The Social Worker tells me I have to get rid of my pets?

This is a guest post from suesspicious minds, a family lawyer who offers very good and practical advice to parents. Have a look at his blog.

There is very useful guidance from BAAF ;‘Dogs and Pets in Fostering and Adoption’ by Paul Adams (BAAF Adoption and Fostering (2015); 978 1 910039 25 0; £9.95; 88 page)s

I was recently contacted by someone who found themselves in this position, and it is an issue that crops up quite regularly in care proceedings. It may sound (if you don’t own a pet) like a really trivial matter, but for many people it can be very upsetting and add to a sense of powerlessness.

As usual with my articles where I try to speak directly to parents rather than the dull lawyer-to-lawyer stuff, none of what I say is a substitute for getting your own legal advice and talking to your own lawyer.

 

Thinking of getting a pet, or another pet?

If you’re involved with social workers and they are already expressing worries about your care of the child, you should really think long and hard about getting another pet, and if your mind is made up on having one,  about the sort of pet you are going to get. You don’t want to do anything that is going to make life harder for you right now.

Think about the mess that the pet might make, the money it might cost, the time it might take to train and walk and play with and clean up after the animal. Do you really have that time or money to spare?

 

Can the social worker MAKE me get rid of my pet? 

They can certainly ask you to. They can ask you to sign a written agreement saying that you will get rid of your pet.  But they have no power to make you give your pet up, or take your pet away from you.

The most that they can do is to tell the RSPCA about your pet, and see if the RSPCA will take any action. Now, they can only do that if there are significant concerns about the condition of your pet and that you are harming it or not looking after it properly.

 

Can the Court MAKE me get rid of my pet?

Not in Children Act proceedings no. The clue is in the name. The Court can only MAKE you give up your pet or take your pet off you if the RSPCA are the people making the application, and that would be in completely different Court proceedings to the ones about your children.

 

Can the social worker / Court make it very very hard for me to keep my pet?

Well, yes, they sort of can. If the situation justifies it, it is possible that you would be told  “If you don’t get rid of your dog/cat/snake/vulture, the baby can’t stay at home” and then you would have to make that decision. It would be up to your lawyer to make arguments to prevent you getting into that position i.e that you shouldn’t have to choose and you can make changes that would let you do both.

The Court DOES have the power in Children Act proceedings to take your child off you, but the circumstances that would justify that are serious and require good evidence.

Have a look at our posts on key legal principles that explain what the Court can and can’t do.

 

Why would people WANT me to give up my pet?

It is always fair that if a social worker asks you to give up your pet that they can give you a proper answer to that question.

The possible answers might be

That the pet presents a danger to your child.

Obviously, the more dangerous the animal and the more vulnerable the child, the bigger that risk becomes. It is very unlikely that your pet stick insect is dangerous to your twelve year old, but it is possible that your venomous snake is dangerous to your six month old baby.

IF that is the reason, you would need to think seriously about the danger. Is it genuine? What is there that you could do about it? If it is about a dog that doesn’t have boundaries and jumps up or bites or snarls, could you get some training, or a muzzle? If it is a snake, could you keep the snake in a room or tank that the child can’t get into and the snake can’t get out of? Could you potentially have a less dangerous pet?

Of course, if the danger is not realistic and is an over-reaction, you or your lawyer can argue this in the Court.

 That the pet is not being looked after and is causing a health risk

For example, if your dog or cat is weeing or poo-ing around the house and you can’t keep on top of clearing it up, then there’s a risk that your children might be exposed to this. Again, the younger your child is, and the bigger the problem with the mess is, the more this is a genuine problem.

It isn’t healthy, obviously, for a baby to be crawling around in dog or cat pooh or wee, and if it doesn’t get cleaned up properly and regularly, this can create a nasty smell in the house, particularly in the summer and can make the house seem unpleasant. It is possible, when you live in the house that you get used to it and it doesn’t seem as noticeable to you, but it is very obvious for visitors.

Or the animal might have fleas, and those fleas are infesting the house and biting the children, getting into the children’s bedding.

IF that is the reason, you may have to show over a very short period of time that you can fix the problem and keep on top of it, get all the mess cleaned up and keep it clean; get the animal treated for fleas and deal with the infestation. You’ll need to show not only that you can sort it out once, but that you have a plan that you will stick to that stops it happening again.

That you can’t really afford  both your pet and your child

Obviously, pets cost money. Children cost money. You aren’t made of money. There’s juggling to be done with the money you have to pay for everything you need. If you are regularly running out of money and have things for your child that you can’t afford (shoes, clothes, toys, heating, food) then it might well be that the social worker suggests that your pet should go, to free up that money.

The more pets you have, and the more expensive their upkeep, the bigger an argument this becomes. Similarly, the more often you are running out of money and not being able to get everything you need for your child, the more likely this argument is to come up.

Sit down and work out how much it does cost to look after your pets. If you are not very good at maths, you can ask for help in working this out, and in working out a budget. Can you show that you can manage both your pet and your child by managing your money better, or by cutting something else out or spending less on it? Can you buy slightly cheaper pet food? Do you maybe have too many animals?

If you can show WHY you can manage both, by doing that budget, and then show that you ARE managing both by not running out of money before your next income comes in, you can nip this argument in the bud. 

That you can’t split your time between the pet and the child 

If the social worker thinks that you are only just about able to manage to look after your child, and that maybe your level of care goes up and down and is sometimes okay and sometimes not, they may say that you need to put all of your efforts into caring for your child and not be distracted by anything else.

Again, the more animals and the more time those animals need, the bigger that argument is. Also, the more problems you are having in coping with everything that needs to be done in the house, the bigger that argument will be.

If you CAN keep on top of everything, keep the house in good order, spend enough time looking after your child and playing with your child, then this becomes much less of a worry or an argument for giving up your pet.  If you need help in getting a household routine, or working out how to make the best use of your time each day, that’s something that you can ask for help with and that you are entitled to help with. You want to find out whether the problem is that there literally aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, or whether what you need is help to organise things better.

 

Have an open mind

You obviously wouldn’t want to give up your pet, who is a member of your family, who you love,  if the reasons were silly or an over-reaction. But it is important to think very seriously about the reasons that are given to see if there actually is a problem here.  If there really is a problem, think about whether you can solve it, or if it is honestly too much for you. 

 

Where would your animal go?

This is a hard one – you wouldn’t want to give your pet away to strangers and never see them again. It would be good if you were able to have them back once you’ve sorted yourself out and are in a better place to manage both your pet and your child.

If there is someone in your family who could look after your pet for a while, whilst you sort things out, that would be a good option. Make sure that looking after this pet isn’t going to get them in trouble with social workers themselves.

If not them, then a friend?

If you absolutely have to give your pet up (and remember, it is ultimately your choice, nobody can MAKE you do it), then it is okay to be upset about this, even angry about it. If you can, explain how it made you feel, and use it as a positive:

I gave up my dog to show you people that you were wrong and that I can look after my child, so I am going to do it.

23 thoughts on “The Social Worker tells me I have to get rid of my pets?

  1. Steph

    Hi im not sure if this is to ask a question but I need help im stuck and just need a littld guidence, any way iv got a 4 year old social got involved gor the high number of pets I had things got sorted I even moved, they got involved for a second time as I was advised by my surd start worker she could get me a grant to get nes flooring as the carpets werd old and carpets and dogs are no good and ig holds smells in, I stupidly got excited and pulled up all my carpets to be told she got knocked back for a grant to re-floor my hous
    e, my health visitor wasnt happy with therd being no flooring down and kept complain and after we were knocked back a second time she said she has no choice to contact the social and they would help me well social came round never helped me with anything just complained about property and smell of pets say my dogs were bfing in poo on therd paws from back garden and was evident on wall when it wasnt poo it was mud, any way I eventualy found my own way of finding enough money to carpet my house social were happy and stopped involvment, social found out I was pregnant again and spring a suprise visit on me, I let them in had a good chat sayin I wasnt happy there werd harassing me aboug being preg ect… anyway she left was happy I later lost baby, we had a fes disagreements with nabours in street ect…. and they were ringin every survice they could to try and get us removed from street, Rspca, environmental health, council and of course social, so my social worker came out when I had puppies at time and seen no problem she was happy and left. A couple of months later I had ran out of gass and electricity and partner had blocked my post office card so was unable to take money out so i could put credit on, i was in london so when I came bk house was in darkness couldnt tidy up any mess off puppies house smelt so fist thing in morning I went down to council office to try and get a loan to put credit on to sort my house out, my partner was smart and when electric ran out he took her straigh to my sisters so wasnt in the house, anyway council said they have to contact social to provide what I needed I agreed, so met social worker at the council office I adviced her I hadnt cleaned puppy mess up yet as just came straight out she said no problem but when she came in to check meters (make sure masnt lieing) she wasnt happy witch I said I told u puppy mess needed cleaning she left not happy rsng her manager and came bk wigh credit for meters by this time 30 mins had passed and puppies were well cleaned and house sorted by then, she said her manager wasnt happy and presented me with a form I had go sign sayin my daughter must stay with her antie (my sister) untill puppies were rdhomed and all gone I agreed, puppies are long gone and and risk assessments and parental assessment carried out, took 5 months from now puppies left 6 nearly 7 months ago. Anyway therd now sayin I have to get rid of every animal I have other wise I wont get my child back and they will go to court and take her if I dont do so, (like to point out I had 21 animals not including puppies as they were never keepers, now I only have 11, two of witch live out side in hutch and one in a fish tank) I rehoused them off my own back no one told me to do so….. anyway there saying im prioritising my pets over my child as iv made no attempt to reduce to a mord managable amount they say my house has to be at a tidy and clean standard witch it is and has been since last referral, when they come in they say iv made improvement but have never advised me to do anything or advised what needs inproving, they say iven tho befor laying my new lino flooring and bleaching then dettoling all floor boards bdfor laying that ghey can still smell anoniea but not in room that they werd concerned about its now my front room were iv had people intentionally braugh in to my home and they say they smell nothing, but yet they have done no checks to prove I cant maintail the standards they ecpect, my social worker in thd 5 months has only looked around 3 times last time I had to tell her to as she wasnt going, to my other social worker (who did parental assesment) has only looked round 3 times within 4 months, to me they can not make a judgement on my home and capabilities with the very little they sern within my home, they said there purly going off past reports and my understanding of risk capability to maintain hygiene when pardntal assesment were carried out so basically what they hurd from me, my question is ard they wrong in the way they have done assesment on my capabilities to maintain and prioritise, should they have done a new assesment of my property and do they have a right to make me choose between my pets that are pedigree and used at community snd chsmpionship shows and my baby girl do they have the right to go to court and take my baby if I dont get rid of my animals

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      It sounds as if you have agreed for your child to be living away from you under section 20 of the Children Act 1989? In other words, there haven’t been any court proceedings or any order from the court to say your child can’t live with you?

      If your child is living away from you under section 20, you can withdraw your consent to that and demand that she is returned home. BUT if the social workers are worried that the house is not in a fit state for a child, they might then want to issue care proceedings. But at least that way you would get free access to a lawyer who could argue your case for you.

      the bottom line is – if you have cleaned up the house and it would be safe and hygienic for a child to live there, then your child should be living there. If you and the social workers are disagreeing about how clean you have got it, or if the social workers are refusing to come and assess how clean it is now, probably the best thing would be to go to court so a Judge can have a look at all the evidence and decide what is best.

      A child can only be removed from his parents if he has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm in their care – so yes, if the number of pets you have and the mess they make is making the home very unpleasant to live in then the court could decide that your child doesn’t come home. But if you have cleaned up and have shown you can keep it under control, then your child should be living with you, if that is the only problem they have found with your parenting.

      Maybe speak to the social worker and ask them to visit and then tell you, very clearly, what the problem is and what you have to do to sort it out. If you can’t get any clear answers, then I think all you can do is say that you want your child back home, you are no longer consenting to a section 20 agreement and see what they say.

      Good luck.

      Reply
      1. Steph

        Hi thanks for ur thoughts, I have disagreed and I have a solicitor, they say that I must do what they say as even thou sicial dont gave ground to stop me fr8m having pe4s they can apply to court to take my child, what im not happy about is that during the timevmy chikd has been at my sister’s, mthey gave only done, mrisk assesment on my partner and parental assessments on us both, after assesment was complete they said there was nothing wrong with are parental capabilities and that was evident in are child but apparently im superfical and I dont understand risk that my pe4s present even thou iv said many times I do, also no home assesments have been done while shes has been awsy and I think thats wrong as they are saying im unable to maintain home conditions whike I have animals 7n the hole 5 months they have looked around my house 5 times and 1 of them times my cat hadnmessed in bath after I had just been in the4e, if course I hadnt realised (she very rarely dose that) and social came seen and because of that they said I dont ckean up mess s0thats dobe straight way made out as if after they left I wasnt going to clean it!, I show my animals there not worthless you see, so I have a stong social attachment to them not just love, they say I have 4 weeks to rehome my much loved pets or there going to court and I wont get my little girl backball the time there saying I have a choice well I dont its either kerp my pets I dont get my baby back or get rid and I do! That to me us no choice, mthere also trying to say that once I have her back im never aloud to get any more animals, to my that is wrong and they shouldnt be able to do that, they havent even did new home assessments to prove I cant maintain7n the number I haven’t, I had my social worker her the other day she looked round to write down what needed done it was the most pathetic list iv ever seen, fit light in bath room, wipe windowsills and clean back garden of dog mess, thats it and apparently I cant maintain? This to me is ridiculous and there obviously just goin off previous involvment in past house were I had 21 pets that yes I couldn’t maintain but this is stupid, mthey have further evidence after puppies were at age to be rehomed

        Reply
        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          It is NOT the Social Worker who makes a decision that you cannot care for the child, only a court has the power to do that. Are you going to court?

          I think you need to make an appointment with your solicitor and get him/her to explain exactly what is going on. If you don’t agree with the way the SW are handling your case, you may need to get this before a judge so it can be properly looked at.

          It’s difficult to say more without knowing what stage of proceedings you are at, if any. But the SW have a duty to try to help and support families and keep them together.

          Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      After a brief google, I am doubtful that we at CPR share the same ethos as Maggie Tuttle, but she is very welcome to contact us if she wishes.

      Reply
  2. Angela McCallum

    Hi in september 2013 i was asked by social services to get rid of my 2 cats which i felt obligated to do as they were already threatening to take my children away for no reason, they say abuse, i say bullshit, courts just listened to bits of paper and happily went along with everything the social services suggested happen, so my kids have now been rehomed after me jumping through EVERY HOOP they asked me to jump through, ive been left with no support, no family or friends, FORCED me to get rid of the family pets that my eldest grew up with (shes now 8, that hurt her, no thought for her emotions) and to top it all off, they ripped her brother and sister away from and are refusing to let her see them, ripped 2 innocent children out of a loving caring home for nothing, makes me sick. There isnt even anything i can do about it! Any advice would be greatly appricitated but knowing my luck there is nothing that can be done. Thanks

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I would like to know why your lawyer permitted a court to remove your children for ‘no reason’ and why no one seems to have explained to you what was going on or what was meant by ‘abuse’. My only advice can be to speak urgently with your lawyer and ask for an explanation. It is simply not possible for this to happen for ‘no’ reason. It may well be for a reason you don’t understand or don’t agree with, but there must be a ‘reason’ given.

      Reply
    2. ian josephs

      Angela give me a ring on 0033626875684 and I will try to help you. Look a my site http://www.forced-adoption.com chapter heading “what you can do” to give you an idea of how to fight for your kids.Don’t worry about cash,I WILL RING YOU BACK IF YOU ASK SO YOU DON4T PAY FOR ANY TELEPHONE CALLS I SHALL NEVER NEVER ASK YOU FOR MONEY;

      Reply
  3. Bella riddle

    So I’m going to court trying to get my child back but they keep saying it’s either my pet or my baby and I’ve been keeping my house clean and keeping documents of it but they keep saying that I am not making progress and won’t even let me show them the pics and they’ve been out several time to see my house. And we have the legal amount of pets can they really tell me I have to get rid of my service pet?

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Yes. They can tell you lots of things. Whether or not you have to agree with them, or do what they say is another matter. But if they are saying their worries about your pets are so serious that this means they might ask the court for permission to take your child away, you really have got to listen long and hard to what the problem is.

      Are the animals potentially dangerous? Are they making the house unclean? i.e. are you cleaning up after them? Do you have a friend who can come round and give you an honest view about what your house looks or smells like?

      Sometimes they do get nervous for no real reason – for e.g. there is a lot of prejudice about Staffys. mine is lovely and would never hurt a child, but some SW will just instantly see a ‘devil dog’.

      All I can say is really listen to what the worries are. I don’t think they would be doing this for a laugh or because they are bored. Someone seems to have genuine worries about your pets. You need to understand what those are and see what can be done to fix the problem. It may be that they are worrying for nothing. But you need to be able to talk to them to find out what is going on.

      Reply
  4. Angelo Granda

    Either your pet or your baby? One does ones level best to empathise with SW’s and child-protection lawyers but this sort of thing really makes it almost impossible. What in heavens name are they talking about? If a pet is potentially dangerous then, obviously, it is your job to protect the baby from it, not theirs? Or has the dog already been proven dangerous? Has it bitten someone else or does it make a mess in the house? If so keep it in a kennel in the back yard . I have heard of other ridiculous reasons for removal but that one takes the biscuit (this year at least). Completely absurd and disproportionate to circumstances. If it is a dangerous dog then the Police should do their job and take it away under a Police Protection Order. Incidentally, when they take a dog off you, they must provide you with a copy of paperwork and get a signature from you. Dogs have more rights than children who are taken away without either.
    I don’t know your case but it sounds to me like you face one of those SW’s who is out to find the slightest little thing to throw at you not to protect your baby but to get him or her into care because of your family tree or your antecedents.
    Bella ,as an ordinary parent not a lawyer or SW, I advise you to put the dog in kennels or give it away to a relation or other good home and tell your solicitor to inform the CS you have done so.
    I have a feeling ,if you do that, they will go back through their files and legal precedents and find some other reason to warrant removal of your baby. Then take it from there.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Angelo, I know you have a certain world view and you give ‘advice’ from that world view but please – when I deal with cases where people are worried about pets, do you know what they are worried about?

      Generally because many animals have been left to shit and piss all over the house. The smell is described as over whelming. You cannot expect to bring a small baby safely home to that.

      Often people get overwhelmed and take on the care of too many pets, or they genuinely just don’t know how bad it looks or smells to outsiders because they have got used to it.

      I doubt very much that this concern is based on some irrational dislike of one well behaved dog.

      but neither of us know what is really going on. I think it’s essential that this poster is honest with herself about what is happening. If it is an unnecessary over reaction by the SW, then challenge it. But be honest. What is more important – the health and safety of your child , or of your pet? Sometimes, I am afraid, you do have to chose.

      Reply
      1. Angelo Granda

        Proportionality is what ordinary parents would be worried about here .That anyone can give a mother the choice your parent or your dog is disgraceful. That any parent should put pets before their own baby is disgraceful.
        I know you have a certain world view,Sarah, but I do not and like to think I am open-minded . Why don’t you try reading what commenters write? Bella Riddle claims to have cleaned up her home and has ‘photos ( documents) to prove it but the SW won’t even look at the evidence claiming they have been out several times to look at the house. Are you saying Bella is being dishonest with herself and them?
        I suggest that the command ” Your baby or your dog” is over the top and inhumane. Even more inhumane than that is ” your parents or your baby” which is another choice they present to vulnerable young mothers. SW’s and lawyers should give more thought to proportionality when dealing with vulnerable young mothers. I wonder whether Bella has been told of her rights to an advocate, whether correct procedure has been followed or if she has been advised by a canine specialist in dog-training. I doubt it.
        Nevertheless, being open-minded, I have advised Bella to get rid of the dog .Any sane mother would do so if faced with the choice she has been given. however, I doubt that will be the end of it.

        Reply
        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          Angelo you clearly don’t have an ‘open mind’ and nearly all your comments demonstrate that very clearly.
          your initial reaction to this post was it was about one well behaved little dog.
          You simply don’t know enough about the situation to make any assumptions.

          I agree that I can’t see the problem with three well behaved dogs who are walking regularly and are toilet trained.
          But equally I cannot agree that a social worker would make a fuss about three well behaved dogs.
          Something is going on here. It may well be some kind of over-reaction but from the poster’s own info there was certainly a situation of concern earlier when the dogs were puppies; I note she refers to them ‘making a mess’.

          Dog ownership and parenting are both HUGE responsibilities and if you find looking after dogs is getting in the way of looking after your child then yes, you do have to make a choice – and quickly.

          Reply
          1. Angelo Granda

            QUOTE:you clearly don’t have an ‘open mind’ and nearly all your comments demonstrate that very clearly, your initial reaction to this post was it was about one well behaved little dog.
            You simply don’t know enough about the situation to make any assumptions : UNQUOTE.
            Sarah, I ask you with humility to read my ‘advice’ to Bella Riddle again. You have the wrong idea .Far from assuming it was about one well-behaved little dog, I considered whether it might be a dangerous or dirty dog which might give rise to hygiene concerns to a reasonable person . Bella herself had clearly acknowledged the concerns and cleaned up the house accordingly. If you must generalise and judge comments on past criticism of the system to which you perhaps take exception then please read them first.

            QUOTE:Generally because many animals have been left to shit and piss all over the house. The smell is described as over whelming. You cannot expect to bring a small baby safely home to that.Often people get overwhelmed and take on the care of too many pets, or they genuinely just don’t know how bad it looks or smells to outsiders because they have got used to it. I doubt very much that this concern is based on some irrational dislike of one well behaved dog :UNQUOTE.
            We should not make assumptions like this in cases based on what one might have seen in the past. Whether or not the house had dog -dirt in it or stank of dogs at any time ( and I believe it must have or Bella would not have owned to cleaning it up and taking photographs), I have concerns about proportionality and I believe McFarlane might do too.
            Once again, I agree with you ,Sarah. Something is going on and let’s hope Bella is another vulnerable young mother facing a social worker who has set his or her mind on taking the baby for adoption. Surely the dogs cannot be the only issue. This is why I have advised Bella to get rid of them ,even if only to kennels . Then she might discover if the dogs are the true ‘concern’.

          2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            I agree. We cannot make any assumptions and it is dangerous to do so. The best advice we can give Bella is that she must get a clear understanding of what exactly the problem is here with her dogs. Only then will she know what she has to do or how she can challenged the social worker if he/she is just over-reacting.

  5. Bella riddle

    No it’s not because they are dangerous they very general and loving. But it’s because they don’t want to believe I have the situation under control they say it’s a constant problem even though they go out regularly there is no mess on the floor made by them before I moved in with my husband the house was a mess and there was messes but the dogs were pups. And now I’ve gotten the situation under control and the dogs trained but they continue to press it to get rid of them. And I continue to keep the house clean but apparently not to their standards. I’m just confused

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      How many dogs have you got?
      What breed are they?
      How big is your house?
      How often are they walked?
      are they housetrained?
      Are they aggressive with other dogs?
      are they aggressive with other humans?

      Reply
  6. Bella riddle

    3 dogs
    Chihuahua and one is half dauchund
    The are small
    All house trained. They have never shown aggressiveness to any animal or person and we go on walks ever day

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Then that sounds strange, that they would have problems. I think you need to get someone to explain very carefully what they think the problem is here. From what you say, it doesn’t sound like a problem.

      But from what I know of how stressed, overworked and frantic many social workers are, they would not be inventing problems about your dogs. Why on earth would they do that? What would they gain by doing that?

      Something does not make sense here.

      Reply
      1. Angelo Granda

        I suggest that when something does not make sense and I agree with you, Sarah, on that score, then we should ask serious questions of the overworked Social Workers and their procedures and reports should be checked rigidly. For example, are they acting on Police ‘Intelligence’ or false information on file such as a ‘false’ allegation or referral. Can the department supply documentary evidence of the ‘many’ times it has been round to look at the house. Do they have forensic evidence of the condition of this lady’s home? Or is it all cloud-cuckoo land?
        As Sarah says, it doesn’t make sense.

        Reply

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