Responsible dog ownership, according to expert Michael Duddy, begins from the bottom up.
That’s why, as Derry’s Principal Dog warden, Michael has been overseeing a huge education drive in local schools and groups where children are taught from the earliest ages about the responsibility and care requirements that come from being a dog owner.
It’s also why Derry City Council are holding a dog license amnesty this month where people can come forward to have their dogs licensed.
Life at the council’s dog shelter in Pennyburn is quieter than it used to be. That, says Derry City Council’s Principal Environmental Health Officer Enda Cummins, is thanks to fantastic relationships built up over the years with charities like the Dogs Trust, Rainbow Rehoming and Causeway Coast.
“There’s been a big shift in the general culture of dog ownership,” says Enda.
“Charities like the Dogs Trust in particular deserve credit. We work very closely with them and the initiatives they have around issues like neutering in particular are making a big difference to the amount of dogs we’re seeing here in the kennels. In Northern Ireland, the concept of neutering is a relatively new thing but our intention is to make it the norm. By neutering, people leave their dogs less predisposed to cancers and less aggressive. In many instances, charities like the Dogs Trust offer free neutering and microchipping and health checks.”
Dog warden Michael explains that neutering also stops female dogs from going into heat and running in packs, therefore lowering the risk of attacks on members of the public in residential areas.
“Until the neutering campaign began, we had genuine fears that a child would end up being mauled but thankfully, more people are now better educated and more dogs are being neutered. Although there’s still a way to go so that everyone who needs to, gets that message.”
Unprecedented rehoming rates mean staff at the kennels are no longer dealing with huge backlogs of animals which need homes, which means dogs are more likely to go to a better long term environment, as Michael explains.
“Every dog needs a good home, but not every home needs a good dog,” he says.
“Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, people may not have the kind of lifestyle which would allow them to care properly for a dog. For example, if people are out working all day and a dog is left locked up in a yard it could be barking or causing a nuisance to neighbours. That’s just one example but in some cases, people with young families are busy enough looking after their children that a pet dog could just be an added strain.”
Staff at the kennels are still contending with what they see as the major problems of dog fouling and straying.
They’ve promised a clampdown on people who let their dogs foul in public, and also those who let their dogs stray.
“There has been a significant improvement in responsible dog ownership and the majority of people are sensible about how they look after their animals, but unfortunately, there are still a large number who don’t seem to be getting that message,” says Enda.
Michael adds that the public need to work with the experts to help cut down on instances of straying and fowling.
“We need the public to help us to help them by giving us information about people who are breaking the law by letting their dogs foul and stray, and we will act on that information. Any information given to us will be treated confidentially, but it’s important to let people know that we are out there monitoring different areas of the city, and fines will be imposed for those dog owners who are acting irresponsibly.”
In an effort to promote responsible dog ownership, Enda Cummins has encouraged dog owners throughout the city who don’t have their pets licensed, to do so during this months amnesty.
“The primary focus is ensuring that dog owners licence their dog, not how long they have had their dog. The amnesty only relates to people licensing their dog. Any unlicenced dog discovered by Dog Wardens undertaking enforcement duties during the months of February and March will still be subject to either a fixed penalty notice or prosecution for the licensing offence in court. It should be noted that after the licensing amnesty there will a concentrated enforcement focus on licensing; fixed penalties will be issued in the first instance.
“It’s never been easier to licence your dog. Dog licences can be obtained online at http://www.derrypayments.com/Online-Payments/Dog-Licence-Application.aspx or at Derry City Council Offices, 98 Strand Road, BT48 7NN, Tel. 028 71365151. Alternatively an application can be posted out on request or downloaded from www.derrycity.gov.uk/dogs
“Each owner who registers his or her dog with Council is issued with a licence and licence disc which bears the dog’s very own personal identification number. The dog’s microchip number is also registered with the Council. A dog’s licence offers some proof of ownership. In the event of the dog straying or becoming lost the dog can be easily reunited with its rightful owner; this prevents the dog from being rehomed or unnecessarily destroyed,” he added.
The current fee for a dog licence is £12.50; a concessionary rate of £5.00 applies to those in receipt of income related benefit or for those whose dog has been neutered. A dog licence is free to anyone over 65 years old for their first dog and then a £5.00 concessionary rate for any additional dog. It must be stressed that although a dog licence is free to someone over 65 years old it is still a legal requirement for them to hold a valid licence.