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Minister consistent on pit bull terrier question

Elliot Morley, then Labour Spokesman on Animal Welfare, pictured with Dempsey the Pit Bull in January 1997. readers will be delighted to know that Dempsey is still going strong,
having celebrated her 17th birthday on Monday of this week!

IN THE recent Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons regarding Dog welfare, the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act was mentioned in some detail by DEFRA Animal Minister Elliot Morley.

Mr Morley’s comments on the DDA centred largely on pit bull terriers and their perceived link to dog fighting. The Minister said: "The main problem was the pit bull terrier, which became notorious not only for illegal dog fighting but for a number of well-documented attacks on individuals. It is a very broad, muscular, smooth-haired dog noted for its strength and determination: a very dangerous cocktail of characteristics and features…

"Although I accept that many dog attacks are caused by a lack of control, a lack of care and irresponsible owners, we must recognise that some people will breed dogs that can inflict terrible damage on people, particularly children, and that are linked with the illegal dog-fighting rings. For all those reasons, I believe that the legislation has a role to play. It has been applied as carefully as the courts can apply it, but there will always be difficult borderline cases in which it is necessary to identify a dog under the breed-specific provisions in the law. Overall, however, the legislation is justified."

So it is clear from the Minister’s comments that his regard of pit bulls is not high. In fact, his views have not changed since December 1996 when Mr Morley, then just the humble Opposition Spokesman for Animal Welfare was interviewed by Nick Mays, for OUR DOGS, saying: "We do think there’s an argument for legislation of this kind [the DDA], as pit bull terriers are not a suitable breed to keep as a family pet. I’m sure there are pit bull owners who will disagree with me, but nonetheless they were originally bred for fighting…"

However, just one month later, in January 1997 Mr Morley attended the NCDL’s "Dogs and the Law" symposium and was more than happy to be photographed with one such "unsuitable family pet" in the form of Dempsey, the pit bull terrier. Dempsey, it will be recalled, was sentenced to death under the DDA for having her muzzle removed in public to allow her to be sick, and was incarcerated for three years until the High Court overturned her death sentence on a legal technicality, despite the best efforts of the CPS and Metropolitan Police to have her destroyed.

Whereas (in one sense at least) the Minister is to be congratulated for not changing his views in six years, it’s interesting to see how politicians can cosy up to anyone if they think it makes them look good. And there was a General Election just four months away…

Well – Dempsey looks good in the photograph, at least, and she was far too well-bred not to be put off by posing with a politician…

* Look out for a special feature on this remarkable dog in next week’s issue of OUR DOGS.