UK councils have a duty to care for cats and other pets of residents taken into hospital (cost £1.08m)

NEWS AND COMMENT-UK: The Daily Mail newspaper online criticises councils in the UK for spending £1 million in two years (2020-2022) “caring for pets abandoned by owners in ill-health”. I would like to discuss this. This is an informational page that may interest relatives caring for elderly cat owners.

The report is criticising councils for spending too much money on companion animals when their owners are no longer in a position to do it themselves because they have been taken ill and are in hospital.

Elmtree Luxury Pet Hotel
Elmtree Luxury Pet Hotel. Credit: see photo.
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British citizens might not be aware of this but under section 47 of the Care Act 2014, local authorities (councils) have a duty to protect property owned by a person who has become ill and taken to hospital. Companion animals are treated as “property” in this context.

In fact, under the law generally of many countries, pets are considered to be property i.e. inanimate objects. This is outdated and there is a need for change.

Normally, the council will presumably make arrangements where possible for relatives and close family members to look after pets under these circumstances. However, if they aren’t available, they have to step in and take charge.

How they take charge is governed by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which, in general terms, sets out the standard of care that they have to provide. This act also applies to all citizens of the UK in how they discharge their responsibilities of care towards their companion animals.

I would expect that the Care Act 2014 normally applies to elderly individuals, living alone with an animal companion. They might not have relatives because of their age. And if they die in hospital the council will need to discuss the care of companion animals currently in their care with the deceased’s executors and beneficiaries.

That is the outline situation. The Daily Mail focuses, as mentioned, on the expense of taking temporary care of companion animals. They state, for example, that Hackney Council spent £19,000 on a “luxury pet hotel” for 4 cats.

The table below sets out costs of caring for ‘abandoned’ pets for a range of local authorities in the UK is provided by the Daily Mail for which I thank them.

CouncilCatsDogsOthersTotal cost of caring for pets, from 2020 to 2022
Liverpool City Council735326£222,242
Leeds City Council59434£135,426
Westminster City Council92161£99,563
Nottinghamshire County Council637467£97,788
Royal Borough Kensington and Chelsea3760£81,939
Plymouth City Council20248£55,917
London Borough of Hackney3450£53,992
Nottingham City Council19174£45,686
Salford City Council20200£31,231
Sefton Council23144£27,364

As you can see, Liverpool City Council spent £222,000 over two years (2020-2022) in caring for 73 cats, 53 dogs and 22 other species. In one case, they spent £10,000 on bed and board for a single pampered pooch ?.

The question, then, is whether these local authorities have been too generous or perhaps careless in selecting boarding catteries in kennels for these animals. I would doubt that they have been. There may be limitations on the choices that they can make. And, as mentioned, they have to meet certain standards of animal welfare under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The Daily Mail report states that the information came from a freedom of information request by gambling firm Buzz Bingo. It is unclear whether the information concerns all the councils in the UK. However, those councils for which information was gathered spent £1.08 million caring for (among other animals) 572 cats and 464 dogs.

Below are some more pages on cat welfare.

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