’s optional to scan & check microchip registration. It’s time veterinary professionals, authorities and rescues checked pet & keeper match on the original database at a pets 1st consultation or yearly checkup. It’s their only chance to get home.”

In response to the petition, the Government said: “BVA and RCVS provide necessary guidance to scan dogs. We will consider reform options including whether this should be mandatory as part of Post Implementation Review of the microchipping regulations.”

Vets to scan prior to euthanasia for Rescue Back up and confirm keeper details

The petition, which received more than 121,000 signatures, states: “A healthy young dog with RBU was euthanised. The person who requested euthanasia was not the registered keeper. Vets must be legally required to scan for rescue back up contact details on microchips and confirm the person presenting the animal is registered on the microchip. Rescue Back Up must be contacted and honoured.”

In response to the petition, the Government said: “The Government understands the distress that the death of a pet can cause and is considering scanning requirements, as part of the Post Implementation Review of the microchipping regulations.”

Correspondence with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Last year, the Committee wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice MP to ask for an update on the Government’s plans to update legislation relating to the microchipping of pets.

Friday, 11 June 2021

Spinal Stroke Journey

Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE) is also known as a ‘spinal stroke’ in dogs, there is a blockage in the blood vessel supplying the spinal cord and the flow of blood is prevented or reduced to that part of the spinal cord.

FCE can come on suddenly and the physical signs can include paralysis in the back legs being unable to stand and walk properly-dragging the back legs, weakness and being wobbly on the legs. Swift veterinary attention is needed and a physical examination is carried out. One of our dogs had a sudden collapse in the garden one morning and we were refereed by our vets to a specialist centre and hospital; we left our veterinary clinic and drove to the hospital on the same day.

We walked Troops into the reception with a sling around his abdomen, he was alert and calm but unable to stand on his rear legs, haematology, biochemistry, physical and neurological examinations followed and we stayed with him for the initial investigations until he was hospitalised later that day.

IV Fluid therapy, a catheter, anaesthesia and a MRI scan followed, he was under the care of a lovely group of veterinarians and nurses, before being diagnosed by a specialist in veterinary neurology; based on the imaging-FCE. Troops stayed hospitalised for several days and received daily multiple sessions of physiotherapy and making some improvement becoming paraparetic but not ambulatory.

Meanwhile at home, we were able to organise a new safe and comfy area, we cut down the legs on a single sized child bed and inserted a memory foam mattress on top, this was ideal, covered with a waterproof protector, incontinence pads, extra large strong sling to support the back end when  standing and walking and a padded harness to support the body – with a carry handle on top, there are a number of options on the market and you really need to do your research to find the best one for your dog, paying attention to size, comfort, and strength.

Eventually he came home and we followed on with daily physiotherapy sessions, prescription medications, lots of well researched dietary support and supplements, extra mental stimulation (stuffed kongs, safe dental chews, hiding food games, scent stimulation) as there was now less physical activity each day and then we introduced some hydro-therapy sessions in the mornings each week. Eventually we went on to construct our own dog-friendly pool in the garden for summer time use by all the dogs, some fun on a hot day as well as exercise and physical therapy.

There was a urinary incontinence and we found absorbent bed pads which absorb the urine and remain dry on top, these need to be positioned well especially at night, and warm soothing washes are ideal, we had some gentle skin cleansing foam wash which was handy for times when out and about, we kept to a regular daily routine-out first thing in the morning into the garden on the sling, last trip at night etc and Troops began to regain bladder control which was a great step forward, he couldn’t cock his leg, although he did try a few times, so he dipped down a little and had a pee, re-establishing a routine and becoming stronger over several months.

Favourite times were trips out in the car, to explore new places and take in all the smells, especially a trip to the beach-always on the look-out for car parking within reach of the sand and safe dog friendly places to stop on route.

Slowly walking along short distances with the carry sling and one person behind to carry the weight and one in front in case we had off leash dogs running head into us. 

We couldn’t get that far, Troops was very strong on his front end, but also a very big dog so there was a lot of weight to hold on the sling, it was difficult, also his back paws could drag on the ground and this was an issue, we tried several different types of boots and that helped – a pavement will graze the paws very quickly so you have to prevent this, we then researched online and measured up to order a set of ‘dog wheels’: In our situation these took some sessions to adjust to, large dog v need to run and turn corners on a penny!

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Government Action Plan for Animal Welfare

The Policy paper was published by Government in May 2021,  the part devoted to pet animals is detailed below, the government has stated that the following steps are now to engage with all key parties to develop their plans, the remainder of this Parliament is set to implement proposals through a programme of primary legislation including the Animal Welfare Sentience Bill, the Kept Animals Bill and the Animals Abroad Bill, there will also be secondary legislation along with other non-legislative measures.

From the Policy paper:

Pets are central to so many families and we want to ensure their welfare is protected, and that sporting animals are cared for responsibly.

One of our key reforms here is to end the abhorrent, cruel practice of puppy smuggling and low-welfare pet imports. Now the transition period has finished, and we have left the EU, we have the opportunity to go further than ever. We have been working closely with our colleagues across the devolved administrations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide protection for those animals brought in by these unscrupulous traders, and to prevent the trade as much as we can.

We committed to cracking down on puppy smuggling in our manifesto. We will legislate to reduce the number of pet dogs, cats and ferrets that can be moved under the pet travel rules which apply to non-commercial movements. This will prevent unscrupulous traders from exploiting our pet travel rules.

We will also bring in powers which enable us to go further, to:

  • increase the minimum age that dogs can be non-commercially moved or commercially imported into Great Britain

  • restrict the ability of unscrupulous traders to move heavily pregnant dogs into Great Britain both commercially and non-commercially

  • prioritise the health and welfare of dogs by prohibiting the importation and non-commercial movement of dogs into Great Britain that have been subject to low welfare practices, such as ear cropping or tail docking, in line with our domestic legislation on these practices

We will crack down on pet theft, which is reported to have increased markedly since the start of the pandemic, knowing the devastating impact this offence, and the fear of it, can have on families and pet owners. We have worked across government to set up a taskforce to tackle this issue. This taskforce will:

  • gather, research and commission work to build a clear evidence base of the scale of any issue

  • consider the issue from end to end, including causes, prevention, reporting, enforcement, prosecution and sentencing

  • make clear and timely recommendations on ways to improve the situation around pet theft

We will introduce compulsory cat microchipping to ensure lost or stolen cats can be reunited with their owners as quickly as possible. In addition, we are reviewing the operation of the current microchip database systems, which also apply to dogs, with a view to introducing improvements.

We are also considering reforms to provide greater assurance that microchip database information is checked appropriately, for example in cases where healthy dogs are presented to vets for euthanasia, as campaigned for via the ‘Tuk’s Law’ movement.

We will also:

  • continue our initiatives to educate the public on how to source dogs and cats responsibly. Launched in March 2020, our National ‘Petfished’ Communications Campaign aims to raise awareness of issues associated with low-welfare and illegal supply of pets

  • pursue the licensing of animal sanctuaries, rescue and rehoming centres including for cats, dogs and horses

  • consider changes to equine identification and traceability to improve biosecurity and animal welfare with key stakeholders, and we plan to consult on proposals later in the year

  • ban remote controlled electronic training collars (‘e-collars’), given their scope to harm cats and dogs

  • consider further protections for racing greyhounds, including further steps to raise welfare standards at trainers’ kennels

  • ensure the horse racing sector addresses key animal welfare issues such as fatality levels

  • ensure that dangerous dogs legislation continues to provide effective public safety controls

  • continue to commit to maintaining high standards of protection where procedures are undertaken on live animals for scientific or educational purposes

Friday, 14 May 2021

Pet Theft Taskforce launched this month

 A Pet Theft Taskforce has been launched to investigate the recent reported rise in pet theft since the start of lockdown, Environment Secretary George Eustice has announced.

Sales platforms have reported a considerable rise in puppy and kitten prices over the course of the past year following more people deciding to buy or adopt a pet. Recent reports have suggested that this may be leading to a rise in pet thefts.

According to DogsTrust, the price for five of the UK’s most sought after breeds grew significantly during the first lockdown with the price of some breeds rising by as much as 89%. Google searches for ‘buy a puppy’ increased by 166% in the months between March and August following the start of lockdown last year. Recent police investigations into dog theft have also resulted in numerous raids and arrests on suspicion of theft and animal cruelty.

The new taskforce has been set up to gather evidence to understand the factors that may be contributing to any perceived rise in thefts and to recommend any necessary measures to tackle the problem. The Taskforce will learn lessons from successes in tackling other types of theft, such as mobile phone or metal theft, and how to clamp down most effectively on this illegal market and those engaged in it.

Stealing a pet is already a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968, with offenders facing a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. If someone causes an animal to suffer in the cause of stealing it from its owner, then they are also liable to prosecution for offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The taskforce will be made up of government officials from Defra, Home Office and Ministry of Justice as well as operational partners such as the police. It will also seek input from animal welfare groups and experts in relevant fields.

The Pet Theft Taskforce will:

  • work with police, law enforcement, and experts to understand and tackle pet theft
  • consider the issue from end to end, including causes, prevention, reporting, enforcement and prosecution.
  • make clear and timely recommendations on ways to reduce pet theft.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

Pets are much loved members of the family, and these reports will be distressing for all pet owners.

Pet owners shouldn’t live in fear so we’ve set up this Taskforce to thoroughly investigate the issue and ensure that we have the measures in place to stop these criminals in their tracks.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

Having callous thieves steal a much-loved pet is heart-breaking for families and it is deplorable that criminals seek to profit from this cruel crime.

We are already taking action to combat such lawlessness by bolstering the police with 20,000 extra officers but this new taskforce will ensure we know how best to combat the driving forces behind this distressing crime and clamp down on the perpetrators.

The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, said:

We are a nation of animal lovers and many of us have sought the companionship of pets during the pandemic, which makes the reported spike in thefts especially cruel and shocking to many people.

This taskforce will examine every option available to protect families from this appalling crime and make sure perpetrators feel the full force of the law.

Taskforce partner, Deputy Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman said:

Dog theft is a very emotive issue which has a huge impact on families or individuals and we are aware of a growing concern around this issue. The taskforce will support us in understanding this risk and also identifying trends involving serious and organised crime.

The taskforce will enable us to gather intelligence across the country and tackle groups who work across geographical boundaries. We hope that this is a step forward in providing reassurance that we are committed to understanding any risks fully, and challenging related criminal behaviour.

The police have advised that dog owners should avoid leaving their pet unattended while out in public, vary their routines when walking their dogs and should take basic security steps at home such as checking locks on doors and garden gates.

The Blue Cross has also published detailed guidance for pet owners on how they can protect their animals from theft.

The taskforce will include representatives from operational partners to provide knowledge, experience and guidance on the practical aspects of reducing pet theft. It will also seek the input from stakeholders and experts in relevant fields, such as campaign groups and animal welfare organisations to gather any evidence they may hold and seek their views on the issue.

The taskforce will aim to report on the findings and publish its recommendations in the autumn this year. The full Terms of Reference for the Taskforce can be accessed here.

The plans are part of the Government’s commitment to further strengthening the UK’s position as a global leader in animal welfare standards and come alongside other measures including taking steps to end live animal exports and crack down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies, with further proposals to improve standards and eradicate cruel practices to be set out later this month.