The 2014 Dog Rescue Federation national survey of local authorities has identified major discrepancies in record keeping of the UK’s stray dog population. Results from the survey show that councils handled almost 106,000 stray dogs in the year ending September 2014 but were unable to provide information about how they had dealt with over 12,000 of them. The federation is calling on the government to tighten up the way records are kept and show more interest in the fate of these animals.
According to the results of the 2014 Dog Rescue Federation (DRF) survey on the UK’s stray dog population, over 12,000 stray dogs around the UK were ‘lost’, with councils unable to verify the outcomes of them. The federation’s survey has uncovered major discrepancies in official records kept by local councils and it is now calling on the government to tighten up the way records are kept and show more interest in the fate of these animals.
With over 100,000 strays being handled by local councils each year, the high number of stray and abandoned dogs is a national problem and the Dog Rescue Federation is concerned that as many as half the dogs unaccounted for in the survey have been put to sleep. It also suspects that official euthanasia figures distort the true extent of the problem.
Overall, the results of the survey show that UK councils handled 105,931 stray dogs in the year ending September 2014. According to the councils’ records 53,595 were re-united with their owners, 12,180 were sold or transferred to commercial dog kennels, 24,131 were moved to dog-rescue establishments for rehoming, 6,122 were rehomed by the councils themselves and 6,515 were put to sleep.
“In theory, the combined total for these categories should add-up to the number of stray dogs that the councils handled during the year”, explained Paul Smith, one of the volunteers of the organisation who helped compile the survey: “However, the survey has uncovered significant errors in the councils’ record-keeping, with 150 councils failing to report the outcomes of 7,888 stray dogs and 55 councils over-reporting the situation, claiming to have disposed of 4,500 dogs more than they had actually handled. Overall this means that councils could not properly account for 12,388 stray dogs, representing a discrepancy level of almost 12% in their records,” he said.
Over 90% of local authorities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland took part in the survey and federation spokesperson and well-known actor and animal-welfare campaigner Peter Egan expressed the federation’s gratitude for councils caring for a large number of dogs, often in very difficult circumstances. But, he also said: “Councils are legally required to keep records of all dogs handled and often the information we obtained from them just didn’t add-up. Far too many provided inaccurate information so we are completely in the dark about what eventually happened to many of the dogs they handled. We’re not saying that councils are deliberately trying to hide what they’ve done with these dogs, but we strongly suspect that many of those unaccounted for have ended up being put to sleep. So many healthy stray dogs are destroyed this way, so we need accurate information to understand the true extent of the problem.”
The federation is also concerned about the 12,000 + dogs disposed of to kennels operating on a commercial basis, and Egan added: “These kennels are usually willing to take ownership of abandoned dogs if there’s a good chance of selling them to a new owner, but unless a fairly quick sale is achieved they will often put the unwanted dogs to sleep. Of course, none of this ever gets reported.”
England and Wales account for nine out of every 10 stray dogs handled in the UK but despite a legal requirement for councils to keep records about these dogs, the federation has recently been told by DEFRA, the relevant government department, that it has never actually asked councils to provide this information to them. “This is a total abdication of responsibility,” said Egan: “We desperately need DEFRA to show more interest in what happens to the thousands of abandoned dogs that councils handle. Leaving it to dog welfare organisations like ours to find out simply isn’t good enough.”
Following its last survey in 2013, the federation recommended to George Eustice MP, the Minister responsible for animal welfare issues, that a single, UK stray and abandoned dog database should be introduced to accurately monitor what happens to each and every dog that is picked up as a stray.
In the UK when a stray is not reclaimed by its owner after seven days, local authorities have the statutory power to make decisions about the dog’s future including re-homing it, moving it on to a commercial kennel or rescue organisation or putting it to sleep.
The results of the survey provide a detailed picture for each of the UK’s four nations, broken down further into regions, counties and individual local authorities, and it is believed to be the first time that such an in-depth analysis has been done.