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Dogs, DDA and deja-vu

SOMETIMES I feel as though I’m living in a time warp… and I don’t mean my authentic 1980s 3 piece-suite and even more authentic 1960s single glazing. I refer, of course, the recent media furore surrounding ‘Dangerous Dogs’ (note the capital letters, that’s Meejah-speak for Very Important Subject Worthy Of A Campaign).

No-one is denying the terribly tragedy of five month-old baby Caydee-Lee Deacon being savaged to death by two Rottweilers kept as guard dogs. It is terrible and the only real solution to deal with those apparently unsocialised, unloved animals was to have them destroyed. Similarly, no-one is denying the horror of the allegedly unprovoked attack on two year-old Harvey Lawrence by his grandmother’s Rottweiler resulting in him having ‘countless’ stitches. But what the vast majority of responsible, caring, sensible dog owners the length and breadth of the UK ARE denying however, is that there is a need for harsher dog laws, or for more breeds to be added to the ill-conceived and flawed Dangerous Dogs Act.

This is where the time warp factor came in; I had the same sense of dread and foreboding as I did 15 years ago when the Media was calling for the introduction of draconian laws to stop the scourge of ‘Dangerous Dogs’. Again, back then, no one could deny that there was a problem in some areas with some dogs – or more accurately, with their irresponsible owners. Who could see the photographs of the mauled body six year-old Rukhsana Khan or the nose-less face of bakery worker Frank Tempest and not agree with the Meejah that Something Should Be Done?

The trouble was, the then Home Secretary Kenneth Baker and his newly appointed master, Prime Minister John Major panicked. They gave in to the Meejah’s calls for action. Rather than beef up the existing and perfectly adequate dog control laws enshrined in the Dogs Act 1871 (amended many times since 1871), they decided to Be Seen To Be Doing Something and thus we got the DDA, an Act which is held up as a prime example of hastily-drawn up and ill thought-out legislation.

But now, as then, the situation in the UK mirrors 1991. The Meejah have had slack news for a few weeks. A tragedy happens when baby Caydee-Lee is killed, shock and outrage follow – so then the Meejah report every single minor dog attack, every little incident that usually would be hard pushed to make the inside news pages of the local rag. They jump on the local newspaper campaigns being run against localised dog problems in the cities of Liverpool and Bradford and the shout goes up: ‘We Need Stronger Dog Laws! Rottweilers Should Be Banned. And Just For Good Measure, Let’s Ban Staffies Too.’

And of course, every article is accompanied by a lurid, digitally-enhanced photograph of a snarling Rottie baring its needle sharp teeth. (I mean, come on! Have you ever seen a dog with a mouth that big and teeth that sharp?).

My big fear was that another parallel with 1991 might well see the DDA beefed up. Now, as then, we have a largely discredited Government on the ropes, staggering from one crisis to another, driven by internal feuds. Let’s not forget, under the DDA, the Home Secretary has the power to add any breed of dog to the DDA without reference to Parliament. Would the current Home Secretary, John Reid, want to Be Seen To Be Doing Something?

Thankfully, Mr Reid is made of sterner stuff than his long-ago predecessor Kenneth Baker. He simply and calmly noted that there is already a Government-requested review of existing dog legislation under way, being conducted by the Dog Legislation Advisory Group (DLAG) under the aegis of DEFRA, so he instructed his minions to liase with DEFRA and keep him appraised of any recommendations. Mr Reid recognised that although there was Media concern, there wasn’t necessarily universal public concern. And besides, he does have bigger fish to fry – terrorist cells for example.

So, for now, the furore has died down. Besides, the Meejah have a new object of ‘Public Concern’ – Muslim women wearing veils. Just as in 1990, all accounts of ‘Dangerous Dogs’ disappeared from our newspapers when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait (and stayed absent until he was beaten), so too have the dog attack stories. So what’s happened to all these marauding dangerous dogs which, they would have us believe, were about to rip our throats out as soon as look at us? Ah, but the Muslim women you see… they could be hiding bombs and guns under their burqas and niqabs!

Incidentally, two stories caught my eye last week. One was the tragic death of a British honeymooner who as trampled to death by a bull elephant in Africa. Most of the newspapers carried a photograph of an Enraged Bull Elephant About To Charge. The other story was that 4 x 4 cars are being cited as potentially lethal to children and there were Media Calls for them to be subjected to special licenses. And the accompanying photograph in this instance was invariably a shaven-headed, Chav bloke with gold chains round his bull neck, driving a ‘Chelsea Tractor’.

Well… what are we going to do about those terrible Dangerous Elephants? There are elephants in the UK, in zoos and safari parks. They could be about to trample visitors to death! And those Chelsea Tractors? I bet you know someone on your street who’s got one! They’re probably about to run you over!

‘Something Must be Done!’

Oh, Mr Reid…