Helen Martin: Let’s unleash a new dog licence

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IN these cash-strapped times when councils are looking for ever more ways to make money, it would be nice if, just for once, they came up with a scheme that would actually benefit the community rather than just fleecing us.

So I suggest that Cosla, the Scottish Government and Westminster consider the return of the dog licence.

Two stories in the Evening News last week reported out of control dogs attacking working guide dogs. Worse still, according to my vet, is the revelation that in similar attacks around the UK, there have been instances where the owners of the “attackers” actually laughed at or verbally-abused the blind or partially-sighted owner as they panicked and tried to protect their dog.

Often the working dog (cost to train, £50,000) is so traumatised it has to be retired or supported through the difficult process of regaining its confidence to carry on with its career. That’s one extreme example of many that prove there are some people who should never be allowed to have a dog at all.

If you’re a dog owner, you see more and more of them – and I speak from experience. Our extremely placid, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly greyhound has more than once been saved by his sheer speed when he’s been minding his own business or offering a cheerful “doggy hello” on Blackford Hill or other walking areas, only to meet with an aggressive, teeth-baring attack.

Some owners seem to think that providing their pets don’t bite humans (and who’s to say they won’t), dog-on-dog fights are a normal, occupational hazard and do nothing about it.

It doesn’t seem to occur to them that urgent re-training is required, and meantime their dog should be kept on a lead and muzzled outdoors. They are quite probably the same people who fail to pick up poo, let their dogs loose around sheep or cattle or think it’s funny when their dog mauls a cat.

They are, with their lack of responsibility, being just as cruel to their own dog as if they starved it, beat it, or threw it in a fighting pit. And there we have a whole other group of people who shouldn’t own a pet.

We all know there are thousands of dogs waiting to be re-homed in rescue centres all round the country. But it’s just too easy for the wrong people to get one. And a bad home is worse than no home at all. There may be those who don’t care much for animals who say we should concentrate first on people who are neglectful or cruel to their children. Too true. But children come along by nature, chance or God, depending on your viewpoint. You can’t just turn up at a commercial breeder, a baby shop or an adoption centre and – with relatively minimal checks – say: “I’ll have that one.”

One indication of how little some people care about their dogs, is the numbers who are still not micro-chipped to ensure that if they do get lost, they will be returned. It also offers owner traceability for purposes of prosecution . . . but it’s not compulsory, and you need a scanner to read it.

Dogs don’t come along, like some babies, by “accident” – either fortuitously or otherwise. Owning one is a conscious decision. But in some ways, owning a dog is like having a child. It should be registered. It has to be properly fed and housed, its health needs taken care of – including inoculations. It must be trained to behave well, and loved. In fact, the law demands most of that. Yet it’s only when things go wrong that the owner – if they can be traced – is brought to book.

The reintroduction of a licence has been dismissed before because it would be too expensive or complicated to administer. But now we have the technology that would make it as easy to produce as a bus pass on production of certificates for micro- chipping and health insurance, plus proof of identity; and of course, a fee. £25 seems a reasonable annual amount, maybe even £50. In general, if you can’t afford that, you certainly can’t afford a dog.

Of course there would have to be some exemptions and discounts. Plenty of good owners on low incomes will do without themselves to feed their pooch and turn to the wonderful PDSA for necessary treatment. No-one would want to deprive the pensioner, for example, who enjoys the company and companionship of their pet and is physically able to care for it.

And there are doubtless many bad owners – thugs who train their poor mutt as a weapon, abuse it as an aggressive accessory or worse – for whom a £25 “pony” is small change.

But whether you love dogs, fear them or loathe them, it’s to everyone’s advantage that they are in the hands of responsible, kind owners who do the best for their animal, and for everyone else who might encounter it.

And if a licence, that had to be carried and produced on demand, deterred the feckless, the cruel, the criminally stupid and the negligent from having a dog, we’d all be better off.