Up to 20 dogs seized by police 'never exercised'

Stella and Vinnie Image copyright Laura Khanlarian
Image caption Stella and Vinnie were among a number of dogs housed in the private kennels used by Devon and Cornwall Police

Up to 20 dogs seized by police were kept in kennels without ever being exercised, the BBC has been told.

The animals were kept in 3ft by 9ft cages and former kennel staff say they were under instruction not to let them out or interact with them.

Devon and Cornwall Police said every seized dog had its own care plan and claimed only one, a pit bull called Stella, had a specific no-walk policy.

However, ex-kennel staff said there were no facilities to walk seized dogs.

The privately-run kennel has so far declined to comment.

On Monday it emerged Stella had been caged for two years without exercise.

Then on Thursday we reported how a former kennel worker had released a video showing both Stella and a seized Rottweiler named Vinnie who had also been caged for two years without exercise.

Since these revelations, Devon and Cornwall Police has said: "We will be requesting an independent assessment from the RSPCA regarding how dogs initially in our care are then being cared for in private kennels."

'Torture' for dogs

David Clark, who worked as the kennel manager from March 2010 to June 2013, said during that time there were up to 20 seized dogs with signs on their cages stating "Do Not Enter".

He said staff understood that to mean they should never exercise the dogs and he never saw those dogs taken out.

Mr Clark said: "Stella is not an individual case at all. None of the dogs brought in by Devon and Cornwall Police are exercised. Some dogs were there for a matter of weeks, for others it was a matter of years.

"For a dog to spend two to three weeks in kennels with exercise while their family are away is difficult, for a dog to spend two years in kennels with no human contact, no exercise and limited stimulation is torture.

"When the dogs are taken out for court assessments they've got so much pent up energy and aggression it all comes out in the assessment, which isn't a fair reflection of them."

Image copyright Laura Khanlarian
Image caption Devon and Cornwall Police said they will be "requesting an independent assessment from the RSPCA"

Another whistleblower, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "We were told under no circumstances were we allowed to exercise or even go in with a dangerous dog or police-seized dog.

"They were fed and cleaned regularly but deprived of human interaction. Any dog shut in a small kennel, no matter how sweet, will show uncharacteristic signs after long periods.

"There were a few dangerous dogs I would not have felt comfortable going in with, but there were also some that appeared to show no dangerous behaviour."

'Properly looked after'

Devon and Cornwall Police Ch Supt Jim Nye told the BBC: "Vinnie is the one that's been talked about in the last 24 hours. That dog was visited by my officers on 28 separate occasions.

"Vinnie the dog bit three members of the public and that's why the dog was seized and the owner was deemed not capable of holding a dog.

"The court ruled that for 10 years the owner couldn't have the dog back or any other dog. In fact we actually wrote to the court trying to re-house that dog but the court ruled that it should be destroyed.

"That was the same for Stella, she was visited 33 times.

"When we visit them we check on their demeanour, on their health, on their coat, and on their weight, to make sure they are being truly and properly looked after."

Image copyright Laura Khanlarian
Image caption Whistle blowers told the BBC Vinnie was kept in kennels for two years without exercise or human interaction before being put down last year

But Mr Clark questioned the ability of the kennels to properly accommodate seized dogs.

"Even if we wanted to there is no space to exercise the dogs in anyway, nor the time, or experienced staff," he said.

"The staff consist of young girls in their late teens or early 20's who receive no training to help them cope with powerful dogs.

"The staff care, they love these dogs, many many tears are shed over these dogs, but being a boarding kennels, there is no-one there who has been specifically trained in behaviour modification. We were not equipped to be altering the behaviour of the dogs.

"It's heartbreaking. We would see them every day and just watch them deteriorating before your eyes. A few of us did break the rules to go into the kennels to spend some time with the dogs."

He added management at the kennels were concerned about something going wrong or a worker being injured.

'Concerned for welfare'

The RSPCA has created a guide to good practice for all police forces, which states: "Dogs must be provided with the opportunity to exercise away from their kennel at least once a day and this should be for a total of at least 30 minutes."

The guide says euthanasia should be considered if the dog is considered too dangerous to exercise.

In a statement the charity said: "We have spoken further with Devon and Cornwall Police force and we have agreed with their request for us to review the way in which dogs seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 are cared for in kennels.

"The RSPCA remains very concerned about the welfare needs of seized dogs and particularly those which are kennelled for extended periods of time.

"To help those enforcement agencies meet the welfare needs of dogs in their care, and to comply with the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, we have developed a good practice guide and we strongly recommend all agencies to apply this guidance when caring for seized dogs.

"We are writing to the Minister of State for Animal Welfare to ask for Defra's support of the guidance and to encourage consistent compliance with the guide across the police."

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