Estimates of the dog population in the UK vary according to the source, but are approximately 9 million, with just over a quarter of the population owning a dog and a similar number owning a cat, noticeably more than have at least one child under the age of 16 years old (18.9%). The percentage of the population owning a dog has being relatively stable for some time, whereas the percentage likely to have children is projected to decline. It is to be hoped that this may result in commercial pressure to improve access for dogs to everything ranging from accommodation, temporary or permanent, to transport and the countryside.
The commodification of dogs continues apace and there continues to be serious problems with the sheer number of dogs being bred and imported as well as being relinquished. The Dogs Trust Stray Dogs survey has yet to be published for 2018, but there is nothing to suggest that there will be significant improvements in numbers. The Dogs Trust received 277 rehoming requests in the week leading up to Christmas alone and January 2018 saw them take a total of 5,000 requests.
The BVA advise against importing dogs from abroad and campaign for current EU Pet passport conditions to be tightened because of the increased prevalence of disease (including zoonotic diseases) from even legally imported dogs. 93% of companion animal vets reported to the BVA that the number of imported dogs increased in 2018. 40% had seen new or rare conditions in practice associated with imported dogs with the potentially fatal zoonotic disease leishmaniosis being mentioned by 27% of the vets surveyed.
Of course, it is entirely possible that the UK may be treated as an unlisted country as a result of Brexit and the government has published contingency plans regarding travel after March 29th, 2019. Negotiations are continuing regarding treating the UK as a listed or unlisted third country for pet travel purposes. At the moment, the advice is to contact a vet at least four months before the intended date of travel. The BVA has also listed a statement.
Lack of resources and other priorities at border controls mean that an unverified, but huge, quantity of dogs continue to be imported illegally to fuel demand with many owners rejected by domestic re-homing organisations seeking dogs from abroad, often assisted by unqualified ex-pats establishing unregulated “rescue” centres. Illegal imports from Hungary alone are estimated to have increased by 761% since 2014 and Lithuania 663%. Just 1,117 illegally imported puppies were intercepted in the UK between 2016 and 2018. Vets in the UK and abroad some just hours after purchase. 16.6% of dogs were purchased online in 2017. Website Gumtree announced on August 7th, 2018, that it would impose a fee of £2.99 on anyone trading animals on their site. Not much of a deterrent when prices of up to four figures are being demanded and there is no way of verifying the seller’s details, except to say that trading of live animals online should never be considered as being legitimate. The UKKC estimated that 33% of puppies bought online had become ill or died in their first year.
On a positive note, new licensing legislation enacted in October is to be welcomed, although it is unlikely to be effective as resources required to enforce it continue to be diminished. The long-awaited proposed legislation to ban third party sales of puppies and kittens and to ban the use of aversive “training” collars was not enacted and fears continue that the current parliamentary shenanigans will mean that neither may come to pass. The last public announcement on the collar legislation was made in August 2018 and on the third party sales ban in December 2018.
Financial uncertainties and realities mean that there is not likely to be a significant improvement in the numbers of responsible dog owners who obtain dogs after conducting suitable research, train them and take optimal care of their welfare. Few owners have a clue about their legal obligations and most are likely to get away with breaking the law on a daily basis, whether that is not putting their dog on a lead, not picking up or not having a legal collar tag on when out in public. Political decisions made over the next few days and weeks may unwittingly curb the number of dogs imported and have a positive effect on the transmission of diseases by dogs that have travelled abroad.
Watch this space.