Friday, 9 May 2008

Dog Control Orders: what are they and what can you do about them?

You probably heard the phrase "a dog is for life, not just for Christmas" before you knew where it came from. Thirty years ago it was coined by a young PR officer called Clarissa Watson and since then the woman now known as Clarissa Baldwin has become Dogs Trust's Chief Executive and has driven the charity from strength to strength.

This week, in her own blog, she's been discussing certain concerning reports about Dog Control Orders. Many new or potential owners might not know much about these, so I thought it would be worth covering what these are before talking about what you should do if you disagree with your local authority's dog control measures.

Expanding and replacing Dog Byelaws in April 2006, Control Orders extend decision-making power to local authorities and parish councils. Where a Dog Control Order has not yet been made for a particular issue on the same land, the byelaw remains in effect. The Orders can cover the following issues:

  1. Dog fouling
  2. Restriction of dogs from certain land
  3. Areas where dogs have to be kept on a lead
  4. Areas where dogs have to be kept on a lead when instructed
  5. Restrictions on multiple dog walking

Breach of a control order can attract a maximum fine of level 3 on that standard scale (currently £1000).

Alternatively, the opportunity to pay a fixed penalty may be offered in place of prosecution. Prior to a control order being made a period of local consultation and notices in local press is required.

On the surface, this doesn't seem necessarily problematic. Responsible dog owners will only let their dog off the lead where it is safe to do so, so that they can exhibit normal dog behaviour - a right enshrined in the Animal Welfare Act of 2006. Responsible dog owners will clean up their dog's mess and keep them under control at all times. Responsible dog owners, in other words, should not fall foul of Dog Control Orders.

However, the irresponsible few can prevail and lead to ever-more draconian Control Orders which might seek to prevent dogs ever being allowed off-lead in a public space, or banning them from certain areas altogether.

At this point, I must echo Clarissa's own words: "Strict Dog Control orders punish both dogs and owners for the sins of the irresponsible few. If you have any concerns about any measures being taken in your area, don’t forget to inform us. We have been instrumental in overturning such measures in the past but we can only do this if you let us know!"

Although our work at Dogs Trust centres on rescuing, rehoming and caring for dogs, we run extensive education programmes and campaign constantly for animal welfare, protesting the likes of the Dangerous Dogs Act and being instrumental in the addition of amendments to the Act. Our voices can be united with yours to put pressure on the Government for reform, but only if you tell us what you think.

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