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Merseyside launches Pit Bull ‘amnesty’

MERSEYSIDE POLICE launched an ‘Amnesty’ this Wednesday for dogs that are illegal under the terms of the Dangerous Dogs Act – as exclusively revealed by OUR DOGS last week.

From 7 February to 13 February owners of dogs banned by Dangerous Dogs legislation will be able to hand in their animals without fear of prosecution.

The police force’s press release said that the Amnesty – or ‘Hand In’ as they term it - is ‘the next step in a long-running initiative in the county to promote responsible dog ownership and crackdown on the criminal and anti-social use of dogs.’ The release adds: ‘This is a national issue but one which Merseyside Police and its partners are determined to tackle.’

The Hand In runs from 7am on Wednesday, 7 February until the end of Tuesday, 13 February.

During that period, Merseyside residents who have an illegal dog should contact police on a designated phone number. Owners are urged: ‘ Do not abandon your dog and do not take it to a police station. Arrangements will be made for your dog to be collected from you. Anyone who co-operates with the police and hands in an illegal dangerous dog for humane destruction will not be prosecuted for the possession or custody of the dog.’

A poster depicting a lurid photograph of a fighting dog has been produced to announce the hand-in, complete with telephone numbers for people to hand dogs in or ‘inform’ about alleged illegal pit bulls and pull bull types.

The force claims that much has already been done over recent months by themselves and their partners through ‘Operation Dogsafe’, which was launched as the result of a campaign by the Liverpool Echo against continued and escalating reports of dangerous dogs and fighting dog activity, although the police do not mention the paper’s campaign. The PR spiel runs: ‘That work has helped to educate the public about the legal and social responsibilities of dog ownership and to tackle criminality. The hand in is the next step in helping to protect the public and ensure people stay within the law.’

’Merseyside Police is offering the opportunity to co-operate with us without fear of prosecution. The responsibility rests with the owner to make the call, arrange the hand in and prevent someone else being maimed or killed.

It is hoped that the initiative, being run by Merseyside Police with the five local authorities, will remove as many illegal dogs as possible before a targeted enforcement campaign. Owners or keepers of illegal dogs who do not come forward during the hand in period could face a £5,000 fine and six months imprisonment.

’During the hand in period, the public is asked to continue to report the whereabouts of illegal dangerous dogs. Where information is given owners or keepers who do not wish to hand the dogs over voluntarily, police will seize Be assured, the authorities are continuing to act against who misuses their dog. Prosecutions will be sought against those who commit criminal offences involving dangerous dogs and any owners who fail to act responsibly.’

Chief Constable Bernard Hogan-Howe added fuel to the flames by quoting in the press release: "We want you to hand in illegal dogs, including the pit bull and pit bull type. You may not agree with the hand in but I am sure all parents will want to prioritise the safety of their children above the affection for their dogs."

The release concludes with Merseyside Police’s plans for the future: ‘In the longer term, Merseyside Police is calling for a considered review of the legislation. There are clear issues around the registration or licensing of dogs and more to be done to ensure tougher penalties for those owners who fail in their responsibilities or commit a criminal offence involving a dangerous dog.’

The Kennel Club learnt of Merseyside Constabulary’s intention to invoke its threatened dangerous dogs ‘amnesty’ from OUR DOGS on Tuesday morning, and hit back at the ‘disgraceful plan’, saying that it was ‘in reality a seven-day dog cull. ‘

The Kennel Club said that it was ‘appalled by Merseyside’s decision and somewhat bewildered that it has not taken on board any advice that it asked for from the Kennel Club as to how to protect the public against dangerous dogs.’

Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary told OUR DOGS: "We are dismayed that Merseyside Constabulary has ignored our sensible advice which they asked for. We proposed a workable alternative – to re-open the Index of Exempted Dogs for three months to owner led application.

They have gone ahead without listening and unfortunately their amnesty will leave the public unprotected while only responsible owners and their dogs will suffer".

The KC added that the so called ‘amnesty’ is a poorly thought out and ineffective response to a tragic situation, that will lead to the death of many well loved family pets and cause a great deal of distress to dog owners.

The obvious flaws to the amnesty being introduced by Merseyside are that:

Some responsible owners will bring dogs forward to comply with the amnesty – their well-behaved dogs would then be destroyed based on how they look.

Other responsible owners will hide their dogs because they cannot bear to part with them. This will drive responsible owners underground and as a result the welfare of the dogs will suffer i.e. through less exercise, not visiting vets etc.

Meanwhile those involved in dog fighting or training dogs to be aggressive are not the sort of people that will come forward as they are not law abiding. The Kennel Club deplores the training of dogs for fighting and agrees that pit bull type dogs trained for fighting would not be eligible to be placed on the Index and should be humanely destroyed.

Meanwhile the obvious benefits to the alternative proposed by the Kennel Club are that:

Re-opening the Index for three months would not allow for any more pit bull type dogs to be bred but would allow for more owners of pit bull type dogs to be made aware of the proposal and take responsible action.

Re-opening the Index would also help address the problem of limited Police resources i.e. in terms of keeping dogs and seizing dogs once the amnesty is over.

Compliance with the Kennel Club proposal would be far easier and more effective - rather than people hiding their dogs, more would register their dogs on the Index. As required by the Index, these dogs would have to be on a lead and muzzled in public, permanently identified and neutered - thereby ensuring the safety of all from any possibility of dog bites.

OUR DOGS will report on events following the ‘Amnesty’ in next week’s issue.

Nick Mays, OUR DOGS Chief Reporter who has reported on the Dangerous Dogs Act since its inception in 1991 and on Breed Specific Legislation around the world summed up the situation, saying: ‘This whole sorry scenario has a distinctive early 1990s whiff about it, harkening back to the ‘bad old days’ when the DDA was first introduced.

‘What results the amnesty yields – if any – are unknown, whether those results translate into benefits is equally unclear.

‘But two things are certain: Dogs will die. And the public will still be unprotected from attacks by genuinely dangerous dogs as ever they were.’