Breeding – Background to the survey on the impact of licensing on breeders

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Compromise is the best and cheapest lawyer – Robert Louis Stevenson

I created a survey for Our Dogs and the Kennel Club launched in February on the impact of the new Animal Licensing Laws on breeders. Like most of the previous attempts to legislate and/or control pet animals by introducing legislation to control breeders and dangerous dogs it is once again evident, however benevolent the intention, that our lawmakers find it very difficult to achieve what should be quite clear objectives without making the whole framework too complex for anyone to fully understand what is required or, as far as local authority licensing officers’ are concerned, creating chaos and confusion where non should exist.

Under the circumstances, it is therefore not surprising that the greatest legislative success in this sector by any government was almost by accident.  With the environmental Protection Act 1990 and the ensuing Environmental Protection (stray dogs) Regulations 1992 and the Control of Dogs Order 1992, the responsibility for stray dogs was transferred from the police to local authorities as an addendum, for the original Act was almost entirely about the disposal of waste and the definition of statutory nuisances. Almost overnight, stray dogs disappeared from our streets and those of us involved (Angela and I were then senior managers with The Dogs’ Home Battersea) were delighted to see that the numbers of dogs having to be destroyed dropping like a stone.  Nothing is perfect (and the whole framework surrounding dangerous dogs remains an appalling abuse both of dogs and the law) but since then we have had Control of Dogs Orders, the insistence that all dogs should be micro-chipped and a government moving forward on Lucy’s Law (the banning sale pets by a third party) too.

What is happening now?

But to return to the new ALLs:  It is not only breeders who have been impacted by this legislation and although it seems to me that most of the major concerns are around dog breeding, there has also been much discussion and concern about kennels and catteries, home boarding and day care centres.  The area which has seen the least upset are those pet shops which sell small pet animals such as hamsters and rabbits, reptiles and fish (most high street pet shops do not sell puppies or kittens) but it remains to be seen how the market will react to the future restrictions on third-party sales of puppies and kittens sold from trading kennels (which require a licence to sell animals) and large breeding establishments (which require a breeding licence) which currently supply those trading kennels.

My view has been for some time that in the future, trading kennels will begin to breed their own puppies while those large breeding establishments which we so often referred to as ‘puppy farms’, will begin to sell direct to the public.  We have already seen this happening in that T & S Four Paws in Barton under Needwood was raided by Trading Standards and Environmental Health Officers in East Staffordshire a year ago (the situation is current because the owners, Tina Paris and Stuart Ward, have just been fined well over £1000 each and to do 100 hours unpaid work as well as being ordered to attend sessions to improve their reading and writing skills – I assume that part of their defence was that they did not understand the documentation). They have also been disqualified from having or obtaining a Pet Shop Licence or a Breeding Licence for two years. What did they do? Their premises had a pet shop licence for selling dogs but they did not have a licence for breeding them. After a complaint about a puppy, licensing officers visited the premises and found that they not only did not comply with the licence conditions but they had begun breeding their own puppies without a breeding licence. This offence took place before the new regulations were introduced but demonstrates my point about commercial businesses taking what they see as sensible steps to stay within the law.  We can only hope that the new standards being applied will ensure that the quality of care and socialisation will be to acceptable standards but this is entirely dependent on the good sense of those employed by local authorities.  In the above case, and I suspect many others, they behaved impeccably but there is no doubt that, given the results of the survey, some leave a great deal to be desired in the extent of their understanding, knowledge and experience.

Red lines and grey areas

Many years ago I was a member of the small committee that wrote the Model Licence Conditions (MLCs) which were published in 1995 which have been in force for kennels and catteries for over 30 years.  As with any new guidance it took some time for all those involved to understand the more stringent requirements but there is no doubt that the quality of both service and environment has significantly improved over that time.  But I remember well having a long and protracted discussion with environmental officers in Cambridgeshire about what was then a brand-new and very beautiful cattery which had been built by a very experienced and sensible owner.  Her husband was a builder so it was built on sound foundations, of brick and was a courtyard style with a lovely garden and a beautiful pond in the centre.  The new MLCs required a sleeping area of X by Y but the block had been built (with underfloor heating which came on automatically when the temperature dropped below a certain level) with an area of X-1 (inch) by Y-2 (inches).  The argument went backwards and forwards for months with me saying that the space allotted fulfilled the requirements of the 1963 Act (which then defined the statutory requirements) and that the MLCs were not statutory and were advisory while the Environmental Health Officer concerned responding that if dimensions were included they had to be adhered to. As I remember, the issue finally went to court (this was before the current appeal process was in place) and I am pleased to say that the cattery is still there and continues to have a superb reputation.

This demonstrates how important it is that any statutory demand should allow for sensible judgement.  If the dimensions had been seriously inadequate or the cattery in question had also been characterised by poor care, inadequate paperwork or other physical shortcomings then the precise area would sensibly be one of the factors in refusing a licence.  As is was the only shortcoming some latitude should have been allowed.

Current problems

In the last few months I have been made aware of a number of difficulties faced by well-established premises that have fallen foul of the new regulations and the question of areas is now even more pertinent because the regulations are statutory.  For example Michelle Render of Elmsall Kennels tells Kennel and Canterbury Management, ‘Turmoil has been caused by the new legislation for kennels like mine that cannot be modified to the required sizes.  Although there has never been a complaint in our 14 years of trading we have therefore been given a low star rating’. (Just to recapitulate, the statutory regulations are quite basic so Michelle’s premises fulfil the criteria but licensees can only get a ‘star’ rating if they fulfil further, higher standards.)

Frankly, I am surprised that the Pet Industry Federation which has a section devoted to boarding kennels and catteries (the UK Kennel and Cattery Association) and the Association of Licensed Kennels (ALIKA) have not written and launched their own survey to see how the ALLs are working in their sector given that Defra have been impressed and appreciative of the Kennel Club/Our Dogs survey.  Perhaps it is time to create another especially for kennels and catteries. Back to several hours on Survey Monkey for me I think.  (NB:  This survey was launched in March 2019)


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