Solitary confinement continues for friendly family pets
LAST WEEK Kiel Simpson stood in the dock and received an eight week custodial sentence. A mere eight weeks. It seems scant punishment for the person who owned, inadequately trained and supposedly cared for the dog who later killed Ellie Lawrenson.
Across town, in a different court, the wider consequences of Simpson's actions were being decided. The lives of twelve dogs - many of which had already spent longer in harsher conditions of police custody that Simpson ever will - hung in the balance, all hopes pinned on one magistrate.
In the third en-masse 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) hearing of the year, twelve dog owners were represented by canine law specialist Trevor Cooper, who fought for the lives of their pets.
All dogs had been seized or handed in following Merseyside Police's knee -jerk dog 'hand-in', a dog destruction initiative to clear the streets of Merseyside of so-called dangerous dogs. Over the course of the destruction initiative, police only targeted dogs of prohibited breeds/'types', and did not focus on dogs exhibiting dangerous behaviours, so it came as no surprise that 36 cases fought so far under 4b plus several under section 1 have ended in the dog being deemed of no danger to the public, added to Index of Exempt dogs, and allowed to return to his or her loving, responsible owners.
Last week was no exception. Of twelve cases heard, nine dogs have been added to the Index and will return home once certain restrictions are met (neutering, microchipping, tattooing etc). The remaining three cases have been adjourned to a later date, so more information can be presented to the court.
Trevor Cooper was supported by the Kennel Club, who have made a very strong public stance against the dogs destruction since the initiative’s inception, on the grounds that the blame should focus on the deed, not the breed and that responsibility lies with inadequate owners, not with the dogs themselves, a view shared by the DeedNOTBreed (DNB) group.
The hearings took part in a magistrates’ court, which though open, has such a small gallery that only DNB's chairperson, Melanie Page, and Our Dogs Chief Reporter Nick Mays were present.
Melanie says: ' It was a deeply emotional day for all owners concerned. The stress was clearly visible on their faces and the huge sighs of relief when the verdict was read out were clearly heard. Trevor Cooper was - as always - superb and our heartfelt thanks and go to the Kennel Club for once again stepping in to provide the much needed financial help. None of the owners in court yesterday deserved to be there in our opinion and I'm immensely happy that they've been allowed to have their dogs entered onto the Index.’
Though the cases are clearly a victory, DNB sees this result as a small success in what will be a long campaign: the campaign to target the dangerous end of the lead. Instead of legislation which targets dogs like the friendly family pets released, the group calls for consultation between all interested parties to see the creation and introduction of a new, considered, workable solution to target the real issue: problem owners.
Given that these cases are the third set deemed of no danger to the public, DNB call for the immediate release of dogs currently in police custody, and for the re-opening of the Index of Exempt Dogs to allow for owner-led registration. This would enable owners the option to register their dogs and comply with the restrictions of exemption. It may also lead to registration of dogs currently kept out of the public eye.
As DNB spokesperson Ray Morrow says:˜Merseyside Police state that their dog destruction initiative was 'a well organised initiative to which the public have shown their overwhelming support'. A radio city poll indicated that 97% of local residents don't support this initiative to kill dogs. And as for being well organised, so far, four dogs have died in police custody from the fatal - yet entirely preventable - Parvovirus. Dogs are waiting months for court dates. Dogs are leaving police kennels in poor condition, some with injuries, most having suffered substantial weight loss. Dogs displaying new psychological problems due to wholly avoidable kennel stress. Dogs are spending weeks in kennels, waiting to be breed identified before being released as NOT of prohibited type. To me, the initiative appears at best badly organised. And it's all at the taxpayer's expense.'
He continues: 'These dogs need not be housed in kennels at all. It is perfectly legal that they await court dates in the own homes. I beg the Chief Constable Hogan Howe to reconsider his decision to keep dogs kennelled pending identification and court dates. On behalf of countless heartbroken owners and their terrified, confused pets; on behalf of the 5,334 animal lovers who've signed the DNB online petition; on behalf of the 800 local people who signed a paper petition in just four hours in Merseyside city centre and on behalf of the Merseyside tax payer, I beg that you send these dogs home. Back in March, you'd spent in the region of £160,000. That figure is now no doubt considerably higher. Could it not have been better spent protecting the people of Merseyside, instead of persecuting their pets?'