I put together the article below in September 2016:


Now in 2024, sadly not much has changed or improved for animal welfare and in fact the situation is at the worst rescue has ever seen.

2020 was the start to the end for many rescues as Covid hit the world. It was not helped by the Conservative Government who made 9 promises on Animal Welfare in their 2019 election manifesto, with the party’s Animal Welfare Plan of 2021 repeating many of the pledges which were then included in the Kept Animals Bill. There was light at the end of the tunnel however, earlier last year the Kept Animals Bill was dropped by the current Government, and it is now in pieces, literally.

During the lockdowns, and as people were allowed to go out and exercise, the world and his wife wanted a dog; an excuse to be out exercising, company, and worst of all, a distraction for the children. This meant there was a great demand for puppies allowing the unscrupulous back street breeders, puppy farms and foreign dealers (many of whom purport to be rescues) to churn out thousands and thousands of pups that they were selling at over inflated prices. Many of these poor souls had not had a good start in life, were not properly treated medically in terms of vaccinations and worming and had missed out on those early days of socialisation and habituation. The greedy public would go online, pay thousands for a ‘designer’ puppy, which let’s be honest are nothing more than mongrels, and have their pup delivered or collect it from a service station. Good excuse for the breeders as we were not allowed in people’s homes, so how could the buyers see pup with mum and the rest of the litter?

Today’s society is a throwaway society that expects to order an item online and have it the next day. If the item is not to their liking, they will just return it and sadly this is also how so many people look at the purchase of puppies and other pets. No research into the breed they may be purchasing, no checks on compatibility of the breed with their environment and circumstances and no consideration for the future. After all we can just return or get rid if it does not work out. So, we had thousands of puppies out there in homes who had no clue and because of the lockdowns, these pups were not getting proper socialisation with the outside world, or proper training.

We have to also bear in mind that the combined effects of Covid and Brexit meant the veterinary world was decimated as many staff returned to their home countries never to return. Vet appointments became gold dust and so many of these pups were not getting the correct vaccinations, treatments or checks, and if you wanted to be a responsible owner and neuter your dog, you may have had to wait months. Perfect excuse for more unwanted litters.

UK rescues knew we were in for a hard time. We knew that as soon as things returned to ‘normal’ there would be a mega dump of unwanted dogs with behaviour issues and separation anxiety as people returned to work. And so it began, and it has not stopped! It should also be noted that UK animal rescues did not get any type of Covid payment or grants unless they had a charity shop. No, we did not need it as much then because our kennels were empty, but we knew the fallout would be post Covid and yet there was still no offer of help or financial support from the Government. Many rescues really struggled, especially those with centres when the energy bills were hiked so high, and sadly some fell by the wayside.

When the public realised they could not just return this older, boisterous and untrained pup easily because they had been purchased from disreputable sources who did not care, they began to approach rescues in their hundreds, and for the first time in many years rescues around the UK were building up waiting lists of dogs that were in need. We were in fact told by many people we were obligated to take their dogs! The public does not like waiting or taking responsibility and being accountable for their failings to these animals, so they just started to dump them for the councils to have to round up as strays and deal with. At the point where life returned to ‘normal’ and demand started to drop, we also saw many pregnant bitches abandoned, litters of puppies dumped in fields, and in some cases multiple litters.

Abandoned and stray dogs are the responsibility of the council and now they were being overwhelmed with unwanted dogs. Many of these dogs were not microchipped or if they were the microchip was not registered, so nobody to make accountable. Rescues stepped up and took in as many as they could, but the harsh reality is that many hundreds of dogs needlessly died simply because there was nowhere for them to go. Councils are only obliged to keep a stray dog for 7 days and if they cannot reunite with an owner, they are permitted to euthanise them, regardless of age, health, or temperament. This is like one of those dirty secrets the general public do not seem to be aware of and many when told do not believe that is what actually happens in the UK as we are supposed to be a nation of dog lovers.

Another important point to note is how Covid decimated the commercial boarding kennel industry. With nobody travelling and nobody needing to board their dogs, many commercial kennels went out of business, many shrank back their business, and many just closed their doors forever. This has put additional strain on rescues and councils who used such boarding kennels for their rescue dogs and for the strays picked up by the councils. In fact, with the added exasperation of the XL Bully saga with so many being dumped as the easy and cheaper option, the reality is that even more dogs are being euthanised every week now than at the peak of the post Covid dump. Rescues and councils just have nowhere to put them. Insurance companies are now also excluding XL Bullies from rescue centres insurance, so those that are or were also contracted to the council to hold their stray dogs, are actually having to refuse to continue their contracts with councils and some councils are struggling to find any kennels that will take their strays.

The XL Bully saga is the just the latest scandal and a shame on the UK Government. It just shows how little the current Government understands the problems with the dog situation and highlights their own failings. We have laws that should protect the public from dangerous dogs, we have laws that should make people accountable, but these laws are archaic, ineffective and with all the cut- backs on public spending, councils and the police do not have the time or people to enforce many of these laws. Many councils are now contracting out their stray dog service which is another minefield altogether as these companies are in it to make money ultimately, and the welfare of the dogs and reuniting them with owners is a long way down their list. And what about the mental health aspect? We now have staff and volunteers at rescues and kennels in pieces because they are seeing healthy and well-behaved XL Bullies being murdered, and yes that can be the only description for it. The majority of vets are being put in a situation that goes against all of their ethics destroying so many lives. They did not sign up to ‘cull’ breeds; they spent years training to help animals.

So, what is the way forward? A good starting point would be to listen to all reputable rescues and a good starting point for that would be those that are members of the Association of Dog and Cat Homes (ADCH) who have to meet minimum standards to be a full member. The standards are based on those for commercial kennels and Licensing of Rescues in Scotland, another thing the UK is so behind on and would weed out a lot of those dealers purporting to be rescues; consultations with DEFRA began in 2019 and nothing since! And, instead of just listening to the large rescues such as the RSPCA, Battersea, and the Dogs Trust, listen to the other rescues who are much more in touch with reality and do not focus on the bottom line. Yes, all rescues need to monitor the bottom line to be sustainable, but they ensure reserves to care for the dogs under their charity rather than holding millions in reserves. Many of the ADCH members, like ourselves, are run by unpaid volunteers who are in rescue because of their passion for dogs rather than an executive salary. And those who do talk from the larger charities, very often have no idea what happens at ground level and are actually very out of touch because they are not on the frontline on a daily basis.

The answer to the unwanted dog population in the UK is not to condemn dogs but to tackle the human element of the problem from the start. Dogs, like other pets, are classed as a chattel which does not give them enough protection in law. With the amazing campaigning of ex PC Dave Wardell and Fabulous PD Finn, it was recognised after Finn had been stabbed saving his dad’s life that the perpetrator only being charged with criminal damage for stabbing a police dog was unjust. Finn’s Law bought in the new sentencing powers of up to 5 years in prison for attacking a working animal. Campaigning continued and Finn’s Law part 2 enabled the sentencing of all animal abusers to be raised to up to 5 years in prison as well, although sadly courts still do not seem to be using their full powers still. We now have the Pet Abduction Bill passing through Parliament which recognises that pet theft can be devastating on families, so why can we not have a new classification for all of our pets and companion animals who are sentient beings unlike any other chattel?

As it stands, anyone can breed a litter of dogs but if over 3 litters a year they should register with their council. How many of the scum breeders are going to worry about this little fact? The same number as those irresponsible owners who own XL Bullies as a status dog rather than a pet. They won’t be rushing to exempt their dogs and will just wait until someone shows up to seize it. And once the XL Bullies are dealt with, which breed will these unscrupulous owners move onto next? Indications are the Cane Corso is in top spot so will they be the next breed to be culled? Should a new classification be designated for pets and companion animals, then it would be much easier to reduce the back street breeding, puppy farms and imports meaning that only responsible breeders will be producing puppies. Yes, there will be a cut in supply of puppies, but at least these breeders will be those who care about where their dogs go and should be doing the appropriate checks on the buyers in terms of environment and experience for their breed.

Forty years ago, you would have to sign up with a breeder and wait for a litter. You would have to scour the local papers or relevant magazines to find a breeder with a litter. We have allowed a throwaway society to develop with technology. Having reclassified pets and companion animals it should then be made law that you cannot advertise these animals online for sale or for stud even. We need to re-educate the general public on how to go about being a responsible owner and owning a pet is not a given right. Rescues will have their own websites. Good breeders will have their own websites and many sell by word of mouth only still to this day. Companies working with protection dogs and the like will have their own websites. If it was illegal to advertise a pet or companion animal online on places such as Gumtree, the window to supply the pups from the unscrupulous sources will close immensely. Facebook has supposedly banned the sale of pets on their website, but many closed groups still sell puppies.

“Lucy’s Law” came into effect meaning that any dog under 6 months of age in the UK could only be sold from the place where it was bred and the purchaser should see the pup with their mother. Anyone breeding for commercial sale, breeding more than 3 litters a year and selling commercially as pets, had to apply to their council for a breeding license. This should have stopped a lot of back street breeders but there was a loophole. UK registered breeders could still import dogs under 6 months of age and sell through a third party so many moved their breeding sites out of England. This loophole would have been closed if the Government had not dropped one of their manifesto pledges along with:

  • “Importation of dogs, cats and ferrets” working towards a “reduction in limit on non-commercial movement” ensuring no more than 5 animals can be moved in a single vehicle. Campaigners are still fighting for this to be reduced to 3 to prevent widespread puppy smuggling.
  • “Powers relating to importation of certain dogs, cats and ferrets” which will restrict the importation of a relevant animal which:
    • Is below 6 months of age.
    • Has been mutilated (i.e. ear cropping and tail docking).
    • Is more than a specified number of days pregnant.

One of the biggest problems in this country is that there is no accountability or responsibility for dogs and laws are out of date and ineffective. For example, “The Control of Dogs Order 1992”; this mandates that any dog in a public place must wear a collar with the name and address of the number engraved on it or engraved on a tag. Telephone number is optional but advisable. The fine for not complying is £5000. I do not know of a single case of anybody being prosecuted for this. In this day and age, it is not sensible putting an address as you could be alerting a dog thief to where they can find the dog, and a telephone number should be a must. In fact an email address rather than a postal address probably makes more sense in this day and age. The fine of £5000 is ridiculous when you compare it to “The Microchipping of Dogs Regulation” which only fines £500 for failing to comply. And here lies the other nemesis for rescues and councils, the inadequate Microchipping Regulations.

Microchipping databases currently self-regulate and the number of databases that are now DEFRA improved has increased from a handful when I started in rescue in 2009. In 2021 there were 15 databases, and on last check there is now 22. Absolute madness to bring in compulsory cat microchipping in June 2024 before sorting out the database issues. The situation is now so bad that some of the original microchip databases have set up the Association of Microchip Database Operators to try and pull together the regulations and guidelines so that when DEFRA actually start addressing the issues, they can say this is what is needed. The major problems with the new database are:

  • They do not communicate with other databases as required.
  • They will duplicate registrations.
  • They are not easy to contact or access information.

This has just added extra work burdens on rescues and councils.

One of the things DEFRA is supposed to be working on is a central portal where vets, local authorities and charities could access to check a microchip, rather than having to have multiple accounts and logins and procedures with each of the databases.

Microchipping is so important as if done correctly, the animal can have their history traced right back to the breeder giving accountability in case of neglect, cruelty, theft and so on. The biggest problem is the lack of registration still, especially with foreign dogs, and updating of ownership. Firstly, the system needs to be changed on implanting a microchip. The onus should not be on the person requesting the dog be microchipped to register it. If the implanter, be it a vet or a qualified implanter puts a microchip into an animal, they should register the microchip to the person who has requested it, be it the breeder, a rescue or a new owner of an older animal that has not been done. The back street breeders, even if they actually microchip their litters, don’t want their name on the animal’s record so they cannot be traced! As it stands, there is no obligation on a vet or qualified implanter to even keep a record of who requested the implant, meaning accountability is lost at source.  Secondly, it needs to be a system like the ‘log book’ of a car (which some databases do) when passing on a dog, the old owner should be as responsible as the new owner for updating the microchip as too many time a dog will be picked up as a stray, the keeper on the microchip contacted, to say I sold the dog a month ago and no idea to who. If old owners had obligations as well, they could be fined (would go someway to the cost of councils keeping that animal for 7 days) and also obligates them to have the details of the new keeper who can then also be fined for not updating the microchip into their details. Dogs from abroad should be scanned on entry into the UK, checked against their passport and if not registered on a UK database, there be some form of logging those microchips against the person and vehicle importing them. Again accountability.

There is no quick or easy fix but it is so sad to see that so many animals would be suffering less if some simple and effective changes were made, and unless something is done now to tackle the number of unwanted dogs in this country, rescues and councils will literally be at breaking point. Rescues have been undervalued and under recognised for years for the work they do, and if they all closed their doors tomorrow this country would be overrun with stray dogs, many of whom by that stage could turn out to be dangerous. If the Government wants to stop people being attacked and even killed by dogs, they need to start working with rescues to address the root problems.

Lizzy Brown

Trustee for German Shepherd Rescue Elite

Registered charity number 1150928



Why we do what we do

German Shepherd Rescue Elite was not only set up to help as many unwanted, abandoned and neglected German Shepherds as possible, but to also offer education to the general public on the responsibilities / pros / cons of owning a large working breed dog and to be able to offer help and advice so hopefully we can become the prevention for once instead of always being the cure.

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