A right dog’s dinner! – on the new Defra guidelines on day boarding for dogs

(Guest post by ‘Dog Owners Against Discrimination‘).

There has been a real ballyhoo on our campaign page lately, following the enactment of the Animal Welfare Act 2018 and the release of Defra’s Guidelines for private businesses offering boarding and day care facilities to dog owners.

In recent years, these small businesses have grown in every locality. They are generally run by dog-lovers with big hearts and low incomes, looking to have their own business doing something that they love. For working ‘dog parents’ and busy families, doggy day care is a Godsend; drop the kids at school and the pooch at doggy day care, and head off to work in full confidence that both kids and dog are going to have a busy, fun-packed day, safely watched over until you pick them up.

It seems the miseries at Defra weren’t happy with this straightforward little arrangement, and have decided to stick their unwelcome noses in. One-and-two person businesses across the country have received a 40-page pack of ‘Guidelines’ from Defra, which they are to adhere to if they want to renew their licences and avoid heavy fines and legal action.

Many self-employed dog care providers, who have been running their businesses for years, are now saying they will be forced to cease trading in the near future. Others say they’ll take the risk and go ahead without a licence, and let the cards fall where they will. Everyone is livid, and extremely confused.

A petition has been started online, demanding that the Guidelines and the Animal Welfare Act 2018 (from which the Guidelines stem) are reviewed, since they’re confusing and unclear, at best.

Home businesses across the country are suddenly expected to put in double gates, find a separate room for every dog they care for, fill out endless paperwork. Anyone whose entry to their home business could remotely be construed as ‘shared access’ is sunk, for starters. One campaign supporter, who has run a successful business for years, is now facing losing it because she shares a small hallway with a neighbour. Others have pointed out that if the dogs are to be supervised continually without a break, how does the single, self-employed carer go to the loo?

For day-care facilities, Defra has decided that dogs walked off the premises cannot be walked off-lead. In itself, this contradicts S9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which requires that dogs must be allowed to ‘exhibit normal behaviour patterns’. What this means is that dogs must be able to enjoy the ‘normal’ pleasures of running free off-lead and socialising with other dogs; by law, we have to exercise them off-lead, so they can be fit and healthy, well socialised and…..well…..NORMAL. Defra now seems to be contradicting itself.

It could be argued that families can walk their own dogs properly when they get home from work, and that the only function of doggy day care should be to take the dogs out for a leg stretch and a wee, part way through the day. But what about the many elderly and disabled people who pay dog walkers to exercise their dogs when they can’t? Folks recovering from surgery, as I was a few months ago, who need someone to exercise their dog for a few weeks while they get better? It seems that Defra is forcing people to break laws that it made itself, and hasn’t the foresight to see further than the end of its officious nose.

It’s not as if we needed Acts of Parliament and Defra Guidelines, and endless paperwork. Local doggy day care businesses are monitored closely by the clients themselves, all of whom live near the day care or boarding establishment they are using. If any local dog care provider was falling short of the mark, the information would be round the neighbourhood in quick time, shared with other dog walkers we meet on our walks, and blasted across Facebook and Twitter. The owner would be out of business in a heartbeat. No business that was providing inadequate care could possibly survive.

Defra, however, knows better, and has issued its diktats to a dismayed raft of dog owners and care providers, who yet again find themselves on the receiving end of a completely unwarranted attack from the faceless authorities in Government.

Where this leaves the many working dog parents who rely heavily on doggy day care, is anybody’s guess. Presumably, Defra thinks that a nation of dogs shut in the house all day on their own is a more desirable option.

We are again left with the suspicion that Defra is conducting some kind of hate campaign against UK dog owners, which began with Dog Control Orders (now Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)), and has now focused on those who care for our dogs on a temporary basis.

It is galling. So many people have set up thriving little home-based businesses, caring for local dogs owned by people they know. They’ve enjoyed doing low-cost online courses to help them provide a good service. Now Defra is demanding that all courses need to be ‘a minimum of an OFQUAL related level 2 qualification in a relevant subject’. Defra doesn’t list which qualifications it finds acceptable, or which courses might be ‘relevant’.

In itself, this is confusing. Currently, there is no governing body overseeing the great raft of dog-related courses that are available to the general public. The cost of the courses varies enormously, but there’s no way to tell which ones are the best to take. Anybody can offer a ‘dog training course’, or a ‘dog care course’, and claim that theirs is a highly recognised qualification, but actually, it might not be worth the paper it’s written on. If Defra wanted to have a positive impact on dog-related businesses, it would have been better to focus its attention on devising some excellent courses that people could take for a reasonable fee, overseen by Defra itself or a governing body it established. That would have been a far kinder, and fairer, approach and would have ensured more uniformity of care in the long run, at all doggy day care establishments and boarding facilities.

Other aspects of the Act address the need for a clamp down on private dog breeders (most of which we agree with, because the situation has got completely out of hand, particularly with online puppy sales) and new regulations around ‘exhibiting’ dogs. As someone about to publish some children’s stories about my dogs, I wonder if I would be expected to follow these regulations when someone invites me to appear with my two ‘stars’ at the local Church fete.

Such officiousness. Such discrimination. Such targeting of a specific group in a sector of society which is largely self-regulating anyway, and which is mainly comprised of lovely folk who just adore our canine friends and wanted to have a business they loved.

This is where the miseries at Defra have brought us to. Unclear laws, resulting in confusion and anger and businesses ceasing to trade; or, an endless quantity of paperwork and legislation to deal with, and the continual fear that ‘the inspectors’ will be at the door at any moment; the humourless, purveyors of officialdom, with their clipboards and their clacking tongues, and a soulless Act of Parliament that makes unreasonable demands on ordinary folk.

There’s no two ways about it – Defra has made a right dog’s dinner of the Animal Welfare Act 2018 and the ludicrous guidelines that accompany it.