Stray Dogs In the UK.


Even when I was a child in the 1970’s there were many stray dogs roaming around the neighbourhoods of my home town.  In fact, myself and a friend, used to while away many a happy hour during the school holidays on the trail of ‘Paddy’, a most magnificent – but elusive – red Setter. Holidays4Dogs takes a wistful look back in time when dogs used to roam and asks – how many stray dogs are there in the UK now?

Paddy, the red setter did, in fact, have a perfectly comfortable home – and this is where we returned him, once caught – tethered by a colourful skipping rope, or irish settersome other such make-shift dog lead.

Back in the 1950’s it was commonplace for pet dogs to roam the neighbourhood during the day, returning at night for table scraps. One of our long standing, humorous, family tales involved a cocker spaniel belonging to my grandparents.

One late one afternoon, he returned home, carrying a plate with almost a full roast dinner on it. Nobody ever knew where on earth he had stolen it from or, indeed, how he managed to balance it all the way home.

However, while stray dog numbers have waned over the decades there are, sadly, still a significant number of dogs without homes of any kind. In 2021, it was estimated there were over stray dogs in the UK.

Dog control legislation.

Dog owning in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s was quite different to the way things are now. Decades ago, it was common to see stray dogs in suburban streets in the UK. Nowadays, there is a legal responsibility to prevent your dog from roaming.  Dog control legislation means that every dog owner is legally obliged to keep their dogs under control in public places. In addition, in 2016 it became a legal requirement for every dog in the UK to be microchipped.

Some local authorities in the UK are attempting to crack down on anyone walking their dog on a lead more than four feet in length. Many others ban dogs altogether from beaches, parks and other public areas. In other districts, there is a limit to how many dogs a person may walk at once. However, this usually applies to professional dog walkers.

‘Heinz 57’s’.

The word ‘mongrel’, or ‘Heinz 57’, used to be a well a well-known phrase. A mongrel dog, is usually a mix between several other different breeds. It was commonplace to see ‘mutts’ trotting along the pavements, all by themselves with no owner in sight. Mongrel dogs were often advertised for free in the local paper, or even taken to the local pub and offered to anyone interested.

Pet dog theft wasn’t really a problem back then, either. Certainly, nobody in those days would pay telephone numbers for half a poodle, half a golden retriever cross. Nowadays, such breeds are known as ‘designer’ dogs and fetch high prices. 


It was generally only middle class people that owned pedigree dogs, but these dogs roamed the streets, just the same. I remember regularly seeing a ‘floaty’ Afghan hound wandering all alone, not far from my house. Stray dogs who were allowed to wander alone in the UK weren’t just mongrels, – but pedigree dogs.

Come to think of it, things were very different for children back in the 1970’s too. Just like Paddy, me and my neighbourhood playmates weren’t allowed in the house during the day.

Instead, we roamed around during daylight hours – often covering quite long distances on our bicycles – until it was time for tea. Only then would we return to our homes after the long summer day drew to dusk.


From a dog’s point of view perhaps things are much better for them now. Pet dogs live in warm houses, rest in cosy beds, eat quality food and treats and taken to the vet at the drop of a hat. They have their teeth cleaned, their nails manicured and coats quaffed.

They can even have doggy spa treatments. Dogs are included so much in family life, that some of them are regarded as kids in fur coats.

Thankfully, pet welfare policy and legislation means there are fewer stray dogs in the UK. However, there are still many thousands of dogs in rescue centres around the UK in need of loving new homes. If you are thinking of adopting a dog read more here.

If your dog goes missing, read our other Holidays4Dogs article on lost dogs for help and advice.