Speaking up for the civil liberties of dogs

HazelAfter the Federal Executive meeting this week where we discussed preparations for the election campaign (heartening to see so many people coming forward to be approved as candidates), arrangements to implement the One Member One Vote decision at Conference (and good to see that Mark Pack and Duncan Brack who proposed the amendment passed are to be invited in to work on that), the implementation of the Morrissey Report (amazing progress made, driven forward by our fabulous Pastoral Care Officer), we headed to the pub.

I was talking about my excitement/slight apprehension about picking up our new puppy the next day. The picture on the right shows little Hazel, who is now happily settled and busily involved in training us to meet her needs.

Anyway, Martin Tod reminded us all that he had once spoken up for the civil liberties of dogs in response to an animal welfare debate at Conference in 2003. He and Mark Pack wondered how it would look if the motion applied to humans. He posted the speech on his blog last year and here’s a snippet:

After all what are these lines asking for?

“A self financing system of compulsory registration for the ownership of dogs, involving clear identification, ideally through microchips.”

Or to put it another way, we’re asking for compulsory ID cards for dogs.

So while, as Alan Beith just said in the terrorism debate, we think compulsory ID cards are a bad idea for people – apparently they’re a good idea for dogs.

But there’s more…

If you go back to the policy paper, it then talks about

“a registration fee paying for the microchip, the national register and [a] dog warden network”.

Or a poll tax for dogs!

So while we think the poll tax is a bad idea for people – apparently it’s a good idea for dogs.

I read on in the original policy paper.  I wondered what was going to come next frankly.  And found even more surprises.  It gets worse.

“6.6.2. In Germany, the police can confiscate dogs suspected of being dangerous.”

Only suspected! Sounds a bit like a new sus law to me – just for dogs of course.

Martin was seriously only asking people to vote against the section on compulsory registration of dogs, but his speech went down well and, as he said, he didn’t have to buy himself any more drinks at Conference on the back of it. The Guardian also described it as the wittiest speech of the day. My favourite bit was where Martin suggested the motion might have been written by a female version of David Blunkett.

The motion passed and was slated in the Orange Book as the sort of nanny statism that proper liberals should have nothing to do with. This is truly the only time when Martin Tod and Paul Marshall can be said to have been on the same side.

One further point worth noting. Who summed up for the motion that day? None other than our thoroughly liberal former Home Office minister Norman Baker for whom animal welfare has always been a key concern.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Caron

    I don’t quite know how to put this, but you OWN a dog, it is your property. You confine where it lives what it eats (mostly) who it socialises and what it does. Presumably like most responsible dog owners you also compulsarilly neuter it, or else use it for breeding purposes. If it was a human it would be suffering under the most intolerable conditions of slavery (albeit with a benign master who gives it love and affection). It is not a human, so this is not a problem, but I really don’t think any dog owner can make a case for civil liberties for dogs on the basis of a pure analogy with humans in this way.

    The isssues on this post are surely much better understood as infringements on the rights of dog owners, which they probably are.


  • Richard Dean 9th Nov '14 - 11:33pm

    Nevertheless, it is appropriate to recognize that dogs, and indeed other animals, ought to be treated well, and one way to approach this is through animal rights and liberties.

    Dogs in particular have many human characteristics, including a need for care and affection, thoughtfulness, a need to belong, a conservable degree of understanding of what goes on around them, and emotional and psychological reactions to isolation, bereavement, and mistreatment that closely parallel the reactions of people – including for example reaction to cruelty that involves distress and ends up with a dog being labelled as “dangerous”.

    It’s said that dog owners tend to look like their dogs, so the juxtaposition of the two photos above adds interest to the article! 🙂 What is certain is that a society that mistreats its dogs is also likely to be one that mistreats its people.

  • Richard Dean 9th Nov '14 - 11:37pm

    conservable –> considerable

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 10th Nov '14 - 12:00am

    Simon, I don’t think you quite got the humour in the post. I’d have voted for the motion had I been there. Animal welfare is important, even if they don’t have the same rights as humans.

    Richard, thank you for that excellent compliment, suggesting that I am as sweet and gorgeous looking as little Hazel. I think you and I might agree for once. Better not do that too often or the universe might implode…

  • Conor McGovern 10th Nov '14 - 12:20am

    @Caron “Animal welfare is important, even if they don’t have the same rights as humans.” – Don’t they? It’s what we’re brought up to believe: ‘you can eat meat without any guilt, because they don’t have the same rights. Just don’t watch the behind-the-scenes videos, because you might think for yourself then!’ Maybe it’s time JS Mill’s harm principle applied beyond one select species.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordo 10th Nov '14 - 1:29am

    Had I known of this speech I would have put in an Equalities amendment on mutt-ernity leave and rights.

  • Hope I have not totally missed the point but I own 2 small dogs their welfare means a great deal to me compulsion from the state that probably only law abiding folk will perhaps resentfully apply is a poor law and a waste of politicians time.

  • 200,000 people are attacked by dogs in the UK every year. Many of our public parks and beaches have become no go areas for humans as a result of a sizeable proportion of the 10% of the population that owns one or more dogs. The liberty of millions are routinely circumscribed by those anti-social dog-owners. I’ve had to pick up my children on several occasions to avoid them being savaged dogs that were off their leads in areas in which they were supposed to be kept on a lead.

    Liberty for dogs? Seriously? Talk about missing the point.

  • Richard Dean 10th Nov '14 - 11:30am

    Steve may have a point but his statistics may be exaggerated. It appears that there are around 7000 or so dog attacks per year that result in hospital admissions in England. I expect there are several times that number of incidents that do not result in injury.

    Should the dog license only be granted after a test of how to train, control, and care for a dog? A doggy driving test? People use dogs for many purposes and in many different ways. Like humans, dogs respond well to affection and badly to cruelty.

  • @Richard Dean
    No, the statistics were under-exaggerated. Here’s a figure of 250,000, as described in the British Medical Journal:


    That’s almost 700 people per day requiring medical assistance after being attacked by a dog.

    Furthermore, there are many additional unreported cases. I’ve been attacked by a dog in the last 12 months but the wound wasn’t sufficient to require medical assistance. In addition to actual assaults there is also the threatening behaviour of dogs and the problem of dog-fouling, both of which are more than sufficient to cause people to avoid certain areas.

    Just over two weeks ago we had a coroner call for the reintroduction of dog licences:


    This is a large and serious problem that has an impact on the liberty of millions in this country and one which liberals should be fighting to improve.

  • Richard Dean 10th Nov '14 - 3:14pm

    Thanks for your clarification, Steve. It seems, then,that the real question is: What can government do to reduce these numbers of attacks and threats? What do you suggest? Some options might include …

    > making owners responsible for crimes their dogs commit
    > making owners collect dog-poop (is this not already the law?)
    > educating people better on how to avoid attacks by dogs
    > dog-catchers to catch stray and free-roaming dogs
    > compulsory training on how to train, control, and care for a dog
    > better enforcement of existing rules, including by local neighbourhood teams
    > dog-free zones

  • Does that mean the Morrissey report has been implemented in full? (because it hadn’t in around May time)

  • I like all of Richard’s options but would extend it to cats. In particular I want to declare my garden a cat-free zone and force their owners to pick up the cat poop. Cats also kill huge numbers of birds and small mammals every year unlike dogs so I would also mandate the wearing of bells. Let’s not discriminate against dogs.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 11th Nov '14 - 9:47am

    Not entirely, Hywel, but huge progress made and work has been done on every part of it. We saw a massive document with every action point and progress to date written on it.

    The disciplinary rules are the next big thing to be worked on and they will, I think, go to English Council in November initially.

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