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Gildernew proposes new dog control measures

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA has today announced her proposals for new dog control measures to go out for consultation, subject to Executive approval.

The Minister said: “We have serious dog control problems here and the current system is simply not dealing with these issues effectively. There were around 750 dog attacks on people last year. We also have a big problem with stray dogs with almost 8,000 stray dogs impounded by dog wardens in 2008. This is a higher number of stray dogs per head of population than in the south or Britain. Moreover, many of these strays have to be destroyed and it is unacceptable that one third of all dogs destroyed in England, Scotland, Wales and the north are destroyed here.”

“To address these issues, I propose to retain the current ban on dangerous breeds and introduce further dog control measures. These enhanced measures will focus on prevention through earlier intervention to stop dog attacks from occurring, make it an offence for a dog to attack another dog, and promote responsible dog ownership through a more robust and effective dog licensing regime.”

It is proposed that all dogs should be micro-chipped and that dog wardens should have powers to attach conditions to licences where there are concerns about dog behaviour. As the current fee of £5 has not been reviewed since 1983, it is proposed that it should be increased to a more appropriate level, with significant reductions for pensioners, those on benefits, and owners of neutered dogs. The licence fee currently falls far short of the cost of enforcing the legislation and the bulk of the cost of the dog warden service in district councils is therefore currently borne by all ratepayers.

The Minister said: “My officials presented initial policy ideas to the Committee last week to hear the Committee’s views so that I could take these into account in firming up proposals for consultation. The Committee agreed that there were serious dog control problems that needed to be addressed but raised some concerns, particularly with regard to a significant increase in the dog licence fee.

“It is extremely unfortunate that the exploratory thinking on the licence fee was wrongly presented in the media as a firm proposal. It is also regrettable that some of the reporting was simply wrong – there is no proposal that requires all dogs to be on a leash at all times.

“However, I am pleased that this has started a debate on the matter of dog control and licence fees. I have listened to the views of the Committee and the public in developing my proposals further and I am proposing to consult on the basis of three options. These include a core option based on an inflation-linked rise, an option to maintain the status quo, and an option which covers the full cost of the dog warden service.

“Under my core proposal: a dog licence will be free to those aged 65 and over; the cost to those on benefits will be pegged at the current price of £5; the cost to owners whose dog is neutered will also be pegged at the current price of £5; and the full fee cost to others will be £12.50, reflecting the increase in inflation since the fee was last reviewed in 1983.

“I believe this core proposal will help the elderly, protect those on benefits, encourage neutering and reduce the number of strays and unwanted dogs. It will also provide some additional resource to local councils to meet the costs of dog control.”

The proposals will also include an increase in penalties for a range of control and licensing offences.

The Minister added: “Once I have finalised my proposals, I will seek the approval of the Executive to put them out for consultation. It is anticipated that the consultation will begin in November and run until January. Following full consideration of the consultation responses, a Bill will be drafted with the aim of being introduced to the Assembly by June 2010 and reaching the statute book within the lifetime of the current Assembly.”

Notes to Editors:

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