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DDA case file:
OTIS - one of the first victims


Great Dane cross Otis was one of the first dogs to be seized under the DDA, just days after it became effective, in early December 1991. Otis’ owner Harry Bates from east London was driving through the Blackwall Tunnel with Otis asleep in the footwell of the passenger seat next to him. Harry was pulled over by two police officers for an alleged traffic offence.

As they examined his car, Otis woke up and looked out of the passenger side window. One of the officers declared Otis to be a pit bull which was “unmuzzled in a public place” - Harry’s car - and arranged for the dog to be seized and taken away to secret kennels. Harry was then charged under Section 1 of the DDA.

At the initial magistrates court hearing, the two police officers gave conflicting evidence about their reasons for stopping Harry - one said it was for a traffic violation, the other said it was due to seeing Otis in the car. Despite this, Harry was found guilty as charged and Otis was sentenced to death. An appeal was lodged and the legal process began.

Otis’ ordeal lasted five years. The main thrust of the legal arguments hinged on whether or not a private car constituted a ‘public place’. To justify the ruling, the prosecution brought in examples of obscure ‘public place’ laws from legislation as far afield as Australia. In the end, the court ruled that the application of law to a car being a ‘public place’ was enshrined in public decency laws which were designed to prevent people from indulging in ‘lewd acts’ in a car.

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An attempt was also made to free Otis on the grounds that he was not a pit bull ‘type’. Experts for the defence argued that he was a Great Dane cross, whilst a vet who appeared regularly for the prosecution said he was a “purebred Pit Bull Terrier”. In any event, a determination on the dog’s breed was never heard in court.

In August 1994, the media had changed sides and was against the cruelty inherent in the DDA. It was fully behind Otis, who became an icon for everything that was wrong with the DDA. The emotional, brief reunion between Harry and Otis in a holding pen at a London police station was photographed by the media and appeared in several national newspapers.

A last-ditch appeal to save Otis at the European Court of Human Rights in early 1996 failed, and, with indecent haste before a further appeal could be lodged, the Metropolitan Police had Otis euthanased on February 6th 1996.

The next day, Harry and a group of anti-DDA campaigners collected Otis’ frozen body from Limehouse police station and buried him the next day on Animal Behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford’s land.

Otis remains a martyr for the injustice of the DDA and his story is known throughout the world by campaigners who fight against Breed Specific Legislation.