Regulating the Animal Care Sector – a first step

The problem

  • Current data about almost every aspect of the animal care industry is incomplete and almost entirely speculative
  • Communicating with those involved in professionally caring for, breeding and selling is exceedingly difficult
  • Collecting accurate information is virtually impossible because those that respond to surveys tend to be self-selected and often have a personal or ‘lobby group’ agenda
  • ‘Stakeholders’ often have competing interests and objectives so that their observations, suggestions and proposed solutions tend to confuse rather than clarify

There have long been calls for the pet animal industry to be regulated and this has almost always been suggested through some form of licensing.  By its very nature licensing is:

  • Administratively complex
  • Time-consuming
  • Often unevenly applied
  • Expensive

A radical solution

The establishment of a simple registration scheme (the Pet Animal Care Professionals Register) for all those who professionally care for or trade in pet animals (excluding Veterinary Surgeons and Veterinary Nurses who already have their own register) and supported by the Canine and Feline Sector group and fully representative trade organisations such as the Pet Industry Federation, the Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association and the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association.

It would apply to all who actually handle pet animals – as individuals not businesses. It must:

  • Be simple
  • Be inexpensive (cash neutral – funded by a small annual payment for information on services provided by the registrant in addition to their basic information. This is a model which has been tested and which works)
  • Be searchable and accessible (to authorities and general public)
  • Be clear that registrants have knowledge of animal care responsibilities (through signing that they have read and understood the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and perhaps a ‘general’ code of practice for the sector)
  • Enable direct communication with those registered via email or SMS
  • Generate a Unique Registration Number (URN) to be used in all advertising and websites related to pets, on all invoices and any other transaction (contracts, pedigrees, data sheets, business cards, name badges and the like)
  • Require penalties from those who do not comply

Categories would include, among others:

  • Those selling puppies and dogs either directly from or through rescue or trading kennels
  • Groomers
  • Those running or employed in boarding kennels, catteries and day care centres
  • Breeders
  • Dog trainers and canine behaviourists (including those training support dogs for the less able)
  • Home boarders
  • Dog walkers
  • Pet transporters
  • Pet shop owners and employees
  • Pet sitters
  • Police, armed forces and security dog handlers
  • Hobbyists who trade animals
  • Veterinary receptionists and assistants
  • Others such as those involved in training trafficking/search dogs

The information required of Registrants would be:

  • Name
  • Qualification (where applicable)
  • Address (option or partial or limited address available to public)
  • Telephone number
  • Mobile telephone number
  • Email address
  • Role (pet shop assistant, proprietor of boarding kennel/pet shop (or other business or sole trader)/breeder/ dog handler /dog trader/exotics trader/small mammal trader/dog trainer/dog walker, veterinary receptionist/ etc.)
  • There would be opportunities for a registrant to add further details about their service for a small annual fee

To be effective this initiative will require secondary legislation attached to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 setting up the scheme and making it mandatory to register.  It would be administered by an independent not-for-profit organisation which would tender for the contract.  There is precedent for this type of register as demonstrated by the Animal Medicines Training Registration Authority (AMTRA http://www.amtra.org.uk)

David Cavill FRSA

Likely Frequently Asked Questions

How would you ensure that everyone registered?

The scheme would demand that anyone who receives income or kind for caring for an animal not belonging to them or who trades an animal must have a Unique Registration Number which indicates they are registered.  That URN should appear on all advertisements, receipts, pedigree forms, data sheets, websites and even name badges of those working in pet shops in kennels and grooming parlours, so that the general public become used to seeing it.  Newspapers, magazines and websites such as Gumtree are all positive in wanting to avoid unlicensed/illegal sales of puppies and they would be prepared to ensure that a URN was published along with any advert and, as the database would be publicly accessible, checking that it was valid would be simple and easy.  Once the scheme was established it would quickly be apparent if a person was not registered so that such people, sole traders and businesses would be avoided.  Nothing is perfect: as with any legislation, whether it is avoiding tax or dropping litter, there will be people who will deliberately avoid registration but this is a system which will encourage registration as it will be free and carries with it no administration or responsibility other than already enshrined in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and other animal related legislation.

How can such a scheme be cost neutral?

Similar schemes have already been piloted within the animal care industry.   Registrants are given the opportunity for a small fee (£15 a year) to extend their registration to cover the services they provide which could attract more clients.  Given that the guestimate of the number of people who would be required to register could be as many as 400,000 then there would be enough money from this source to cover the scheme’s costs.

Search for ‘find a dog trainer’ or find a ‘dog groomer’ on Google or go direct to www.itraindogs.uk or www.igroomdogs.uk for examples of how the scheme might work and might look.

How this will improve pet animal welfare?

It will not do so directly but the knock-on effects should certainly encourage all those involved to behave more responsibly simply because they become accountable, accessible and recognisable.  For the first time it will mean that government, local authorities and, possibly, not-for-profit supporting organisations would have direct access to every person with a professional responsibility for pet animals.  They could each, individually, be made aware of changes in legislation, the importance of Continuing Professional Development (and CPD opportunities) and be updated with best practice on a regular basis.  Such a steady ‘drip, drip’ approach has been shown to be far more effective in persuading people to behave responsibly than complex regulation, advertising campaigns and leafleting.

What would be the penalties for non-compliance?

There would be two (the exact amounts and the way they were applied to be discussed): the first for not being registered at a time when a paying transaction involving the care of animals takes place and a second for registering details which were incorrect or fraudulent.  There would be little need for external monitoring: it is likely that registrants would quickly report those who were trading without a URN and fines could be imposed by the Register and added to other income.

Who would run the scheme?

There are many not-for-profit organisations outside the world of animal care that would be very capable of running such a scheme.  My own preference would be for a crowd funded (or even stakeholder funded organisation or consortium from within the industry) to set up the Pet Animal Care Professional Register and administer the initiative.  I would happy to demonstrate the way in which some similar schemes work and how simple and inexpensive they are.  Even at full stretch, just one full-time employee with an office and access to the Internet would be required once the database and website was set up.

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