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Report National Dog Warden Association Seminar 19th June 2006Sat, 01 Dec 2007
The National Dog Warden Association held a Seminar at the Thistle Hotel Haydock on Monday the 19th of June 2006. The 40 delegates attending were provided with information on the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 with special attention to the extension of the use of the fixed penalty notice and the adoption of Dog Control Orders.
Although delegates mostly came from the North West region some came from Yorkshire and the East to find out more about the introduction of the new legislation, how it will affect them and how they might best introduce it for their own districts.
While most of those present were already using the fixed penalty notice for offences within their jurisdiction only two were serving over 100 in any year and most less than 50 (reflecting the numbers served nationally shown on the DEFRA website). The NDWA has always encouraged members to use the fixed penalty system but also to prevent service of fixed penalties from becoming the benchmark of success for dog control services.
Delegates attention was drawn to the fact that despite the focus of the new Act on the enforcement of fixed penalties and the desire of the Government to increase this form of enforcement; the guidance provided by DEFRA clearly gives a role to education not least in the consultation and awareness raising process which should introduce the fixed penalty itself and should be part of the introduction of each and every Dog Control Order.
Delegates raised a number of issues during the day and a number of them thanked the organisers, making it clear that they would have to go away and rethink their approach. This was especially the case for a number who had intended to introduce Dog Control Orders for Dogs on Leads and were not aware that if they did so the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 would cease to have effect in the areas designated by the Dogs on Leads Control Order.
The majority of the authorities present were content to continue using the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act, but it was clear that some had thought that the penalty had been increased to £75. This seminar made it clear that as long as action was taken under the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act the penalty must remain at £50. The effect of introducing other Dog Control Orders on the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act had been entirely overlooked as had the significant effect which may be experienced if different penalties were adopted by adjacent authorities and the adoption of this range in the legislation was thought generally to have been unhelpful.
Considerable debate and discussion centred on the process of designation of land. The fact that the Secretary of State no longer took a role in approving application for these Dog Control Orders and the fact that the guidance (essentially land open to the air) made wide designation possible had drawn most authorities to consider the Borough-wide designations which they had used for the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996. It was pointed out that to make such a designation (without the audit trail of a public consultation) could lead the Control Order to be open to challenge in law. Some discussion centred on the fact that such a challenge may be costly and an individual would therefore be unlikely to take it, but it was pointed out that they might with the support of action groups which could be brought about in a climate damaged by ill-considered introduction. The Kennel Clubs recent letter attempting to involve itself in the consultation process was also thought to be unhelpful, especially as they had been a driving force in the passage of the Act and had been content not to make representations about the level of consultation required during the process of the Bill.
Once considered in the light of this seminar the use of some of the Dog Control Orders was less clear to delegates and most appeared to feel that more information should be given (by DEFRA) about the kind of delegations which had been envisaged when the legislation was developed. Notable in this was the Dog Control Order that enabled an officer to direct a person to put a dog on a lead. Again some authorities had considered applying this Borough-wide and were surprised to learn of its genesis from a bylaw developed for areas in which it was felt disproportionate to apply a Dogs on Lead Bylaw where certain circumstances may at times make it desirable to require dogs to be placed on a lead. The criteria for this demand to be made caused the greatest concern, it was felt that such criteria should be part of the evidence (an element of the offence) but that appeared not to be how the Control Order was written i.e. making the offence the refusal to place the dog on a lead at the request of the officer. Why the officer was asking for the dog to be put on the lead appeared important to most delegates and the general feeling was that this should be defined more clearly and should, in fact, be part of the offence.
None of the delegate authorities had yet introduced a Dog Control Order and the NDWA wanted to point out clearly that as these were powers there should be no rush to adopt them without ensuring that the best measures were in place to avoid any abuse in early developments which would prevent the eventual creation of a nationally accepted set of values by which we could all work.
The day ended with the launch of an NDWA lost and found section on its website. Responding to requests from members and the growth of a number of commercial or charity ventures which for the most part fail to appreciate the way stray dogs must (by Law) be dealt with by both losers, finders, local authorities and (for the moment) the Police. The site will enable all members to make available their contact details (including link to any website) for anyone searching for their dog while also enabling people looking for their dogs to conduct a controlled and effective search.
It was pointed out that the new part of the website would run best with active contributions from members (especially if they were running their own photo gallery of dogs seized) and that it would also help them as the transfer of police responsibilities was taken up and stray dogs had to be housed in more and more places. Brief consideration of the transfer of these responsibilities took up the last part of the day. Concern was raised that the discussions between the LGA and the Police appeared to be completely behind closed doors and that this was contrary to a spirit of openness and the Inter Agency working so prized by government.
Delegates also wished for a clarification of what is being transferred having had it pointed out that the police responsibility which is terminating is a responsibility under the Dogs Act 1906 to receive stray dogs from the public and as such is different from the local authority responsibility given in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to deal with stray dogs. If the Police are merely handing over the function of receiving strays from the public the provision of service required is considerably less than that demanded by a duty which would have them deal with stray dogs and the arrangements needing be made would be considerably different (one requiring only the provision of a collection point the other requiring the 24 hour availability of a means of dealing with stray dogs).
This seminar made it clear that considerably more help will be required by local authorities if the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 is to be of benefit in creating Cleaner Safer and Greener communities and that there may already be bad practices developing. The NDWA intends to repeat this seminar in the South of the country within the next few months, but the Association is aware the NDWA will not be able to contact enough authorities about the issues raised in this brief review of one seminar to prevent the widespread malpractice which this seminar indicated may develop if further detailed guidance is not promoted to all local authorities on these issues preferably through DEFRA.
If you attended the seminar, we would appreciate any feedback you may have, so that we can improve and build on this seminar's success. Please click here to send your feedback to Sue Bell
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