I have a general enquiry about dogs and the law. What is the legal status of ownership if a dog escapes? I’m really concerned about the treatment of Pit Bull type breeds after the dog amnesty (my dog is a Staffy mix) and I’m really concerned that if he ever escaped, god forbid, that he wouldn’t be given back to me as he does have a certain look that could get him confused as a Pit Bull.
I have him microchipped, registered as a Staffordshire Bull Terrier x English Bull Terrier, although we aren’t really sure about this, and it is not likely he will escape, but I’m concerned that if he ever did, whoever collected him would refuse to give him back. What are my legal rights?
Pam Stibson – Wirral
Reply by Neil Burton of the National Dog Warden’s Association“Dogs are classed as domestic animals as they are owned by a person in much the same way as a person owns a car or other goods. Due to this classification it therefore follows that a dog may be stolen and the person who takes the dog is guilty of theft. Sadly a number of police forces seem to ignore this when dog owners report their dogs as stolen!
If a dog becomes lost then ownership remains with the person who is the owner of the dog, if the dog strays however and is seized by the local council or currently the Police then ownership of the dog can be changed as a result of it being seized and not being claimed within seven clear days.
Should a dog be seized by the police in accordance with the Dogs Act 1906 or by the council under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and it is not claimed then after seven days from the date of seizure ownership transfers from the owner to the police or council who are then able to legally re-home the dog.
If the owner of a stray dog subsequently reclaims the dog within seven days they will have to pay a statutory government charge as well as any kennel fees or other charges incurred by the police or council before it is released. If the dog owner for whatever reason does not pay the release fees, the dog can be held by the police or council for the seven days when ownership will transfer and the dog will be re-homed.
The issue with Dog Wardens or Police seizing a dog and then believing that it is of a Pit Bull Terrier (PBT) type is much more complicated as ownership of such dogs is deemed illegal in accordance with the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. This legislation prohibits the owning of certain breeds except under certain strict conditions, this is the reason that a dog may be seized as a stray dog but the police or council then believe it to be a prohibited breed and then subsequently seize it under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
The Home Office runs a two week course exclusively for Police Officers that during this short period of time trains candidates to recognise the characteristics of the Pit Bull Terrier!
A lot of Dog Wardens with many years experience of dealing with dogs would find it difficult to identify a dog as being a PBT or having PBT characteristics.
If the Police or local authority seizes a dog under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 as they believe it to be a PBT or have the characteristics of a PBT the owner should contact a Lawyer who deals with such cases as soon as possible to prepare a defence for the resulting court case.
The onus is on the owner to prove to the court that the dog is NOT a PBT or of a type with the characteristics so the use of a legal expert with knowledge of such cases is imperative.
There are a number of breed specific groups and organizations that can also assist and advise a dog owner if their dog has been seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act.
Whilst the case progresses the dog may be held in kennels by the police or council until such time as the case is dealt with, this may take several months before it is resolved and visits to the dog will be at the discretion of the Police or the council.”