Having your dog seized by the police can be a stressful and traumatic experience for any pet owner. Unfortunately, it is now easier than ever for your dog to get you into trouble in the UK. According to police records, the authorities have seized over 5,300 dogs under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 since 2019 and sadly, many of these cases did not have a happy ending.
Common Reasons for the Police Seizing a Dog
As a responsible dog owner, it is imperative that you understand the reasons why the police may decide to take your dog away.
a. Animal cruelty
Under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is an offence to do, or fail to do, anything that results in the unnecessary suffering of a domesticated animal for which you are responsible. Your dog can be seized and you can be prosecuted. If convicted, you could face a maximum sentence of up to 5 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine. You could also be deprived of your dog and disqualified from keeping dogs in the future.
b. Failure to ensure your dog’s welfare
Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 states that it is your legal responsibility to ensure that your dog:
- Has a suitable diet
- Lives in a suitable environment
- Exhibits normal behaviour patterns
- Is protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease
- Is housed with or apart from other animals
The police may take your dog away if you fail to look after it properly. You could also face a prison term or a fine and be disqualified from having pets.
c. Possessing a prohibited type of dog
The police can seize a dog if it is deemed to be a “prohibited” type. Under the Dangerous Dogs Act, the following breeds are banned in the UK:
- Pit Bull Terrier
- Japanese Tosa
- Dogo Argentino
- Fila Brasileiro
Whether a dog is a prohibited type is determined by its appearance,, not its breed or parentage. So even if you can prove the breed of your dog, it can still be deemed to be a prohibited type and at risk of seizure.
c. Dogs dangerously out of control
It is an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 for a dog to be dangerously out of control in either a public or a private place… Moreover, your dog does not have to bite or injure a person physically for you to commit an offence; it is enough if a person has a reasonable apprehension that a person or an assistance dog (e.g a guide dog) will be injured. If an injury is caused, then a more serious offence, known as the “aggravated offence” is committed.
It is your legal responsibility to keep people safe from your dog, not the other way around. Therefore, if a problem occurs, it is not an appropriate defence to say that it was the other party’s fault because they touched or provoked your dog, even if you asked them not to.
d. Dogs worrying livestock
According to the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, “worrying of livestock” refers to:
- Attacking livestock
- Chasing livestock in a way that could lead to an injury, suffering, loss or diminution in their produce
- Being out of control or off-lead in a field/enclosure where there are sheep
The police may take your dog away if they cannot identify you as its owner. However, they may release the dog once you have paid the costs of seizing and detention.
You could face prosecution resulting in a maximum sentence of fine and additional proceedings could be brought which give the court the power to make a destruction order.
What Happens When Your Dog is Seized by the Police?
After removing the dog from your home, the police will take it to one of their kennels.
They have the power to keep your dog until the conclusion of any court proceedings, thus leaving it up to the court to decide whether to make a destruction order or whether to allow your dog to come home subject to conditions.
If your dog is found to be a prohibited type of dog then you will have to obtain a Certificate of Exemption before he can be returned to you, although in some cases, the police may allow your dog to be returned to you under the Interim Exemption Scheme provided certain conditions are complied with.
Sometimes, certain cases can be resolved without the need for prosecution or for the police to take your dog away. For instance, if you have been accused of neglecting your dog, the RSPCA can serve an Improvement Notice that will enable you to remedy your dog’s unsatisfactory living conditions.
If you have been found to have committed an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act, rather than prosecuting you, the police can give you the opportunity to enter into a written agreement to keep your dog under control. They may also decide to issue a police caution as an alternative to filing a case against you.
What to Do When Your Dog is Taken Away
While it can be distressing to see your dog being taken away, the best course of action is to remain calm and polite when discussing the matter with the police. Moreover, the advice set out below may help you resolve the problem.
1. Co-operate with the authorities
If the police want to seize your dog, you should cooperate fully and allow them to take it away. However, depending on the particular circumstances, a warrant may be required. If they cannot produce a warrant, you can refuse them entry.
It may be worth trying to dissuade the police from seizing your dog by showing them that you are a responsible dog owner. You can offer to cooperate in terms of the conditions for the dog’s future control, including keeping it muzzled or on a lead when in public.
However, the success of this approach will ultimately depend on the severity of the incident. For instance, even if you promise your full cooperation, the police will be less likely to release your dog if there have been previous incidents or you are considered to not be a suitable owner because of previous convictions or lifestyle.
2. Seek legal assistance
Beware of well-meaning groups and organisations who provide free legal advice! It is always advisable to seek legal advice from a qualified solicitor if your dog has been seized by the police, and the sooner you seek that advice the better… At Wheldon Law, our solicitors specialise in UK dog law and they can negotiate with the authorities on your behalf. They can also advise you on the steps you can take to get your dog back as soon as possible. They can even help you avoid prosecution by seeking better alternatives, such as the measures discussed above. Brief, initial advice is provided free of charge.
We would like to stress that it is imperative that you seek legal advice before signing anything provided by the police. The police cannot do anything with your dog unless you sign a disclaimer. Many people sign their dog over to the police not realising that this can mean the police destroy the dog. There is no cooling-off period if you sign your dog over to the police.
3. Take the necessary steps to ensure compliance
If your dog is released to you subject to conditions, then make sure you keep to those conditions as failure to do so could result in you being prosecuted or could result in a less favourable outcome in any court proceedings. If you are required to keep your dog muzzled when he is in a public place, then make sure you use a box-style muzzle so he can still pant/drink and be given treats. If he has to be kept on a lead in public, then make sure you use a fixed length lead of 1.5 metres or less and not an extending lead. It is also wise to make sure that your premises are secure so your dog cannot escape. All of these things will demonstrate that you are a responsible dog owner who will comply with any conditions imposed by the court.
Always Ask Experts in Dog Law for Assistance
It can be extremely distressing to see the police remove your dog from your possession. Besides the trauma it can inflict on you as an owner, it can also be stressful for the dog. For this reason, you must act quickly and seek expert legal advice to ensure the quick resolution of your case and the swift return of your dog.
At Wheldon Law, we are experts in UK dog law and many of us are dog owners too. If the police have seized your dog, we provide you with expert advice and representation to ensure the best possible outcome for your case. Please get in touch with us to book a consultation.