The RSPCA has renewed calls for local authorities to consider easing some locally-imposed rules on where dogs can be exercised to help dog walkers comply with lockdown rules and stop the spread of Covid-19.
Many Councils across England and Wales have previously introduced Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs), which often include strict rules on where dogs cannot be walked. There have long been fears that this can restrict suitable dog walking spots in some local communities.
As England enters another national lockdown, and with Wales already under national Tier 4 restrictions, the RSPCA has renewed its calls for Councils to explore a temporary relaxation of PSPOs related to dog walking to help stop unnecessary travel; enabling dog walkers to exercise within their immediate communities and comply with lockdown measures.
In England, as of 5 January, people may only exercise once a day, though multiple people from the same household can use this daily exercise to walk the same dog. Meanwhile, in Wales, while there is no limit on how often someone may exercise, people must not travel for exercise, including dog walking - which must start and begin from home.
These restrictions can create issues for dog walkers who may have local options for exercising their canine companions curtailed by PSPOs. There is concern this could encourage some people to travel to find suitable dog walking spots for their animals - potentially unwittingly breaching Covid-19 rules in the interests of their dog's welfare and exercise needs.
Dr Samantha Gaines, head of the RSPCA’s companion animals department, said: "With England and Wales now both in national lockdowns, there are clear restrictions in place concerning exercise, which will impact many dog walkers.
“In England, exercise is again limited to once per day - and should not be done outside the local area; while in Wales, while exercise is unlimited, this must start and begin at someone's home.
“Many local authorities have previously introduced Public Spaces Protection Orders that stop dogs being walked in certain areas - including some sports pitches, green areas and fields. In some areas, there are concerns this restricts the availability of suitable dog walking spots.
“With restrictions now back in place on travel for exercise, this can really limit the dog walking options some people have and creates something of a postcode lottery for dogs and their owners - with many PSPOs across England and Wales meaning local marked sports pitches and fields can be out of bounds too for dog walkers.
“If dog owners do not have adequate space to exercise their dogs near their homes, they may make journeys beyond their immediate communities and unwittingly breach Covid-19 rules, aimed to stop the spread of this awful disease. We’re calling on local authorities to be flexible at this time and temporarily relax PSPOs where it is safe and appropriate to do so, to help keep people local and protect dog welfare.”
The RSPCA is also advising the public to keep dogs on leads at this time - to help ensure social distancing and avoid owners having to come into close contact with one another should they have to go and retrieve their dog.
Owners of dogs have also been reminded that a friend, relative or someone in the local community may be able to help a vulnerable person, or someone who is self-isolating, with their dog walking - but to closely follow guidance on handover protocols and safety from the Canine and Feline Sector Group (CFSG) and Animal Welfare Network for Wales (AWNW).
Dr Gaines added: "It's going to be a difficult period for dog owners, and we'd urge them to research ways to help keep their pets entertained, stimulated and active when inside the home.
“We all must do our bit to stop coronavirus - and keeping dogs on leads at this time can help ensure social distancing, and will avoid owners unnecessarily coming into contact with one another should a pet need to be retrieved.
“Many people also face the prospect of self-isolating, or shielding, and it's important people remember that someone else in your local community - whether a family, friend or professional dog walkers - may be able to walk your dog, if they're following handover protocols and advice from groups like CFSG and AWNW.
“After almost ten months of restrictions already, we know this is a tough time and we expect to be inundated with questions from concerned pet owners - so we urge people to spread the word and share guidance on the RSPCA website.
“RSPCA officers will continue on the frontline responding to emergencies during this unprecedented time, and members of the public can support this work and help give a lifeline to animals online."
Dog walking rules in England and Wales - following national lockdowns being introduced
The RSPCA has published advice for pet owners on looking after their animals during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
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