BULL terrier-type dogs in Swindon Council’s care may have to be destroyed to stem costs associated with the soaring numbers being dumped on the streets.

Council figures show that the number of stray dogs in their care that are then claimed by owners has fallen from 78 per cent a few years ago, to 46 per cent in 2011/12 and 60 per cent in 2012/13. Any unclaimed dogs are considered as dumped.

Of the dumped dogs in the council’s pound, the proportion of bull terrier breeds has rocketed from 11 per cent five years ago, to 28 per cent in 2011/12 and 58 per cent in 2012/13, with numbers expected to increase further in the next year.

Alison Waine, the council’s animals officer, said the authority made efforts to trace the owners of strays, but once they had been held for seven days, they became the legal property of the council, who then aimed to find them space in rehoming centres.

She said no bull terriers had yet been put to sleep but this was becoming more likely as rehoming centres had limited room. Part of the problem, she explained, was that bull terriers were difficult to rehome as they were unfairly branded as a dangerous breed.

It costs Swindon Council £17.50 a night to keep a dog. The total cost of the stray dogs service rose from £55,044 in 2008/9 to £68,818 in 2012/13.

Alison said: “Over the last two years it’s really starting to go downhill. In the last 12 months it’s getting to the point where we’re struggling to cope. We haven’t yet had to put a dog to sleep because of costs, but it’s heading that way.

“We cannot keep the dogs indefinitely. Once we pick up a dog, we only have to legally hold it for seven days.

“There are some councils that put the dogs to sleep after seven days because they’re dealing with so many. We do our best to find dogs a home, but we cannot keep them forever.”

Alison said the dogs had been popular but that there were too many Staffordshire bull terrier-type dogs being bred and traded. People often give away dogs, including on Facebook, to new owners who sometimes did not realise the full implications.

She said the animals became too expensive, or grew too big, or bouncy and were passed on, eventually ending up on the streets. One dumped nine-month-old dog the council dealt with had been through six homes.

Alison said: “If someone takes on a dog for free, they aren’t thinking ‘I’m going to pay for this dog for the next 10 to 15 years.’ Dogs can be expensive. There’s food, veterinary bills and insurance.”

The group Swindon’s Needy Dogs was set up last year to find homes for stray dogs.The group places dogs with volunteers who adopt or foster dogs.

Jessie Bascombe, the dog placement co-ordinator, said: “It would be terrible to be putting healthy dogs down. We blame it on the people who breed the dogs.”

For more information about the group, or volunteering opportunities, email swindonsneedydogs@gmail.com or visit www.sndogs.org.uk