A photo of a dog wrapped in a blanket sleeping.

Regulation of Dog Rescue

A legal toolkit for Northern Ireland.

Dog rescues across the UK are currently inundated with dogs, as the cost-of-living crisis bites and people abandon animals - many acquired during the pandemic - in unprecedented numbers. At the same time applications to adopt have declined, generating a crisis in the sector.

This research examines the role that legal regulation could play in increasing both animal welfare standards and resilience within the rescue sector.

The project, awarded £16.9k from the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the Impact Accelerator Account, partners with Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, The Kennel Club, and The UK Centre for Animal Law (A-law).

This research follows previous funding from Research England (2023) which allowed the project team to undertake interviews and focus groups with smaller rescues across the devolved nations of the UK whose voices are rarely represented in government consultations. The outcomes of interviews in Northern Ireland highlighted issues particular to this jurisdiction, including a scarcity of legal advice regarding dog law.

This study, with Professor Marie Fox as Principal Investigator and Dr Sarah Singh as Co-Investigator, will facilitate further interviews through focus groups and stakeholder events with rescues operating across Northern Ireland. The project, entitled ‘Legal Governance of Dog Rescues in the UK and Republic of Ireland’, will run July 2023 – August 2024.

The experiences of rescues will inform an online dog law toolkit intended to address a lack of relevant legal expertise. Furthermore, the project aims to work with stakeholders to draft legislation, as well as providing an evidence base, to keep regulation of rescue on the political agenda in Northern Ireland.


The project team are working alongside external collaborators including BatterseaThe Kennel Club, and The UK Centre for Animal Law (A-law). As a leading national charity, Battersea have agreed to collaborate and advise on this project and assist with dissemination, given their standing and expertise in the sector, track record of influencing policy in this field and Battersea Academy’s role in training/supporting smaller rescues. The Kennel Club is the UK’s preeminent organisation devoted to dog health, welfare, and training. It holds a directory of breed specific rescues and frequently surveys them on issues including regulation. Finally, A-law is a charity which brings together legal professionals and academics to protect animal interests through law. It will feedback on law reform proposals and disseminate outputs from the project.

UKRI QR Pump Priming funding allowed the project team to build upon the quantitative data supplied by collaborators, undertaking interviews and focus groups with small rescues across the devolved nations of the UK whose voices are rarely represented in government consultations. In June 2023, the team co-hosted an event with the Kennel Club at their London premises which brought together 26 breed specific rescue with some general rescues and regulators to share experiences and attitudes towards different models of regulation.

Perceived impact

This research is envisioned as a law reform project. It will evaluate new legislation in Scotland, analyse arguments for self-regulation in Wales, and make regulatory proposals attuned to local conditions in England and Northern Ireland.

There is an urgent need to keep this issue at the forefront of the relevant Government departments. The data will provide a qualitative evidence base which speaks to all four jurisdictions and equips the team to respond to future consultations and/or Parliamentary Committees. As this funding draws to a close, the team will continue to work alongside other stakeholders (including collaborators) as well as Government stakeholders in DEFRA (as well as the equivalents in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) to lobby for law and/or guidance that will promote welfare standards, inform the public, and foster co-operation amongst rescue organisations, thus fostering sustainability and maintaining public confidence in dog rescue.

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