A blonde lurcher lies down on grass under dappled sunlight

Policy and government

We give a voice to pets and their owners in government by working with politicians from all parties. Our public affairs and policy work provides information to parliamentarians in Westminster and the devolved administrations about how current and proposed legislation affects pet welfare, and how their work could improve the lives of pets across the UK.

Our positions

There are over 20 pieces of legislation that apply to dog ownership, with some of it dating back to 1871. This plethora of legislation makes it complex and confusing for enforcers to act in a way that protects animal welfare and public safety. 

Blue Cross recognised the problems that irresponsible dog ownership and dog control issues cause to local communities, residents, and dog owners. We believe dog control legislation must be consolidated and updated for today’s world, with a focus on early intervention allowing enforcers prevent problems escalating and encouraging responsible ownership.

Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 outlaws four types of dog based on their physical appearance. It was enacted in the wake of several high-profile dog attacks, however the emphasis on a dog’s physical characteristics, rather than on the dog’s behaviour or the owner’s lack of control, has meant enforcement has focussed on dogs’ looks rather than the threat they pose to the public. Between 2005 and 2018, hospital admissions due to dog bites and strikes have risen by 81 per cent, according to NHS statistics.  

Blue Cross would like to see a complete repeal of the existing legislation, replaced with laws based on preventative measures, early intervention, and encouraging responsible ownership of all breeds and types of dog by all owners. Legislation must be preventative, evidence-based, and proportionate. 

In the interim, we call for immediate action to better protect the welfare of dogs seized under the act. As a responsible rehoming charity, we want to be able to find loving homes for ‘typed’ dogs who would make wonderful pets, rather than condemning them to death based on looks alone.

As members of the Dog Control Coalition, we believe there are more effective ways to protect the public from dog bites than banning XL bully types. Read our statement.

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 sets out that if a dog worries livestock on agricultural land, the owner is guilty of an offence and can be fined up to £1,000. The government announced in 2021, as part of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, new measures to help deal with livestock worrying, including increasing the scope of livestock species and locations covered by the law. 

We support the proposed changes but want to see the legislation specifically reference the need for dogs to be kept on leads at all times near livestock, rather than be kept under ‘close control’ to make owners’ responsibilities clearer and minimise the risk.

Dog breeding is regulated by different legislation in England, Scotland and Wales. In all three countries, breeders only need a license if they produce three or more litters in a 12-month period. In addition, in England and Wales, a breeder must meet a ‘business test’ in order to be licenced by the local authority to breed dogs. 

This means not every breeder of dogs is regulated, and estimates suggest the unlicenced trade accounts for 50 per cent of puppies born each year in the UK. The lack of visibility and enforcement leaves breeding bitches, sires and puppies at risk of poor welfare. 

Blue Cross believes the only way to ensure the welfare of puppies and their parents is for anyone breeding a dog to be registered and licenced. Local authorities must be adequately resourced to inspect premises and tackle unlicenced breeders. Buying from a responsible breeder who prioritises welfare above profit means families can welcome a happy and healthy puppy into their home.

Despite the internet being the biggest pet marketplace, there is no legislation specifically covering the sale of pets, including puppies and kittens, online in the UK. Since 2001, Blue Cross has worked with other pet charities and some pet sales websites to develop a system of self-regulation based on minimum standards for advertising pets for sale. 

However this can only go so far and relies on the goodwill and engagement of the selling sites with animal welfare organisations. Those websites that refuse to engage have become a haven for unethical and illegal pet sales, and pet sales continue on social media despite platforms’ rules saying they should not. It is now time for the government to look at legislative options to increase visibility and protect consumers.

Over the past decade, the popularity of brachycephalic breeds has exploded. Flat-faced breeds of dogs, cats and rabbits have an exaggerated skull shape in comparison with those normal for their species, and this leads to a range of serious health conditions, including breathing problems and skin and eye disorders. 

Many owners are unaware of the health problems suffered by these breeds. Blue Cross has committed not to advertise these breeds for rehoming without a full health warning. We continue to work to educate potential owners about the issues these animal face, and to put pressure on brands to stop using the breeds in marketing. 

Ultimately, we want to see an end to poor breeding practices. We are currently working with counterparts across Europe in countries that have legislated to outlaw poor breeding to understand if a legislative option could work in the UK.

There is currently no specific crime of pet theft, meaning theft of a much-loved family member and living animal is treated in the same way as a stolen laptop or phone. Pet theft is hugely traumatic for the owner and has terrible consequences for the pet. Existing law does not reflect the impact on human or animal victim of this upsetting crime. 

The government had planned to make dog theft a specific crime under the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which we fully supported, but has reneged on its commitment. We want to see the bill continue its passage to become law. In Scotland, we support the proposed Dog Abduction (Scotland) Bill. We want to see perpetrators face the full force of the law in the hope it will act as a deterrent for others. 

Aversive training methods are designed to be unpleasant and work on the idea of punishing unwanted or undesirable behaviour. The most common aversive devices such as choke, prong, spray and electric shock collars. Aversive methods include alpha rolls, yelling at or hitting a pet. 

Blue Cross believes that the best way to impact a pet’s behaviour is through developing a positive relationship with a pet and using reward-based methods to encourage good behaviour. There is no evidence that aversive methods or devices produce better results, and they have the added impact on causing animals fear and/or pain. We do know that feeling stressed or in pain can actually make behaviour problems much worse. 

The use of electric shock collars is due to be banned in England and Wales, which we fully support, but no date has yet been set. We’re calling on the government to follow through on its commitment. Scotland is introducing guidance, but not banning the devices. We believe electric training devices are outdated and should be outlawed across the UK.

We have serious concerns about the welfare standards faced by racing greyhounds up and down the country. These include concerns about the safety of tracks, the conditions at trainers’ kennels, issues around transporting the dogs, and the fate of greyhounds who are retired from the sport. 

We don’t believe the racing industry has done enough to improve these standards. Although we worked as part of the Greyhound Forum for a number of years to try and push the industry to make things better for the dogs, we don’t feel the Forum has made the necessary progress and so withdrew in 2023. 

We want to see an end to greyhound racing as soon as possible, and expect phasing out to take five years, allowing the racing industry and animal welfare organisations to plan and coordinate the care of the many dogs affected. Support our campaign. 

Blue Cross recognises the importance pets play in people’s lives. We are keen to see landlords, housing associations and local authorities adopt pet friendly policies which allow owners in rented accommodation to keep their pets with them. 

We welcome the changes to the Model Tenancy Agreement recently made by the government, which we hope will ensure more landlords offer pet friendly tenancy agreements. 

We are committed to working with the housing sector to enable them to embrace a more pet friendly approach and to support their tenants to be responsible pet owners. 

Supporting low income pet owners is at the heart of everything Blue Cross stands for as an organisation. We opened the world’s first animal hospital in 1906 to care for the pets of people who couldn’t afford veterinary treatment, and it is still open today. 

We are aware that pet owners on lower incomes often find it harder to access veterinary and behaviour support, and that vet fees and insurance costs are prohibitive for some. 

We know that more research is needed in this area to be able to pinpoint the key issues owners face and the potential solutions. As an organisation we are committed to producing an annual report which focuses on low income pet owners and their needs and requirements. This will give us base level data to be able to identify trends and potential areas for us to work in. We will continually look to develop services which help the pet owners which need us most. 

Our public affairs work

Animal welfare is a devolved matter, with responsibility sitting with the administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. On some animal welfare issues, the Westminster parliament legislates across the whole of the United Kingdom.

We are members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (Apgaw), partner with other animal welfare organisations, and work with change makers across the UK to help people and pets thrive together.

Contact us

Get in touch with our Public Affairs team for more information about animal welfare policy. Email [email protected]

— Page last updated 20/09/2023