Tragic fate of hundreds of doomed dogs

Leeds City Council dog warden Gavin Jarrett, holding a young Staffordshire Bull Terrier. PIC: James Hardisty
Leeds City Council dog warden Gavin Jarrett, holding a young Staffordshire Bull Terrier. PIC: James Hardisty
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Leeds City Council has been forced to put 411 abandoned and stray dogs to sleep in the past two years, new figures reveal.

A total of 275 dogs were put down between November 2013 and November 2014 – 28 per cent of all stray and abandoned dogs put in kennels by the council. And 136 were put down from November 2014 to November 2015, 16 per cent of the total dogs placed in kennels.

A spokesman for the council said: “We don’t like any healthy dogs being put down but this is a sad inevitability of people leaving dogs unidentified and unclaimed or unable to be rehomed due to breed or temperament.”

Animals found by the dog warden are looked after by the council for a week, before responsibility is handed over to the kennels service.

It tries to reunite all microchipped dogs with their owners, but many dogs remain unchipped or owners forget to update their details when they move house.

The council was unable to say how many of the dogs had been put down because of behaviour or because they were unclaimed.

Across the UK, 5,142 stray dogs were put to sleep by councils between 2014 and 2015, which works out at about one every two hours.

From April, new laws state owners must have their dogs microchipped or face a £500 fine.

The council spokesman said: “Dog wardens are still picking up dogs without chips or identification or if they do have microchips, the details are out-of-date. We’d urge people to not only get their dogs chipped now, but make sure the details are current.

“The kennels work with a network of rehoming and rescue charities to ensure that as many dogs as possible are found new homes. We also work closely with the Dogs Trust to care for the most vulnerable dogs.”

The council’s ‘Found Dogs’ Facebook page posts photos of dogs collected by the warden every day, and encourages followers to share the photos in the hope of reuniting the dogs with their owners.

Brian Wheelhouse, who owns Whitehall Dog Rescue in East Ardsley, said: “It sickens me if one healthy dog gets put down, and people still can’t believe it happens, it’s like something out of Victorian times.

“That said, it isn’t the council’s fault this is happening. They’re making the best of a bad situation. The fault is of the person who has turfed the dog out. The council have always tried to do their best.”

The stray dogs housed in the council’s contracted kennels in Ossett are desperate to be loved. They stand on their hind legs to push their noses and paws through the bars in their kennels, eager for a stroke or a nuzzle.

Toby, a Staffordshire Bull terrier puppy, is playful, excitable and loving – but, just like all the other dogs in the kennels, he is at risk of losing his life after being abandoned.

Leeds’ five dog wardens spend their time trying to round up dogs like Toby and taking them to kennels, where owners have a week to claim them.

While the kennels try to rehome as many dogs as possible, they only have limited space and on occasion, euthanising a healthy dog is necessary.

Dog warden Katie Reynolds said: “We are all animal lovers – you’re in the wrong job doing this if you’re not.

“If my dog had been lost I’d want someone to look after it. Putting a dog to sleep is never an easy decision.”

Many of the dogs who are killed are done so because they have suffered severe injuries or are a danger to the public.

And the dog wardens say that the responsibility should be on the owner to ensure their dog is both microchipped and insured.

Warden Gavin Jarrett said: “We’ve seen some shocking things in our time. The number of abandoned puppies has dropped but all dogs should be chipped.

“A lot of dogs we pick up are from people with drugs and alcohol problems.

“These dogs often have psychological issues which makes them difficult to rehome.”

The wardens identified Beeston, Harehills and Middleton as particular hotspots.

The service receives around 1,500 requests each year from the public – and it costs the council around £250 to house each dog in the kennels for a week.

The council will also occasionally pay for an injured dog to be kept under observation at the vets if it shows signs of improvement.

The wardens said that many dogs simply don’t get collected by their owners, possibly because they are worried about having to pay the council’s £50 fee, as well as the £7 a day kennelling costs.

They see abandoned and lost dogs of all breeds but Staffordshire bull terriers are by far the most common, owing to both their negative reputation and to their owners using them for fighting and as status symbols.

Katie said: “Sadly some dogs are just too broken.

“They’ve been taught to fight, and when you try to bring that dog back into society, the general public’s safety would simply be at risk.”