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Symposium success

L to R: Aileen Coull - Breeder Service Manager Crown Pet Foods, Juliette Glass Fury Defence Fund, Trevor Cooper, Aileen Mellor Fury Defence Fund, Ken Wykes - Sales Director Crown Pet Foods

L to R: Annabelle Mellor and Juliette Glass, Fury Defence Fund, with Seminar organiser, Mike Mullen

LAST SUNDAY saw the staging of an excellent Symposium designed to appeal to a broad cross section of the canine world. Entitled ‘In Defence of Dogs and Agility In Focus’ the event was staged at The Sports Connexion, Ryton-on-Dunsmore in Warwickshire organised by Dobermann judge Mike Mullan. This was the ninth such seminar arranged by Mr Mullan and, like the others before it, was very well attended, although Mr Mullan bemoaned the lack of breed clubs who failed to advise their members of the Symposium, feeling that their breeds were not under threat from Breed Specific Legislation such as the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act.

The Symposium was staged to raise funds for the Dobermann Club’s All Breeds Training Ground Wet Weather Facility at Digswell Village, and also to help the Dino Fighting Fund.

Mr Mullan, who often appears as an expert witness in cases brought under the Dangerous Dogs Act, explained to the audience about the case of Dino, the six year old GSD condemned to death by the courts for biting another dog in the heat of the moment. Mr Mullan’s own examination of Dino revealed no aggressive tendencies, and, after introducing the dog to 80 different people and walking him under a hovering helicopter, the only extreme response from Dino was that he wagged his tail!

Mr Mullan paid tribute to Ken Wykes, Sales Director of Crown Pet Foods who had heard about Dino’s plight and had donated 50 15kg bags of James Wellbeloved dog food to be sold at the Symposium at £20 each to raise funds for Dino’s European appeal.

"Make no mistake," Mr Mullan told the audience, which included anti-DDA campaigners, police officers, dog wardens, solicitor’s clerks and, of course, canine enthusiasts with interests in showing and agility, "If Dino’s case fails in Europe, then every dog in the United Kingdom is under threat!"

Defence of dogs

The first speaker of the day, occupying the whole of the morning session was specialist dog law solicitor Trevor Cooper. Readers of OUR DOGS (at least, those who read the news pages) will be familiar with Mr Cooper’s name and the fact that he has defended literally hundreds of dogs in court cases, mainly those brought under the Dangerous Dogs Act. He is a leading light in the ongoing battle against Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) and has defended many of the ‘names’ (and sadly martyrs) in the history of British BSL, dogs such as Otis, Jessie, Dempsey, Tyson and many, many others.

Mr Cooper began his address by making reference to the latest case brought under the Dangerous Dogs Act – and possibly that involving the most highly placed dog owner to find themselves on a DDA charge – namely Princess Anne, the Princess Royal whose Bull terrier allegedly attacked a couple in Windsor Great Park.

Warming to his theme Mr Cooper explained "BSL is our fault. It is worldwide, but it started here in the UK in 1991, with the Dangerous Dogs Act." He pointed out that the UK has experimented with BSL and decided that really, the DDA did not work; hence it was amended to be less draconian, in 1997. But now the anti-BSL campaign stood at a crossroads in this, the new century. BSL was still with us; people were still being attacked by dangerous dogs, so how should we go about protecting the public from dangerous dogs?

Mr Cooper offered a range of possible solutions to at least help with public protection, including Third Party Insurance, which was a mark of good dog ownership, a responsibility owed not only to our dogs but also our fellow citizens.

Dog licensing would surely be a good move – we should think about owning a dog in the same way as we would think about owning a car – a potential danger in the wrong hands, so perhaps people should pass an ownership test too, and prove they were "dog wise" and fit to own a dog.

Mr Cooper urged the audience to think on these points very seriously: "If WE don’t talk about the dog laws we want, then make no mistake – SOMEONE ELSE will!"

Mr Cooper went on to explain the difference between criminal and civil law, particularly with regard to dog legislation. "Our criminal laws are a hotch potch collected over the years, written in an old language, used only by lawyers," he pointed out. "A criminal offence is where the State says your action has affected the community."

Continuing the explanation by outlining the usual legal process of defending and appealing in dog cases, Mr Cooper explained that all laws were now subject to the Human Rights Laws, although crucially no European Human Eights Law says that anyone has the right to own a pet – a serious point to consider in any dog-related appeals to the European courts.

The burden of proof, the presumption of innocence until guilt was proven was reversed in DDA cases. Crucially too, there is still capital punishment for dogs in cases brought under the DDA and even the 1871 Dogs Act.

Mr Cooper spoke at some length on matters such as noise nuisance caused by dogs, and tenancy agreements where dogs might be prohibited, giving useful ‘pointers’ to anyone who found themselves in problems in any such situation.

He then turned his attention to the main legislation affecting dogs, dealing largely with the control of dogs, in the form of the Dogs Act 1871 and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

"I like the Dogs Act 1871," enthused Mr Cooper. "It’s very much a forgotten Act, but it’s been found again, despite being widely misunderstood. In the 19th Century to courts understood its range and powers very well, in the 20th Century we almost understood it, but in the 21st Century not many courts of prosecuting authorities are even aware of it."

Mr Cooper added that only Section 2 of the Act had survived, but despite its archaic wording, encompassed every aspect of canine control law that was necessary. The law could only be heard by magistrates or judges, not a jury. It was a civil law but, as such, a rare civil law that could be heard in magistrates court. On the upside, the burden of proof fell to the prosecution, whilst a defendant found guilty under the 1871 law would not receive a criminal record, but on the downside Legal Aid was not available for civil cases.

"There is no punishment as such for the owner," Mr Cooper explained, "other than perhaps a fine. But what do you do about the dog? The magistrates can order the dog to be destroyed, but in all the 1871 cases I’ve defended, this has only happened once, and was overturned on appeal.

"The usual course of action is for magistrates to imposed Control Order. Now how sensible is that? What more does an owner need? ‘Keep your dog under control’. There may be conditions, such as the dog needing to muzzled and on a lead, but seldom more than that…
"I like this law. This law deals adequately with dangerous dogs. The courts are allowed discretion in sentencing and can use it. It’s simply the use of commonsense."

Mr Cooper explained the finer points of the law, pointing out that cases had to be brought within six months of an incident. The prosecution must prove that the dog in question is dangerous, not as to whether it was dangerous at the time off the incident, but also as to its previous character and subsequent behaviour. In broad terms, they must prove that the dog is genuinely dangerous.

Mr Cooper added that numerous Home Office circulars had been issued to Prosecuting Authorities over the years pointing out that minor dog control incidents should be dealt with under the 1871 Act, but that very often these had been ignored. There was a discrepancy in some areas of the country, as some police forces knew about the 1871 Act, some didn’t.

An average of 1,000 to 1,500 dog biting cases were brought to court every year – a staggering average of four cases per day – but there was a clear 50/50 split as to whether the cases were heard under the 1871 Act or the DDA.

Mr Cooper gave some interesting case studies of the use of the Act. One such case from 1964 concerned the point that the prosecution must prove that an individual was the owner of the accused dangerous dog at the time of the court hearing, rather than at the time of the incident.

A Mr Hearns owned a GSD that was involved in a biting incident and was summonsed. However, he had given the dog to the NCDL. Proceedings against Hearns were discontinued, but amazingly, fresh proceedings against the Chairman of the NCDL were instigated. The case was upheld and the NCDL lost. The court said that if a man buys a dangerous dog, it is right that he is ordered to control that dog.

Turing to the hated Dangerous Dogs Act, Mr Cooper outlined the historical background to the introduction of the Act in 1991, after a media-instigated campaign against ‘dangerous dogs’, most notably the Pit Bull Terrier. A Parliamentary Bill received cross party support, with very few politicians – notably the late Lord Houghton – speaking out against it, this ensuring that it was placed on the statute books in record time.

"Whenever flawed laws are mentioned in any kind of discussion," Mr Cooper said, "The DDA is always held up as an example of a bad law."

The Act was primarily aimed at "dogs of the pit bull ‘type’", but Section 3 of the Act applied to all dogs "dangerously out of control".

Mr Cooper related a number of high profile Section 1 cases, such as Otis, where the courts ruled that a pit bull ‘type’ dog must be muzzled inside a car, because this is a ‘public place’, or Dempsey who was condemned to death for having her muzzle removed in public to allow her to be sick, only saved after three years of appeals when Juliette Glass of the Fury Defence Fund found a legal precedent which Mr Cooper was able to use to have Dempsey acquitted.

The sad case of Jessie, the crippled, toothless, brain damaged crossbreed who was seized as a pit bull ‘type’ was also cited as to how cruel and unjust the Act could be, when a pathetic, harmless dog could be condemned to death, merely on the basis of its appearance.

The High Court had ruled the behaviour was "relevant, but not conclusive", so essentially Section 1 cases determined that a dog was inherently dangerous because if its body shape.
Since the DDA was amended in 1997 and the mandatory death sentence removed, the number of Section 1 DDA cases had all but ceased.

"Are there no Pit Bulls any longer?" mused Mr Cooper. "Maybe not. I’m not an expert in identifying them, after all. Maybe the police have other things to do rather than pursue Section 1 cases?"

Turning to Section 3 cases, Mr Cooper pointed out that this was the "flipside to the 1871 Act, and far more serious, being a criminal case." He added that a warrant was required to take a dog from a home under Section 3, but the dog could be taken to secret kennels.

Charges could be brought if a dog was ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place or a private place where the dog was not permitted to be.

The Dino case was then covered in great detail, the upshot of what was essentially a minor biting incident involving another dog being that the magistrate ruled that Dino constituted a danger to public safety and "might bite again", thus sentencing the dog to be destroyed.

Thus far, all appeals to British Courts to get the ruling overturned had failed. Mr Cooper pointed out that the High Court’s ruling that it was "not unreasonable" for the magistrate to order a death sentence added the crucial point that a control order could only be imposed if the dog did not constitute a danger to the public. But as this dog had bitten, no such order or conditions could be made. This, essentially made a nonsense of all DDA Control Order rulings, as there was no guarantee that a dog subject to such an order would not bite again "and this, has implications for every dog in the country," Mr Cooper warned.

In closing, Mr Cooper left the audience with the salutary warning: "The time has come for dog owners to debate the kind of laws you want. After all, it is the dog who has had a hard time because of the bad laws we have today."

Agility in focus

After a delicious buffet lunch, during which most of the attendees took advantage of the warm weather to sit outside and eat al fresco, it was the turn of Peter Lewis, introduced by Mike Mullan as "Mr Agility" to speak during the afternoon. Mr Lewis’ address was ‘Agility In Focus’ and covered the sport’s development from its humble beginnings as a curiosity pastime for a handful of enthusiasts in the late 1970s to the world-class event enjoyed by thousands of people that it is today.

Mr Lewis related how, in 1977, Crufts Committee member John Varley was required to fill a half hour slot in the main arena at that year’s event. "As his family was very horsey, he thought of some sort of show jumping for dogs," Mr Lewis explained. "This led to him being put on to Peter Meanwell, who really is the Father of Agility, and he designed the first ever Agility course which was retained for the event in 1978, 1979 and 1980."

Mr Lewis explained with considerable amusement to the audience how the Working Trials Committee, under whose aegis the fledgling activity of Agility came, were very sceptical of Agility as a serious pastime. But the handful of enthusiasts, numbering 20, including Mr Lewis, prevailed, drew up rules, arranged competitions – mainly in the South and Midlands – and endured much "mickey taking" from ‘serious’ dog people, but noting, with satisfaction, that such derogatory comments are not heard today, with the Agility Club, established in the early 80s, now a well respected organisation.

There then followed a whistle-stop tour of highlights of the sports’ history and development, with Mr Lewis’ "missionary work" to Europe to establish the sport across the Continent, with a humorous anecdote as to how the British team had to borrow dogs for international championships before the days of pet passports when quarantine still existed. The French loaned the British team four dogs, none of which were very notable for their agility prowess.

But with just two days’ practice and familiarisation, the Brits had trained the dogs to perfection and beat the French team hands down in the competition – much to the lasting irritation of the French.

Mr Lewis then talked the audience through the mechanics and training involved in agility, demonstrating with the use of scale models of the jumps and obstacles, explaining how fast he sport had become, not just for the dogs and handlers, but also for the judges who had to observe around 2,400 ‘contacts’ in an average competition.

He added that the latest development in the sport of Agility was that the KC had established a Working Party to stage seminars for potential Agility judges, adding, somewhat wryly, that the UK was the only country in which Agility judges were not formally tested.

Mike Mullan told OUR DOGS after the symposium: "I was concerned at the very lethargic way clubs involved with breeds affected by the DDA did not send representatives. They seem to have buried their heads in the sand and believe that the present anti-dog feeling does not concern them.

"I am concerned however as to the future dog laws we may get. Having taken part in interviews with Elliot Morley, the Minister concerned with framing these laws, the new umbrella law he is proposing will not have our best interests at heart and looks to be very heavily influenced by Germany and the European Convention for Pet Animals.

"I wrote to 300 breed clubs, including all the Staffordshire Bull Terrier clubs, Bull terriers Clubs, Dobermanns, Rottweilers, GSDs. Very, very few drew attention to the symposium in their newsletters and journals. Editors are always asking for contributions but when they get them, they don’t use them! Certainly the Breed Councils should have sent representatives along to hear what was said. The symposium was staged as a vehicle to make people aware of the situation.

"I am very grateful to James Wellbeloved supporting us with their generous donation of food to be sold in aid of the Dino Appeal fund, and I am delighted to report that a cheque for £1,150 has been sent to the fund this week.

"Hopefully the message has gone out from the symposium, however, I had two police officers come up to me afterwards and they said they’d learned more from Trevor Cooper’s address about the dog laws than they had been taught by their own dog experts. So there is, shall we say, some hope."

Organiser Mike Mullen thanks Ken Wykes, Sales Director of Crown Pet Foods for the generous donations of James Wellbeloved pet foods, the proceeds of which went to the Dino defence fund

Mike Mullen makes a point