Firm ordered to pay £6,500 in costs after losing appeal against the council
East Devon District Council’s Environmental Health team has recently been successful in defending an appeal concerning a dog day care company in the district.
‘A Dog’s Day Out’ is run from an industrial unit at Greendale Business Park in Woodbury Salterton and operates under an East Devon District Council licence issued for animal boarding as they care for dogs during the working day.
Dogs are currently supervised in one large group within the warehouse and an enclosed outside concrete yard. However, council officers have been concerned for some time that both dogs and staff have been at risk of injury caused by dogs becoming over boisterous or fighting. They have also been concerned that the operators were not taking sufficient responsibility under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 for the health, safety and well-being of the dogs, and that the dogs were not provided with quiet areas in which they could choose to rest.
Officers have frequently observed that there are few beds within the premises and that dogs only have the concrete floor to rest or sleep on. In order to address these concerns, officers decided that it was reasonable to require that the dogs were kept in groups of no more than 10 dogs, and that staffing levels should be sufficient to ensure continual care throughout the day.
These conditions were included in the council’s 2018 licence for the business but the operator of ‘A Dog’s Day Out’ appealed against them. He said that the new conditions requiring the grouping of dogs was not reasonable and that the animals should be allowed to run freely all day in what had become a very large pack of dogs. The operator said that staff could be given the responsibility to separate out any dogs causing problems or needing quiet space, even when the licensee was not on site.
The appeal before magistrates sitting at Exeter heard evidence for the business from Stan Rawlinson, a dog trainer/behaviourist, Colin Lee, the appellant’s health and safety consultant and Dean Wilkinson, the owner and manager of A Dog’s Day Out. The witnesses were all of the view that the risk to dogs and staff was low if the dogs were allowed to function as one large group.
For the council, Environmental Health Officer Janet Wallace and Caroline Bower, a specialist vet with extensive experience in animal behaviour, gave evidence. They explained to magistrates that the safety of both dogs and staff was paramount and neither could be assured unless the dogs were kept in groups of a manageable size, and cared for by sufficient trained staff.
Mrs Wallace said she was concerned at reports received from former staff members, some dog owners and council colleagues, that at times there were fewer than four staff looking after 65 dogs. Mrs Bower explained that domestic dogs were no longer pack animals and were accustomed to being kept either singly or in small groups. She said that only this was safe for dogs and staff. Although a few breeds of dogs enjoy long periods of play there are many dogs, particularly older ones, who should be able to rest for much of the time and these facilities were not being provided at this premises.
The magistrates decided that the council had been reasonable in imposing the conditions, which are similar to those included on other dog day care licences in East Devon, and dismissed the appeal. Costs of almost £6,500 were awarded to the council.
After the appeal hearing, Councillor Steve Hall, Chairman of East Devon District Council’s Licencing Sub-Committee, said:
The council considers the health, safety and well-being of animals left in the care of others to be paramount. Our officers are well trained and experienced, visiting both dog and cat boarding premises throughout the year and encouraging the highest standards of good practice and consistency.
New licensing regulations will come into force in October 2018 and this judgement will assist our officers in continuing to make the right, reasonable, decisions about the conditions on the licences of anyone charged with looking after pets and other animals for payment.
The council encourages dog owners to use day care or home boarding as an alternative to dogs being left alone for long periods, but recommends that everyone should make sure that the facility is right for their pet. Owners should visit the premises and arrange to view the facilities whilst they are open and caring for dogs, just as they would when selecting a nursery for their children. In this way, customers can see exactly the way in which their dogs will be cared for, and we would expect all licensed premises to be happy to show customers around.