Stray Dogs: The Law
Please note, residents of County Durham (NOT currently Hartlepool or Middlesbrough) are now subject to additional measures. A new Public Space Protection Order has been brought in for County Durham. If you would like to learn more about how these new practices may affect you, please follow this link: www.durham.gov.uk/dogcontrol
A stray dog is any dog which is running free in a public place without its owner being present. Legally it makes no difference if the dog is loose accidentally, has been released without authority of the owner, or has been deliberately allowed to roam.
The law requires, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, local councils to treat all unaccompanied dogs on public land as strays, regardless of whether they are wearing a collar and disc or have been microchipped. The council must seize such dogs and if they cannot be returned immediately to their owner they must be taken to the council stray pounds where they are held for a mandatory period of 7 days. After the 7-day period, the dog legally becomes the property of the kennels and the kennels can either rehome the dog to a new owner, keep the dog at the kennels or, following veterinary advice, put the dog to sleep.
Please note, it is no longer the responsibility of the police to accept stray dogs, and they should not be taken to police stations.
It is also an offence under the Control of Dogs Order 1992 for a dog to be in a public place without a collar and tag with the owner's name and address on it, even when the owner is in charge of the dog. If your dog does not have a collar and tag, you can be prosecuted and fined up to £5,000. The owner commits this offence even if a dog has been microchipped.
Under section 3 of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act (as amended 1997), it is an offence to be the owner of a dog of any type or breed which is dangerously out of control in a public place or a non-public place in which it is not permitted to be, or to allow a dog in your charge to behave in an aggressive manner. A dog does not have to bite someone to be deemed dangerous. If the owner is convicted, they can receive a fine of up to £5,000 or up to 6 months in prison. The police have a duty to investigate all reports of dangerous dogs.
It is illegal to allow your dog to foul in a public place and not clean up after it, under the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996. Anyone who fails to clean up after their pet can be issued a fixed penalty fine or taken to court where they could be fined up to £1,000.
A dog owner who lets their dog out to roam must take responsibility for it and the council has a strong enforcement policy for dealing with problems caused by irresponsible dog owners. Dogs found straying can be seized by dog wardens and fixed penalty notices may be issued by dog wardens, street wardens, police officers, police community support officers or council enforcement officers, and the owner prosecuted. Please be a responsible dog owner.
Stray dogs are not only a danger to themselves, but can be a risk or cause nuisance to members of the public.
Such problems include:
Road traffic accidents - Straying dogs often wander on to roads, putting pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle drivers, not to mention the dog itself, at risk of serious injury or even death.
Aggression - An unaccompanied dog is an uncontrolled dog. It may be friendly but if it barks and jumps up, people can feel frightened and intimidated.
Ill health - Dogs that are not wormed regularly may have organisms in their faeces that can cause problems in people ranging from stomach upsets to blindness.
Unwanted litters - Letting dogs roam around leads to unwanted puppies.
Spoiling the environment - Dog faeces on streets and grassed areas, especially where children play or people enjoy sitting out, is simply not acceptable.The person in charge of a dog has a duty to remove faeces from public areas including back lanes, grassed areas, parks, streets, cemeteries, play and picnic areas. If the faeces are not immediately cleared away the owner may be issued with a fixed penalty which, if not paid, can lead to a fine of £1,000 and a criminal record. Dog owners are still responsible for their dog if straying, so even if they are not with their dog at the time, they can still be prosecuted if it is seen fouling.