Dog day care firms in Portsmouth say changes to licensing laws are ‘barking mad’

Ben Standen from Four Paws Doggie Day Care in PortsmouthBen Standen from Four Paws Doggie Day Care in Portsmouth
Ben Standen from Four Paws Doggie Day Care in Portsmouth
DOG day care and home boarding businesses have said they are worried for their livelihoods, because of new legislation.

The new rules mean the number of dogs allowed on each premises will stipulated under the license depending on size and layout of the premises, type of dogs being looked after, and the amount and experience of staff. 

They will also mean that all councils across the UK will be operating under the same guidelines. 

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With one in four (23 per cent) people in the south east owning a dog and an estimated 1,250,000 dogs living in the region, these changes could have a knock-on effect on the people and animals who rely on these services – pushing up costs and demand.   

Andrew Ball, of animal-related business insurance specialist ClivertonAndrew Ball, of animal-related business insurance specialist Cliverton
Andrew Ball, of animal-related business insurance specialist Cliverton

Ben Standen, who runs Four Paws Doggie Day Care, in Airport Service Road, Portsmouth said the change could sound the death knell for his business as he struggles to break even.

Ben said: ‘Existing laws covering a range of animal-related legislation have been in place for decades, and in that time there have been huge changes in pet owner attitudes and lifestyles.

‘The new legislation takes account of different business models which have sprung up in response to these, as well as the rise of internet. These issues have been addressed in the new regulations, however it could be argued that they are a little short-sighted and threaten to make a bad situation - rising costs that families can’t afford meaning dogs are being left for long periods of time on their own - worse. 

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‘Four Paws, my commercial doggie daycare began with a mission to provide a happy, safe environment for dogs where they could be supervised 24/7 in a cost-effective for our customers.

Stock image of dogsStock image of dogs
Stock image of dogs

‘This is now under threat due to the new DEFRA guidelines which state that each dog now require 6m2 of space, no matter their size.

‘This means that we have had to cut the number of dogs we can safely provision for by 50 per cent, forcing half of our customer base into opportunistic home day cares that often leave dogs alone for up to three or more hours at a time while they do dog walks for other customers or worse, dogs being left on their own all day bar one 30 minute or 60 minute walk. 

‘Criticism across the industry is that these new laws are being inconsistently applied across the country, with inspection fees varying hugely and the inspections themselves based on a variety of different criteria - there have been many closures of commercial day cares around the country and I fear there will be many more.

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‘The new legislation creates huge uncertainty and increases the likelihood of creating the situation we all so desperately want to avoid - where people go into the dog daycare business for the love of money, rather than the welfare, safety and quality of life of the dogs in their care.’

Andrew Ball, of animal-related business insurance specialist Cliverton, welcomed the government guidelines to modernise existing licensing controls for businesses that work with animals, but said some changes means smaller operations could struggle to survive. 

The majority of licences under the old system expired in the New Year but some business owners are still confused about how the regulations will impact them.

Andrew said: ‘While an update to the Animal Welfare regulations are something that the industry certainly needs, from a safeguarding point of view, the changes may negatively impact some providers and users of dog day care and home boarding services.

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Entrepreneurs running a business from home will be hit the hardest, as the restrictive rules, such as each boarding dog having its own designated room and deeming outbuildings – for example, purpose-built annexes – unacceptable, will lead to a reduction in the number of dogs that they can legally accommodate.

‘This is exacerbated by the rise in licensing fees, which are set by each council and vary significantly across the country. 

‘So, small business owners are not only facing a drop in income, but also a postcode lottery which could see them pay hundreds of pounds more in fees than their peers in different boroughs.’ 

Andrew said that the introduction of a new star-rating system and differing interpretation of the law by local authorities has compounded business owners’ concerns.

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Dog day care and home boarding businesses have been fighting back, calling for greater clarity and amendments to be made to ‘contradictory’ regulations.

A petition was launched by frustrated business owners, and since then, DEFRA have made some changes to the guidance notes, including allowing pets in day care to be walked off the lead ‘with the owner’s consent’. 

In response to the petition, which has reached almost 20,000 signatures, DEFRA said they will continue to work closely with key stakeholders to ensure the licensing requirements are clear and consistent.

They said they have examined the specific areas of the guidance that people have queried, to provide further clarity and to help improve the understanding among both local authorities and businesses.

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Andrew added: ‘It is positive that DEFRA are listening to the concerns of these business owners and hopefully local authority interpretation of the law will be more uniform going forward.

‘However, uncertainty remains for many business owners, who anxiously await the inspector’s visit who will determine if they meet the new standard. Only time will tell.’ 

The Animal Welfare (Licencing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 came into effect on October 1. 

This included introducing a new ‘star rating’ for dog breeders, pet shops and others to help people rate them on their animal welfare standards.

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Animal welfare minister, David Rutley said: ‘The licensing systems for businesses that work with animals have not been reformed for almost 50 years.

‘The changes simplify these into one system for local authorities, help consumers to make better informed decisions and will further improve animal welfare.

‘These changes form part of our efforts to ensure we have the highest animal welfare standards in the world.’ 

Steve Bell, environmental health team leader at Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘We understand that some Portsmouth dog day-care businesses have concerns about the new legislation changing the criteria around how dogs need to be cared for.

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‘We've been working closely with these businesses and have been in contact with DEFRA several times about the new rules. They made it clear that the new standards should be followed to ensure that dogs are well looked after.’