There is currently no specific regulation of dog rescues, rehoming organisations or sanctuaries.

In lieu of a specific regulatory framework rescues are subject to an (often confusing) array of legal provisions.

There is also no settled or accepted definition of what it means to rescue, rehabilitate or re-home dogs. ‘Rescue’ encompasses such a wide range of activities, from those coordinating home-from-home rehoming, to those operating multi-site rescue centres. Scotland is the only UK jurisdiction to licence rescues/sanctuaries and organisations who engage in rehoming activities.

This guide is therefore intended to help navigate the legal duties on individuals or organisations who hold themselves out to the public to receive vulnerable dogs on a regular basis, with a view to rehabilitating and either rehoming, or providing long-term care. It provides an outline of legal duties applicable to rescue and rehoming organisations operating in Northern Ireland. Rescues based in Northern Ireland but operating outside of this jurisdiction may need to pay attention to regulation in the other jurisdictions in which they operate.


All dogs over the age of 8 weeks old must be microchipped.

Very occasionally a vet may advise against microchipping on health grounds. If this is the case, they will need to issue an exemption certificate. The adopter will require the microchip number of the dog in order to obtain a licence for that dog.

While it is best practice for rescues to update the database with the  new owner’s contact details and address, the legal duty is on the adopter to ensure that the database is up-to-date. If the details are not accurate the new owner could be guilty of the offence of keeping a dog without a licence. Some databases allow dual registration i.e. for the contact details of the rescue or rehoming organisation to remain associated with the microchip number alongside the contact details of the adopter.

What happens if I break the law?

If a dog in your care is not microchipped, they cannot be rehomed as the adopter will not be able to obtain a dog licence (which they should produce before taking their adopted dog home) [

The Law:

The Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983 article 6 (7), as amended by the Dogs (Licensing and Identification) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012; The Dogs (Licensing and Identification) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014