New report by UK’s largest dog welfare organisation, the Kennel Club, highlights that responsible owners could be penalised by increasingly tough restrictions on dogs
- Dog owners and assistance dog users can be unfairly penalised or even criminalised by overly restrictive Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
- Dogs are banned from over 2,200 public spaces in England and Wales and must be kept on leads at all times in 1,100 public spaces
- Kennel Club calls for improved guidance from the Home Office to local authorities regarding PSPOs and for appropriate exemptions for assistance dog users
Dog owners and assistance dog users are being unfairly penalised and in some cases, criminalised, by overly-zealous restrictions on where people can walk their dogs, a new report by the UK’s largest dog welfare organisation, the Kennel Club, has found.
Public Space Protection Orders, introduced under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, give power to local authorities to ban dogs from public areas, such as parks and beaches, or to require dog owners to keep their dogs on leads at all times in these areas.
With around 8.5 million dogs in the UK and an estimated one in four households owning a dog, the impact on responsible, law-abiding citizens could be huge if local authorities increase their use of Public Space Protection Orders to restrict dog walking.
The Kennel Club estimates that dogs are currently banned from over 2,200 public spaces in England and Wales and must be kept on leads at all times in 1,100 public spaces. There is likely to be a substantial increase in restrictions in the next year, as all local authorities in England and Wales must replace existing Dog Control Orders (introduced under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005) with PSPOs by 20th October 2017.
The Kennel Club recognises there are scenarios where restrictions on dog walkers are required and justified; however it believes that many do not meet this criteria and are causing unreasonable hardship for responsible dog owners and assistance dog users, making it hard for them to provide appropriate exercise for their dogs, and in some cases are criminalising responsible law-abiding citizens.
As well as having an impact on the quality of people’s daily lives by restricting where they can walk their pets, these types of restrictions can have a significant negative impact on the welfare of dogs. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 there is a legal requirement for those responsible for dogs to provide them with ‘suitable exercise’, which means regular opportunities to walk and run off lead. The Kennel Club is concerned that responsible dog owners trying to give their pets the exercise they need may find it increasingly difficult to find places to do so.
Those in society who rely on assistance dogs can often be the most severely impacted by restrictions on dog walkers and have faced significant difficulties as a result of Dog Control Orders and continue to do so under Public Space Protection Orders.
Under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 the Government included clear requirements that a registered blind person; a deaf person using a hearing dog; and those with a disability who relied on an assistance dog, could not be subject to a dog exclusion order. The Government also included a similar exemption for assistance dog users from dog fouling orders, if their disability affected their ability to pick up after their dog.
These exemptions were common-sense measures to ensure that disabled people were not discriminated against from accessing public spaces. While these were welcomed, a considerable issue was created when no specific provision was provided to exempt assistance dogs from restrictions requiring dogs to be kept on a lead. This remains a problem with PSPOs. In local authority areas with extensive on-lead restrictions in place, it can be very difficult for assistance dog users – especially those who are unable to drive or have mobility impairment – to provide their dogs with opportunities to get proper exercise and exhibit normal behaviour patterns as required under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
When PSPOs replaced DCOs there was no specific provision within the legislation to exempt those who rely on assistance dogs from any of the restrictions within a PSPO. Instead there was merely a recommendation in the guidance that states local authorities ‘may wish to consider exempting those with an assistance dog’.
The Kennel Club is greatly concerned about the number of local authorities that appear to be creating additional hurdles for assistance dog users, either by not providing exemptions at all or by not providing appropriate exemptions, which could be a breach of the Equality Act 2010.
Furthermore, due to the manner in which they are drafting PSPOs, a number of local authorities implementing exemptions for assistance dogs are failing to include deaf people who rely on hearing dogs within their exemptions.
These councils are typically copying verbatim the prescribed Dog Control Orders assistance dog exemption as drafted for dog fouling offences, which exempt all assistance dogs apart from hearing dogs, whose owners are considered physically able to pick up after their dogs. These councils are then using the same wording but for dog exclusion orders, which is resulting in all other assistance dog users being exempted from dog exclusion orders apart from those with hearing dogs. The Kennel Club hopes that common sense would be applied on the ground, however the current wording can result in hearing dog users being singled out and legally barred from accessing certain public spaces.
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, said: “It is crucial that any restrictions on dogs and their owners are fair and proportionate, and we believe it is important for local authorities to be able to present evidence that there is a genuine problem that cannot be dealt with in other ways before they attempt to introduce restrictions.
“Certain PSPOs, such as the one that makes it a legal requirement to pick up after your dog, are sensible and promote responsible ownership. However some, such as blanket restrictions, do little to address underlying problems and instead simply displace them to other sites, which can cause further problems elsewhere.
“Some local authorities seem to be waging a war on dogs and their owners and singling them out from the rest of the population with no real reason for doing so. Those involved in proposing dog restrictions of course have to take into consideration all users of public spaces, not just those with dogs, but when they seem to be actively trying to criminalise dog owners simply for wanting to give their pets proper exercise it greatly concerns us which is why it is important to oppose unnecessary restrictions and encourage a more evidence based approach.
“It is important to note that owners need to give their dogs proper exercise, which includes exercise off lead, to make sure they are complying with the Animal Welfare Act. If they are being prevented from doing so by another piece of legislation then decision makers need to look at what can be done to avoid this happening, both to protect dog welfare and to ensure that law abiding citizens aren’t being unfairly singled out.
“The UK has long been known as a nation of dog lovers and we would not want to see this undermined through unnecessary restrictions that cause dog owners to feel that going about their daily lives could result in a fine or unfair penalisation. Dog walkers provide many benefits to society as they often act as the eyes and ears of communities and are a continuing presence in public places, which could deter genuine anti-social behaviours.”
The Kennel Club is the only organisation which monitors and responds to individual PSPO proposals to restrict dog access, through its KC Dog group which alerts dog owners across the country to potential restrictions in their area and works with local authorities to find suitable, more effective, solutions to dog-related issues.
Local authorities have significant targeted powers to address individual irresponsible owners, such as Acceptable Behaviour Contracts and Community Protection Notices. These have the advantage of allowing authorities to require problem dog owners to attend training courses and deal directly with the underlying problem behaviour, but it is rare for authorities to use them and they tend to implement blanket restrictions instead, which penalises the responsible majority when it may be just one or two irresponsible owners who are not doing what they should.
The Kennel Club wants to see improved guidance from the Home Office to local authorities regarding PSPOs; appropriate exemptions for assistance dog users from PSPOs; and better consultation with its KC Dog group from local authorities.
Download the full report here.