Article Text


Decision making
Comments on the dilemma in the September issue: ‘Irresponsible dog ownership’
  1. Michael Stevenson
  1. Gloucester, UK


The dilemma in the September issue concerned neighbours who owned two beagles and housed them in a purpose-built compound (In Practice, September 2011, volume 33, page 422). The owners worked long days and were often away at weekends. A paid dog walker exercised the dogs for 50 minutes a day during the week, but after being walked the dogs bayed periodically throughout the day. The dogs were not walked at the weekend but were allowed to run around a terraced garage roof. Paul Roger commented that this problem exemplified the lack of forethought and planning taken by many people when they decided to become dog owners. Rather than choosing a dog based on aesthetics, potential owners needed to think about breed characteristics and whether they would be able to provide the five freedoms in their home environment. In this case, the dogs had limited exercise and might also have experienced fear and discomfort when confined within the compound. These conditions contravened guidelines published by the Companion Animal Welfare Council in its Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs. While a breach in these provisions was not a legal offence in itself, it could be used to demonstrate failure to comply with the current regulations listed under Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Complaints made to the appropriate authorities could result in an investigation by the police or an appropriately appointed inspector, who might choose to involve a local veterinary surgeon. The RSPCA might also investigate complaints in a private capacity. A person suspected of failing to comply with the Act would be handed an improvement notice; failure to comply with this would result in prosecution and could lead to seizure and rehoming of the animals.

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Michael Stevenson comments: It is an indication of the social stratum the complainant lives in that they bemoan the plight of two well-cared-for and loved dogs whose owners have the temerity to have to go out and work for a living.

These dogs have a purpose-built space for living and sleeping in. This implies the owners did think long and hard about whether to purchase the dogs. The owners then ensured that the dogs were exercised and had their pen cleaned during their absence on week days, no doubt at considerable expense.

The dogs barking before and after exercise may be irritating, but it hardly implies cruelty worthy of an RSPCA inspection.

With 1·4 billion people getting by on less than US$1 a day (World Bank figures) and 14 million children dying of starvation per year, the fact the dogs get a bit bored seems a trifle inconsequential.

Our rehoming centres are full of unwanted and unloved pets consigned to days, weeks and months in a concrete pen surrounded by similarly distraught animals. The dogs described here have food, shelter, regular exercise and two loving owners, and so can hardly be compared to waifs and strays, even in this country.

The complainant needs to take a long, hard look at his/her own moral values and, if they really feel the need to reduce the ‘suffering’ of these dogs, perhaps they could offer to take them for a walk as they seem to have plenty of time on their hands to listen to them barking!

Have you faced a dilemma that you would like considered in a future instalment of Everyday Ethics? If so, e-mail a brief outline to inpractice{at}


THIS series gives readers the opportunity to consider and contribute to discussion of some of the ethical dilemmas that can arise in veterinary practice. Each month, a case scenario is presented, followed by discussion of some of the issues involved. In addition, a possible way forward is suggested; however, there is rarely a cut-and-dried answer in such cases, and readers may wish to suggest an alternative approach. This month's dilemma, ‘Mammary mass in an overweight dog’, was submitted by a reader and is presented and discussed by Rachel Casey. Readers with comments to contribute are invited to send them as soon as possible, so that they can be considered for publication in the next issue. Discussion of the dilemma ‘Irresponsible dog ownership’, which was published in the September issue of In Practice, appears on page 494. A further response to the dilemma ‘Regulation breach on farm’ published in the July/August issue appears on page 495.

The series is being coordinated by Siobhan Mullan, of the University of Bristol. It is hoped it will provide a framework that will help practices find solutions when facing similar dilemmas.

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