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Study group lobbies MPs on dangerous dogs law


DOG LEGISLATION in the UK could be radically changed within the next few months if the recommendations of the Dangerous Dogs Act Study Group are
implemented by the Government.

The Group which comprises the Kennel Club, RSPCA, Dogs Trust, RCVS, Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home, Blue Cross, BVA, the Metropolitan Police, Wandsworth Borough Council and Wood Green Animal Shelter, has been considering the drafting and hopeful implementation of a comprehensive 'Control of Dogs Act', to replace Section 1 of the ill-conceived 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act and the existing 1871 Dogs Act.

The panel at the meeting featured Bradford MP Marsha Singh, who chaired the meeting, Mark Callis from Wandsworth Borough Council, Carolyn Monteith of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, Chris Laurence of the Dogs Trust and Carolne Kisko, the Kennel Club Secretary. Superintendent Simon Ovens of the Metropolitan Police Dog Department arrived later on in the meeting from a previous engagement. 

Each speaker expounded on a different dimension to the group's findings and to dog legislation in general. All agreed broadly that Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) had not worked. Supt Ovens drew a laugh when he said that Section 1 of the DDA, which deals with breed spercific issues and dogs of the put bull 'type' was, in his nine year-old daughter's parlance, the 'pants' part of the Act.

Carolyn Monteith gave a fascinating insight in man's historical association with the dog, explaining how the so-called 'wolf in the living room' was anything but; wolves that associated with man thousands of years ago learned to moderate their behaviour with human beings to both species' mutual advantage - in effect, the dog domesticated itself.

However, the dog as an animal has "late onset neophobia" - a fear of new things - so a dog must be properly socialised before the age of 16 weeks when neophobia sets in - and this was where many problem dogs arose, because their owners had not properly socialised them.
Educatioon of dog owners was therefore important and was seen by the Group as very much part of any legislation. Rather than punitive measures for badly behaved dogs and their owners, control orders where dogs would be sent for proper training were an essential part of the package.

Chris Laurence expanded on this 'Duty of Care' within the legislation, which he said would put the ultimate responsibility fora dog' actions where it belonged - with he owner and not just with the person at the end of the lead who might have been in control of the dog at the time it 'offended'.
As the meeting closed the Kennel Club released ther study groups hopes for the future which we reproduce here.

Objective for future ‘dangerous dogs’ legislation
by the Dangerous Dogs Act Study Group

Introduction

The issue of dangerous dogs and protecting the public has been one that has posed a problem for legislators for many years. Legislation concerning this dates back to 1871 with the Dogs Act. This provides for any person to make a complaint to a magistrates’ court that a dog is dangerous or report the matter to the police. If the court is satisfied that the dog is dangerous and is not being kept under proper control then it may make an order for it to be kept by the owner under proper control or destroyed.

More recently the implementation of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 as amended has had a significant effect on the welfare of some dogs, which have either been kept in kennels for many years or euthanased simply because of their breed or type. Additionally, it has not prevented a large number of dog attacks or reduced the number of pit bull terrier type dogs in the UK. Statistics on dog attacks have not reduced since that Act was introduced and in fact, the number of hospitalisations is reported as having doubled.

For these reasons the Dangerous Dogs Act Study Group (DDASG), a wide-ranging group representing animal welfare, local authorities, police and veterinary professional organisations, has been considering the issue and believes future legislation needs to better protect the public against dogs dangerously out of control without compromising any individual dog’s welfare. The Group considers the following proposals to be balanced, and (if implemented as intended) believes they should help to prevent future attacks on people and animals occurring in the future – therefore protecting both the safety of the public and the welfare of dogs.

Objective

To better protect the public without compromising dogs’ welfare by the introduction of a ‘Control of Dogs Act’ to incorporate the better aspects of the Dogs Act 1871 and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 as amended but ultimately repeal them, as they are widely criticised for their deficiencies.

Justification

New legislation is required to better protect the public.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 as amended has failed because:

• Section 3 only applies after an incident has taken place, rather than operating on a preventative basis;

• Section 3 only applies when the dog is in a public place, or a private place where it is not permitted to be (so that persons entering a private place where the dog is permitted to be have no protection);

• Section 3 only applies to dogs that have acted dangerously towards people;

• The Act has cost the Police much of their vital resources – it has cost millions of pounds in kennelling associated costs since it came into force;

•There is no provision for an owner to apply to a Court for a seized dog to be returned;

•Section 1 predicts a dog’s behaviour based on its physical conformation when this is not possible. This is why Section 1 dogs placed on the Index of Exempted Dogs have never been proven dangerous, and why dogs of breeds or types other than those prohibited have been involved in dog attacks.

The Dogs Act 1871 has failed because:

• There is no power of seizure;

• If an owner transfers the dog to someone else prior to a Court hearing, they may be able to avoid the proceedings;

• The Court has no power to require the owner to pay compensation.

Proposal

• Low level incidents should be dealt with by a staged approach of Control Orders, where necessary through the Courts. This should be used where the dog has, for instance, shown aggression, caused an injury to another animal, caused harm, or caused a person to reasonably believe it will cause harm; Any person could make a complaint to the Court (to reduce costs to the public purse).

• Retain the offence to deal with serious aggression e.g. a dog that causes a serious injury, or a dog that is encouraged by its owner to be aggressive; and limit enforcement to the police and local authorities.

• Retain the offence to possess or advertise a restricted type of dog (e.g. currently the pit bull terrier type dog) unless the dog in question is registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs, and re-open the Index to owner led applications provided it can be shown on the balance of probability the dog is not a danger to public safety.

Detailed proposal

• Base legislation on the legal duty of care of the person in whose charge the dog is, and the owner of the dog that put the person in charge of it, that the dog is not dangerously out of control.

•Apply the legislation to incidents that take place in public as well as private.

• Provide that, where the legislation allows the Police a power of seizure (under a warrant if not in a public place), proceedings must begin within one month of seizure for a minor complaint and six months of seizure for a more serious offence.

• Provide a graduated system, through the Courts if appropriate, to introduce Control Orders requiring but not limited to, one or more of the following: the dog to be destroyed; the dog to be kept under proper control; the dog to be kept subject to conditions including being kept on a lead and/or muzzled; the dog to be re-homed; the owner to be disqualified from having charge/being in possession of a dog for such a period as the court considers appropriate; and the owner to be required to pay up to £5,000 in compensation for personal injury, loss or damage arising from the incident where the dog has actually caused harm in a minor incident, and up to a £5,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment or an unlimited fine and/or up to two years imprisonment, in a more serious case.

• Include defences for anyone accused to prove that the dog was provoked into being aggressive or the attack was in self-defence, or at the time the dog was dangerous the dog was not under the owner’s control but under the control of someone he believed to be responsible, or the dog was on private land where it was permitted to be and the person or animal was a trespasser (i.e. present on the land without express or implied permission).

• Include an appeals procedure in the legislation for an owner to appeal against the Court’s first control order straight away and for the conditions of the control order to be varied/discharged after at least a year.

• Include an exemption for dogs used on official duties as service dogs, when at work.


After all the presentations had been given and questions taken from the floor, KC Chairman Ronnie Irving closed the meeting by thanking the panel. He asked Marsh Singh when the Government might eb consiedring taking up the recomendations of the Group and amending the Act. Chris Laurence replied that DEFRA Minister 'Ben Bradshaw was listening carefully right now', as were many Ministers, which also drew laughter from thos eassembled. It was generaly felt. however, that with a change of Prime Minister imminent by the end of June that the political will to be seen to be enacting sensible legialstion which both protected the welfare of the public and of dogs themselves was very strong. All those assembled agreed wholeheartedly that, at long last, the time for change might be right.