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What happens now that the Animal Welfare Regulation is in place?

Back in October, a new act came in to force, The Animal Welfare Regulation 2018. There was a flurry of publicity, some explanation of what the new legislation was meant to achieve and a great deal of understandable confusion from those people who may be affected – including dog breeders. Although well intentioned, this is not a well drafted piece of legal text. It leaves a great deal of room for misinterpretation and will be welcomed by solicitors working on behalf of frightened clients.

The problem starts with the wide scope of the legislation. It covers dog breeding, pet boarding and selling, the hiring of horses and training animals for exhibition. The purpose is to bring all these activities under some kind of licencing regime. And who will oversee all this work? Well, it’s been dumped on local councils and they are already hard pressed in these times of austerity to meet existing workloads.

Councils have been given very little guidance from Defra (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs), the Government body responsible for introducing the new law. There’s not even a standardised application process for them to follow. Each council has been left to decide on its own approach and the charges it will levy on licence holders. Given all these pressures, it’s unlikely that the new law will be given the highest priority by those meant to enforce it.

In fact, the power of the new act will lie with a council’s appointed inspector. Recognising the difficulties of recruiting and training someone for the post, there is a three year window during which there will be no special requirements needed by this person. When this window closes, the inspector will need to undergo specific training.

The licencing of dog breeding establishments by local councils is nothing new, around 650 are already licenced under previous legislation. The intention now is to use The Animal Welfare Regulation 2018 to bring more breeders under the supervision of the authorities. So how do breeders decide if the activities they undertake fall under this act?

On first reading, the wording seems to be a catch-all.  It requires persons breeding three or more litters in any twelve month period to apply, unless they have no intention of selling any of the puppies. However, it also states that anyone breeding dogs and advertising a business of selling dogs needs to be licenced. Furthermore, even hobby breeders who don’t consider themselves to be a business, but make a profit, will need to consider applying. Breeders with few, but expensive, puppies might also fall under the licencing regime despite producing fewer than three litters.

Confused? You won’t be the only one out there who is left with little or no idea on how to proceed. If you breed over three litters, consider yourself a business, make a profit and pay tax, chances are you need to be licenced. If not, contact your local council and ask the question. Chances are, they won’t give you a clear answer and suggest that if you are in doubt seek legal advice. Not very helpful, particularly as the average high-street solicitor is unlikely to know much about this area of the law.

At this stage, it’s worth following some common sense rules. Protect yourself by keeping a record of the conversation with the council representative. Better still, write to them (keep a copy) outlining your understanding of the information they have provided. In fact, record keeping is the best way to protect yourself.

Remember the purpose behind the new regulation – the welfare of animals. Councils will be looking for breeders that fail to meet minimum standards of care. Breeders that provide a suitable environment, the right diet, monitor behaviour and training, as well as ensuring animals in their care are protected from pain, suffering, disease and injury have little to worry about. It is worth contacting your breed clubs to find out more about how you can meet all these areas of concern.

Given this confusion and extra paper work, is it worth the extra hassle of getting yourself licenced? The answer is probably yes and not because of the fear of council inspectors banging on your door. It’s all about consumer expectation. Over the coming years, as the legislation takes hold, your forever owners are probably going to expect you to be licenced. It gives them extra confidence that they are buying a puppy from an independently assessed breeder. These are people who rely on companies like Feefo and Amazon reviews when buying simple household items. So when it comes to the most important purchase they are ever going to make, a new member of the family, anything you can do to help will mark you out. It will also tell you something about them. Anyone who is looking for reassurance about the health and welfare of their puppy is likely to be a better owner.

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