At Wheldon Law, we represent dog owners in courts all over England and Wales.

As experts in dog law, we have intimate knowledge of this complex area and work closely with an exceptional team of experts to ensure the best possible outcome for owners and their dogs.

At here are more than 35 Acts of Parliament that apply to dogs and, with the extension of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to cover attacks on private property and assistance dogs in 2014, it is now easier than ever for your dog to get you into trouble.

The old adage that every dog is allowed one bite is a myth, and the courts can and do make destruction orders against dogs that have never bitten before. It is therefore imperative that you seek expert legal representation should you find yourself being accused of committing an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. By obtaining professional legal assistance from highly experienced dog law solicitors, you can help ensure the safety and well-being of your dog.

Here at Wheldon Law, we are all dog lovers and in fact most of us are dog owners. We have a proven track record of successfully defending clients and saving their dogs from being put down. We have been involved in many of the leading cases that have shaped and changed this area of law and resulted in saving the lives of many dogs. If you want further proof, please browse through some of the testimonials from grateful clients or see what they have written on our Facebook page.

Possession of a Prohibited Dog 

Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 states that it is illegal to possess any of the following types of dog:

  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Japanese Tosa
  • Fila Braziliero

The word “type” has a broader meaning than the word “breed” and means that any dog that shares a significant number of the characteristics of the prohibited breed shall be deemed to be a prohibited dog, regardless of its parentage.

 

Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

It is an offence to be in possession of any of the types of dog listed above unless they have been granted a certificate of exemption and the conditions of exemption are complied with.

If the court decides your dog is one of the four prohibited types, then it must make a destruction order or, if the court is satisfied that you are a fit and proper person to have a dog of that type and that your dog does not pose a danger to the public, then a contingent destruction order may be made which allows your dog to be exempted from the prohibition.  Your dog will have to be neutered, microchipped and have a policy of third-party insurance and you will need to obtain a certificate of exemption from the Index of Exempted Dogs at DEFRA. Once your dog has been returned to you, it will be subject to stringent conditions for the rest of its life, including:

  •     It must be on a lead and wear a muzzle when in a public place.
  •     It must live with its registered keeper save for up to 30 days in any 12-month period.
  •     It must be kept in secure conditions to prevent escape.
  •     You must notify DEFRA if you move home.
  •     You must notify DEFRA if the dog is exported or dies.

Failure to comply with these conditions could lead to your dog being seized and you being prosecuted.

Section 4B of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

Section 4B of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is the civil equivalent of section 1. This section allows the police to apply to the magistrates’ court for a destruction order, or a contingent destruction order, without the owner being prosecuted. This means that even if a dog owner has been found to be in violation of section 4B of the Dangerous Dogs Act, they can still avoid a criminal record.

In some areas, this section is only used when the owner accepts that their dog is a prohibited type and the police consider them to be a fit and proper person and their dog friendly. However, in other areas, this section is used instead of a section 1 prosecution. Such instances can pose a problem to dog owners as legal aid is not available and the process of seeking expert evidence and representation can be expensive.

At Wheldon Law, we have access to the very best breed identification experts and canine behaviourists. We will do everything in our power to get your dog back home to you as soon as possible.  We also work closely with a number of charitable and not-for-profit organisations who may be willing to assist with funding cases.

Importing Prohibited Dogs into the UK

It is not illegal to import a prohibited type of dog into the UK but it is an offence to be in possession of one. At Wheldon Law, we have had great success in advising and assisting numerous owners who wanted to bring their dogs into the UK but feared they may fall foul of the strict rules regarding prohibited dogs. All of these dogs arrived safely in the UK without any problems. Please call us on 01442 242999 or email us at enquiry@wheldonlaw.co.uk for further information as to how we can assist you in this regard.

Appointing a New Keeper for a Prohibited Dog

If you are the owner of a prohibited type of dog that has not been registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs or one where the conditions of exemption have been breached and the dog is no longer exempt, then there are very limited circumstances in which a person other than its owner can be appointed as the registered keeper. If the dog is coming before the court for the first time, then the only person that can apply to the court to be the registered keeper is either the owner or the person in charge at the relevant time. The person in charge at the relevant time usually means the person from whom the dog was seized or a person who has had significant responsibility for the dog in the past (e.g. a family member, a previous owner or someone who has looked after the dog in kennels).

If a dog is already registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs and the registered keeper dies or becomes seriously ill and unable to look after it, it is possible to apply to the court for a new keeper to be appointed. In this situation, a stranger can be appointed to become the keeper of the dog, provided the court is satisfied that the dog does not pose a danger to the public and the new keeper is a fit and proper person.

The restrictions on changes in keepership results in the deaths of many good-natured and friendly dogs who are unfortunate enough to share some of the physical characteristics of the prohibited types of dogs. At Wheldon Law, we have dealt with numerous applications to the court for a change of keepership. As a result, we have a wealth of experience of guiding people through the process, making the application and providing representation in court. We also have many years of experience dealing with cases involving prohibited types of dogs and we have been involved in many of the leading cases that have shaped and changed this area of law. In 2017 we were involved in a landmark case that changed the law allowing for a relaxation in the rules regarding changes of keepership which has saved the lives of many dogs. 

If you find yourself unable to become, or continue to be, the keeper of one of these types of dogs, it is vital that you seek advice from an experienced dog law solicitor at any early stage.  Please call us on 01442 242999 or email us at enquiry@wheldonlaw.co.uk for free initial telephone advice.

Dogs Dangerously Out of Control

Contrary to what the media would have us all believe, most people whose dogs get them into trouble are caring and responsible dog owners. They have never been in trouble before and their pets have never put a paw wrong.

Under section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, an owner, or a person in charge of a dog, commits an offence if the dog causes reasonable apprehension that any person will be injured, whether or not they actually are injured. Unlike most offences in English law, no criminal intent or recklessness is required for liability to arise and a person can therefore be guilty of an offence even if their dog was on a lead and had never behaved in such a way before.

Where no injury is caused, the case may only be dealt with in the magistrates’ court and the maximum penalty is six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of £5,000. The court has the power to order the dog to be destroyed or kept under control and it may specify the measures for control (e.g. keeping the dog on a lead in public). The court can also disqualify an individual from keeping dogs and order compensation to be paid to the victim.

If your dog injures a person or an assistance dog (e.g. a guide dog), then this is a more serious offence which is known as the “aggravated” offence. The injury does not have to be a bite; a scratch or bruise would suffice. The aggravated offence can be dealt with in either the magistrates’ court or the crown court and the maximum penalties are as follows:

  • Injury to an assistance dog – 3 years’ imprisonment
  • Injury to a person – 5 years’ imprisonment
  • Death of a person – 14 years’ imprisonment

You could also be ordered to pay a fine and/or compensation and the court has the power to disqualify you from keeping dogs.

When an “aggravated” offence has been committed, the court must order the dog to be destroyed unless it is satisfied that you are a suitable owner and that the dog does not pose a danger to the public. Expert evidence from a suitably qualified animal behaviourist will usually be required on this point.

The police have the power to seize your dog and keep it pending the outcome of the case. At Wheldon Law, our experienced dog law solicitors have excellent contacts within the police and we are sometimes able to persuade them to return dogs to their owners (with appropriate conditions) pending the outcome of proceedings.

 

Defences

It is a defence if the owner of the dog can show that they left it in the care of a person they reasonably believed to be responsible.

Householder Defence

If the incident occurred in, or at least partly in, a building which is a dwelling (or forces accommodation) and the person injured was a trespasser who was inside, or partially inside, the property, then there may be a defence available. This is known as the ‘Householder Defence’.

If you are under investigation or have been charged with an offence under section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, our team at Wheldon Law will be able to help you and the sooner we become involved in your case, the more we can do to assist.

Dogs Worrying Livestock

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953

An offence is committed by the owner or person in charge of a dog if it attacks or chases livestock on agricultural land or if it is off-lead in a field containing sheep.  The definition of livestock includes sheep, goats, cattle, poultry, pigs and horses. The definition of agricultural land is wide and extends to include allotments and orchards. The police have the power to seize a dog if they are unable to identify its owner. The maximum penalty is a fine, but it is possible to lay additional proceedings at the same time that could result in a destruction order.

Expert evidence is essential in cases of this kind as the courts take an understandably serious view when livestock has been killed. As dog law specialists, we have successfully defended numerous cases of this type and always instruct an animal behaviourist with particular expertise in dogs with a high chase-and-prey drive.

Dogs Not Kept Under Proper Control

Section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871

Civil proceedings can be initiated against the owner of a dog that is dangerous and not kept under proper control. The dangerousness alleged relates to its effect on people or animals and the legislation applies to incidents in both public and private places. Because the proceedings are civil in nature, the court cannot impose a penalty on the owner or order them to pay compensation but they can order the owner to pay the costs of bringing the application and order the dog to be destroyed or kept under proper control (e.g. by keeping it on a lead in public). These proceedings can only be brought against the owner of the dog, but the application can be brought by anyone. The application must be made to the court within six months of the incident and it must be in a particular format as otherwise the proceedings will be invalid.

In 2014, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was extended to cover private and public places, and this has seen a reduction in the use of this piece of legislation. However, it is still useful, particularly if a client is charged with a criminal offence and wishes to avoid having a criminal record upon conviction. It is sometimes possible to persuade the Crown Prosecution Service to substitute the criminal proceedings with civil proceedings, thus avoiding the possibility of a criminal record.

Animal Cruelty

Defending RSPCA prosecutions can be lengthy and complex. The consequences of being convicted under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 can be very distressing as the courts routinely deprive people of their pets and disqualify them from keeping any animals in the future. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 created many offences and the most commonly charged are set out below.

Animal Welfare Act 2006

Under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal. Such suffering could be caused by either an act or a failure to act. If convicted, you can face a maximum sentence of six months in prison, an unlimited fine or both. You may also be deprived of your pet and even be disqualified from keeping animals in the future.

Failure to Observe Best Practice

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, a person who is responsible for an animal must ensure it is properly looked after to the extent required by good practice. Section 9 of the Act states that an animal’s needs shall be taken to include the following:

  • its need for a suitable diet
  • its need for a suitable environment
  • its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease
  • its need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals

Improvement Notices (Section 10 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006)

Section 10 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 allows the RSPCA to serve an improvement notice on a person it believes to be failing to observe best practice in caring for an animal. The notice must specify the steps to be taken and the period allowed for taking such steps. A person cannot be prosecuted under section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 until the end of that specified period and they also cannot be prosecuted if the steps specified in the notice are taken. Further time for compliance may be allowed. Failure to comply with an improvement notice will usually result in a prosecution under section 9.

Mutilation

An offence is committed under section 5 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 when an individual carries out, or causes to be carried out, a prohibited procedure on any domesticated animal. The person who is responsible for the animal commits an offence if they permit such a procedure to be carried out or fail to take reasonable steps to prevent it from being carried out. A prohibited procedure is one which interferes with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of the animal, other than for medical purposes. An example of such is the cropping of ears. Tail docking is not covered since it is dealt with under section 6 of the Act.

The maximum sentence for an offence under this section is six months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both. The court also has the power to deprive the owner of the animal and it can disqualify them from keeping animals in the future

Tail Docking

An offence is committed if a person removes, or causes to be removed, part or all of a dog’s tail, other than for the purpose of medical treatment. It is also an offence if the person responsible for the dog allows the tail to be docked or fails to take reasonable steps to prevent it from happening. There is an exemption for a certified working dog that is not more than five days old.

The maximum sentence for an offence under this section is six months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both. The court also has the power to deprive the owner of the animal and it can disqualify them from keeping animals in the future.

Dog Fighting

Section 8 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 deals with animal fights. An animal fight is defined as “an occasion on which a protected animal (i.e. a domesticated animal) is placed with an animal, or with a human, for the purpose of fighting, wrestling or baiting”. Under this section, it is an offence to:

  • Cause an animal fight, or attempt to do so;
  • Knowingly receive money for admission to an animal fight;
  • Knowingly publicise a proposed animal fight;
  • Provide information regarding an animal fight to another with the intention of enabling or encouraging attendance at that fight;
  • Make or accept a bet on the outcome of an animal fight;
  • Take part in an animal fight;
  • Possess anything designed or adapted for use in connection with an animal fight with the intention of it being so used;
  • Keep or train an animal for use in connection with an animal fight.

In addition to the above, if you have no lawful authority or reasonable excuse, it is also an offence to:

  • Be present at an animal fight;
  • Knowingly supply, publish or show a video recording of an animal fight;
  • Possess a video recording of an animal fight, knowing what it is and with the intention of supplying it.

Exceptions to the above are if the animal fight took place outside of Great Britain or on a date prior to the commencement of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Possession of such a video recording is also lawful if such possession is for the purpose of its inclusion in a programme service.

Police have the power to seize an animal if they believe it has been involved in an animal fight.

If found guilty, the maximum penalty is six months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both. The court can also order that the owner be deprived of the animal and prohibit them from keeping animals in the future.

Cases of animal cruelty often involve expert evidence from veterinary surgeons. To defend your position in the best possible way, you will need the assistance of specialist animal and dog law solicitors. Having defended many similar prosecutions in the past, our team at Wheldon Law can offer you the legal advice you require. We also have access to some of the best veterinary experts in the UK who are experienced in defending Animal Welfare Act prosecutions so we can provide you with valuable insights that will enable you to obtain the outcome you desire.

Civil Dog Law

Civil dog law cases can vary enormously and our dog law specialists have dealt with all manner of issues, from dog ownership disputes and problems with barking dogs to claims for personal injury and damage to property.

Ownership Disputes

A dog is deemed to be a “chattel” in law which simply means that it is a personal possession, just the same as a car or a sofa. Sometimes disputes arise over ownership and the proceedings are brought before the small claims track of the county court. Unlike disputes over the custody of children, the court cannot make an order whereby two people share custody of the dog so it must decide which party has the better claim to ownership.

The court will consider a range of evidence (e.g. purchase receipts, whether the dog is microchipped to either party, in whose name it is registered at the vets, etc.) in order to determine who has the stronger claim to ownership. It will then make a ruling on ownership and, if appropriate, an order for the dog to be returned. The losing party will be compensated for their share of the value of the dog.

The procedure in the county court is designed to be quite user-friendly in the hope that claimants will be able to conduct their own litigation without a solicitor. There is also very limited scope for the successful party to reclaim their legal costs in the small claims track. As litigation is a lengthy and costly process, we always advise our clients to try to resolve any dispute themselves or to try mediation before resorting to litigation. We have successfully represented many clients facing ownership disputes in cases involving a wide range of animals, including dogs, meerkats, a parrot and a monkey!

Planning Issues

Residential property comes with planning permission for its use as a residence for people. If a person has a large number of dogs living on the premises, the local authority can intervene and require them to reduce the number of dogs living there. The maximum number is not set in stone, but as a guide anything over six can potentially be a problem.

Importation of Prohibited Dogs

It is not illegal to import a prohibited type of dog into the UK, but it is an offence to possess one of the four prohibited types of dog in the UK (see section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 above). If you try to bring a prohibited type of dog into the UK, it can be refused entry or it can be seized by the police and you could be prosecuted.

If you are moving to the UK and wish to bring your dog with you, but you are unsure as to whether it will be considered to be one of the four prohibited types of dog, we can provide you with the specialist advice and practical assistance you need.  We have helped many owners bring their dogs into the UK when they feared they might be a prohibited type, and all of these cases proceeded very smoothly.

Contractual Disputes/Sale of Goods

Contractual disputes often occur when an individual purchases a dog from a seller or breeder and finds that the animal in question has health issues. Disagreements may also arise if the dog is not as initially described by the seller.

Injury or Damage Claims

Defending injury or damage claims can be costly in terms of legal fees and compensation, particularly if you do not have insurance. For this reason, our dog law experts recommend that you obtain insurance for your dog. Pay careful attention when buying insurance as most policies will only cover you for civil claims, although a few do also cover criminal liability. If you do not wish to take out pet insurance for your dog, then third-party liability insurance is a cheaper option. You could also consider joining the Dogs Trust as membership provides you with free third-party liability insurance.

Dog Barking Complaints

Of course, it is completely natural for dogs to bark. However, excessive barking can lead to action being taken by the local authority. You could find that you are served with a Noise Abatement Notice which, if not addressed immediately and appropriately, could mean that you are prosecuted under the Environment Protection Act 1990 and required to pay a heavy fine.

Local authorities also now have the power to serve Community Protection Notices in circumstances where the community is affected by what is deemed to be anti-social behaviour. A warning notice must be served first, setting out the unacceptable behaviour alleged and what steps must be taken to remedy the issue. Failure to comply with the warning notice will usually result in a Community Protection Notice being served which will again set out the problematic behaviour and the steps to be taken to remedy the problem. Failure to comply with the notice can result in a fixed penalty notice being issued or a prosecution being brought with a maximum penalty of a fine of £2,500.

In addition to the steps above, tenants can find that their landlords withdraw permission for them to have a dog on the premises.

Wheldon Law Can Provide the Legal Assistance You Need

For many people, dogs are not just pets, they are an important and beloved member of their family. As such, we must strive to ensure that their safety and well-being is always protected. Unfortunately, despite dog owners’ best efforts, accidents and mishaps do still occur. However, if your dog does happen to cause a problem, there’s no need to worry as Wheldon Law will be on hand to offer our legal expertise. We will provide the expert guidance you need to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your dog.

Call us today on 01442 242999 for some free initial advice, or email us at enquiry@wheldonlaw.co.uk

Testimonials