Residents are encouraged to participate in a panel style discussion, introduced by EHDC’s award winning Animal Welfare Team.
A broad range of topics will be discussed, including hints and tips on the best way to look after your pet and issues surrounding irresponsible pet ownership, such as nuisance dog barking.
The Chairman introduced Patricia Bland, who gave a short presentation on Pets as Therapy. Pets as Therapy was a charity formed in 1983 where volunteers took animals, mostly dogs, to visit people in various establishments, such as hospitals, care homes and schools.
Nationally there were 6,000 volunteers and 130 in the area that she co-ordinated, which covered parts of East Hampshire, Surrey and West Sussex.
The dogs brought joy to the elderly, often stirring happy memories for those with dementia. The read2dogs scheme in schools allowed young people who were nervous about reading aloud the opportunity to read to a dog. Dogs did not judge and this less stressful environment often paid dividends in improving the confidence and speech of previously reluctant readers.
The Chairman introduced David Fitzgerald, Environmental Protection Manager, who gave an overview of The Animal Welfare Team and the Environmental Protection Team’s work around noise nuisance.
The Animal Welfare Team had recently won three gold awards out of a possible four at the national RSPCA Community Animal Welfare Footprint Awards for the care of stray dogs, contingency planning and the regulation of animal boarding businesses. The work of the team was often thought to just be collecting stray dogs, but in reality it encompassed a lot more. The team’s work included dealing with aggressive dogs, licensing sites across the district, regulating zoos and identifying sellers to ensure that they are licensed. This increasingly included sellers who operated online via sites such as Gumtree.
With regard to dogs barking, the Council had a duty to investigate such complaints under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. For action to be taken, it had to be proven that the noise was a Statutory Noise Nuisance and “considered to be unreasonable to the average person and something that is more than an annoyance.” 99 such cases had been investigated by the team to date since January 2017.
Evidence could be gathered by individuals using ‘the noise app’, which was free to download onto a smartphone. This recorded noise and allowed the complainant to comment on the impact that it was having. These reports were submitted directly to the council and assisted the team in deciding whether or how best to investigate.
If the officer was satisfied that a Statutory Noise Nuisance had been proven, a Noise Abatement Notice would be served. This notice specified the steps required to address the issue and the time period for them to be implemented.
To date, Noise Abatement Notices had been effective in the district with regard to dog barking and there had been no prosecutions. Prosecution would be considered if the problem continued, although the noise nuisance had to be proven beyond all reasonable doubt. If convicted, the Magistrates Court could impose an unlimited fine and a Criminal Behaviour Order could be applied. If breached, a Criminal Behaviour Order prevented the need to go back to court and the conditions applied anywhere the individual resided within the UK.
In response to questions, it was explained that the Council had a concordat with the RSPCA, as some cases might have associated welfare issues. The council also worked with the Police, who would lead if a dog had caused physical harm to a person.
Legislation had required dogs to be micro-chipped since April 2016, although a number of stray dogs that had been found had not been micro-chipped or the chip contained incorrect information. The importance of keeping the details up to date was highlighted, as this delayed the return of the dog and incurred additional kennel fees.
There were no specific regulations regarding dog walking businesses using public open space, or any evidence that this caused problems within the district. The Government was however investigating the regulation of ‘doggy day care’.