Feralan: Euthanasia UK. English.

The Mayhew Animal Home & Humane Education Centre: Mayhew International.

 

LEGISLATION AND STATISTICAL INFORMATION REGARDING EUTHANASIA OF STRAY DOGS IN THE UK

 

I. Legislation

 

A. Destruction of stray dogs

The two main pieces of legislation concerning the collection and disposal of stray dogs are the Dogs Act 1906 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Responsibilities for dealing with stray dogs, originally assigned to the police 1, now lie with the local authorities. 2

The law requires that a stray dog must be held for seven days after seizure by the police or local authorities before disposal. If unclaimed by its owner after seven days, the dog may be (1) sold or given away to a new owner, (2) sold or given away to a welfare organisation or (3) destroyed humanely . 3 The law also authorises euthanasia before the expiry of the seven days where necessary to avoid suffering 4.

 

B. Destruction of animals in suffering

Traditionally, legislation has centred on the need to protect animals from unnecessary suffering and euthanasia is generally permitted and endorsed by law in this context.

Under section 18 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, an inspector or constable may authorise the destruction of an animal where the animal is in such distress that there is no reasonable alternative to destroying it 5. The inspector or constable may also authorise euthanasia if a veterinary surgeon certifies that an animal should in its own interests be destroyed 6. Under Section 37, the court may order the destruction of an animal if it is satisfied, on the basis of evidence given by a veterinary surgeon, that it is appropriate to do so in the interests of the animal 7.

 

C. Destruction of animals due to public interest

UK legislation also authorises the destruction of an animal for non-medical reasons where the interests of that animal is outweighed by public interest.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 provides for the destruction of any dog that is of a breed listed in section 1, or determined to be a dangerous dog under section 3, of the Act 8.

In addition, where a dog has been used for fighting, and a person is convicted for the offence, the court may order the destruction of such an animal on grounds other than the interests of the animal 9. In most cases, these animals would be temperament assessed, deemed not suitable for rehabilitation, and then be destroyed.

 

II. Statistics

 

A. Destruction of stray dogs in UK council pounds

1. Stray Dog Survey 2007 10

A council pound survey is commissioned each year to determine the number of stray dogs collected by local authorities in the UK and the methods of their disposal.

The survey for the period 1 st April 2006 to 31 st March 2007 reported a total of 105,068 stray dogs handled by the local authorities. 11 Of those that were unclaimed by their owners, approximately 25 per cent were passed on to welfare organisations after their statutory seven days. 12 An estimated 8 per cent, approximately 8,000 dogs, were put to sleep across the UK . 13 In addition, over 300 dogs were put to sleep under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

 

2. RSPCA Welfare State Report Survey

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) last year also conducted independent research on the collection and disposal of stray dogs in UK council pounds. The purpose of the research was to differentiate between the number of dogs destroyed on medical or behaviour grounds and those destroyed upon the expiry of the statutory seven-day period (healthy animals destroyed on non-medical grounds). 15 Of the total number of stray dogs that were put to sleep, the RSPCA found that 31 per cent were based on medical grounds (health, behaviour, aggression), 41 per cent were based on non-medical grounds, and 28 per cent were not specified. 16

 

B. Euthanasia of unwanted dogs in UK animal welfare organisations

 

1. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The RSPCA, established in 1824, is the oldest and largest animal welfare organisation in the UK . Each year they help hundreds of thousands of animals - not just dogs and cats - in their rescue centres and veterinary clinics all over the UK . In 2006 they rehomed over 16,700 dogs and sterilised over 24,000 dogs 17.

In their The Welfare State report, the section on euthanasia of healthy dogs due to irresponsible ownership states:

Dogs are euthanased if they are sick, injured, or are a danger to the public . Some [dogs] are also euthanased for non-medical reasons when they are healthy, such as when they cannot be found new homes or at the owners' insistence because they are no longer wanted. 18

In 2006, the RSPCA euthanased 6000 dogs for medical reasons, and over 1000 dogs for non-medical reasons. 19

 

2. Other animal welfare organisations

In the UK , animal welfare organisations generally recognise that euthanasia is acceptable, both legally and morally, where an animal is seriously ill, injured, or is a danger to the public. However, organisations differ in policy regarding euthanasia of healthy animals when they cannot be found new homes.

For example, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, which serves under contract as the council pound for most of the local authorities in the London area, is obliged to accept all dogs that they are presented with. Decisions for euthanasia are taken on serious health or behavioural grounds only, 20 or if a dog falls under the Dangerous Dogs Act. In 2002, Battersea accepted a total of 8817 dogs, out of which 2399 (27%) were put to sleep. 21 Euthanasia figures after 2002 are not available.

Other animal welfare organisations, including The Mayhew Animal Home, are not obliged to accept all dogs presented 22 and may chose to screen an animal before entry. These organisations operate under the policy healthy animals are never put to sleep and will care for an animal for as long as is necessary to find it a new home. Euthanasia is only carried out for medical reasons, aggression or dogs under the Dangerous Dogs Act. At The Mayhew, we find that we put to sleep around 10% of the dogs that we receive, with the reasons for euthanasia divided equally between medical reasons, aggression (cannot rehabilitate and rehome responsibly) and dogs under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

 

III. Conclusion

Humane euthanasia is authorised by law in the UK both in dealing with stray dogs and to prevent suffering. In addition, euthanasia of dangerous dogs is legally required. Animal welfare organisations have also been forced to euthanase healthy animals due to large numbers of unwanted animals. The law and statistical information provided above demonstrate that euthanasia is essential for humane management of animal overpopulation and to prevent unnecessary suffering.

 

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1. Dogs Act 1906 s3.

2. Section 68 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 terminated police responsibility for stray dogs. Environmental Protection Act 1990 s149 (1) states: Every local authority shall appoint an officer (under whatever title the authority may determine) for the purpose of discharging the functions imposed or conferred by this section for dealing with stray dogs found in the area of the authority.

3. Dogs Act 1906 s3 (4) states: Where any dog so seized has been detained for seven clear days after the seizure [] and the owner has not claimed the dog [] the chief officer of police [] may cause the dog to be sold or destroyed in a manner to cause as little pain as possible.

Environmental Protection Act 1990 s149 (6) states: Where any dog seized under this section has been detained for seven clear days after the seizure [] the officer may dispose of the dog

(a) by selling it or giving it to a person who will, in his opinion, care properly for the dog;

(b) by selling it or giving it to an establishment for the reception of stray dogs; or

(c) by destroying it in a manner to cause as little pain as possible;

but no dog seized under this section shall be sold or given for the purposes of vivisection.

4. Environmental Protection Act s149 (10).

5. Animal Welfare Act 2006 s18 (4).

6. Animal Welfare Act 2006 s18 (3).

7. Animal Welfare Act s37 (1).

8. Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 s4.

9. Animal Welfare Act s38 (1).

10. The annual Stray Dog Survey is commissioned by Dogs Trust, the largest dog welfare organisation in the UK . Dogs Trust cared for over 15,000 dogs and rehomed almost 13,000 dogs in 2006. Dogs Trust Annual Review 2007, pg 6.

11. GfK NOP Social Research, Stray Dog Survey 2007, pg 5.

12. Stray Dog Survey 2007, pg 8.

13. Stray Dog Survey 2007, pg 7.

14. Stray Dog Survey 2007, pg 8.

15. It should be noted that the numbers of dogs collected and dogs destroyed in the RSPCA study and the Stray Dog Survey differ not insignificantly. However, the surveys set different parameters, and the Stray Dog Survey was conducted through the use of a questionnaire whereas the RSPCA conducted its research through request under the Freedom of Information Act. This issue is addressed in the RSPCA's report, The Welfare State: Measuring Animal Welfare in the UK 2006 on page 27.

16. RSPCA, The Welfare State: Measuring Animal Welfare in the UK 2006, pg 27.

17. RSPCA Trustees' Report and Accounts 2006, pg 12.

18. The Welfare State, pg 59.

19. RSPCA Trustees' Report, pg 12.

20. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, internal memorandum on euthanasia guidelines.

21. Battersea Dogs Home Annual Review 2002.

22. The Mayhew has a contract with its local authority (Brent Council) for accepting stray dogs.

 

Prepared by Joy Lee, International Projects Officer, December 2007

 

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