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High profile speakers consider dog controls


A DRAMATIC increase in the number of dog fighting calls received by the RSPCA was revealed on Tuesday of this week when the charity hosted a major 'summit' to discuss the increasing controversy over alleged dangerous dogs in our communities.

In 2007 the charity received 358 calls specifically about dog fighting - compared to 137 in 2006. This is a staggering 15-times higher than the 2004 figure of 24. Of the 358 calls, 132 referred specifically to youths or 'hoodies' fighting their dogs in the street or park.

The figures are backed up by new Metropolitan Police statistics, which show a massive increase in the number of dogs seized in London under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act. Between 2003 and 2006, the numbers averaged around 38 dogs a year. Between May 2006 and April 2007 this leapt to 173, and in the 12 months up to April 2008 the figure was 480(3).

The Metropolitan Police say there has been no special push on 'dangerous' dogs - these figures reflect purely incidents to which they have reacted. Of the total figures, around 80% of the dogs are pit bull-types, with the remainder being dogs which are dangerously out of control.

RSPCA Chief Officer of the Inspectorate Tim Wass who was one of the keynote speakers at the conference said: ‘These new figures confirm what the public, our inspectors, other charities and our animal hospitals have been telling us - that there is a real problem at the moment with people using dogs for aggression and fighting.

‘Our concern is that talk of dog fighting promotes images of 'dangerous' or 'devil' dogs, when in the vast majority of cases, it is the owner who is causing the problem, not the dog. All types of dog can be trained to be aggressive, just as all types of dog can be loving family pets. The purpose of this conference is to establish what the real problems are, and to come up with real answers.’

Dog attacks, dogs as weapons, 'status' dogs, stray dogs and – perhaps inevitably -dog registration were all discussed at what was certainly a lively, provocative gathering held in London.

High-profile speakers included The Rt Hon Lord Rooker, Minister of State for Animal Welfare, who explained the planned launch of a new DEFRA leaflet on status dogs.

Other speakers included the controversial North Wales Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom, dubbed ‘The Mad Mullah of the Traffic Taliban’ for his support for speed cameras, by Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn. He was joined by Inspector Neil Davies, the Head of the Dog Unit for Merseyside Police, which brought in a 'pitbull amnesty' following the tragic death of five-year-old Ellie Lawrenson on New Year's Day, 2007.

There had been some concern expressed before the summit by a number of observers and attendees that the speakers were all very much involved in areas of dog control, and that no speakers were drawn from pro-dog organisations such as the Kennel Club or Dogs Trust, although both organisations sent delegates to attend. Nor were any members of any anti-Breed Specific Legislation group invited to attend.

When asked about this apparent omission, RSPCA Press Officer Rebecca Hawkes told OUR DOGS: ‘Everyone with an interest in the subject has been invited to attend the conference. The Kennel Club was represented by Holly Lee and Bill Lambert, along with many other animal welfare organisations, local authorities, academics, and police officers.

‘The speakers are from agencies who involved specifically in dealing with the aftermath of irresponsible owners who keep dogs as status symbols and cause welfare problems in their communities - be those problems relating to human or animal welfare.

‘The subject of dogs in our communities was chosen because of increasing concern about the rise in 'status' dogs, dogs as weapons, and dog-fighting, particularly in cities. It is our concern for the welfare of the dogs being used and abused in this way that has prompted our action, and the conference. In our experience, if a dog is used as a status symbol, this can lead to abuse and injury.

‘Everyone with an interest in the subject has been invited to attend the conference. The Kennel Club will be represented, along with many other animal welfare organisations, local authorities, academics, and police officers.

‘The speakers are from agencies who involved specifically in dealing with the aftermath of irresponsible owners who keep dogs as status symbols and cause welfare problems in their communities - be those problems relating to human or animal welfare.

‘The subject of dogs in our communities was chosen because of increasing concern about the rise in 'status' dogs, dogs as weapons, and dog-fighting, particularly in cities. It is our concern for the welfare of the dogs being used and abused in this way that has prompted our action, and the conference. In our experience, if a dog is used as a status symbol, this can lead to abuse and injury.

‘RSPCA concern is based on a huge rise in calls from concerned members of the public, a huge rise in the number of dog-fight injuries seen by our veterinary hospitals, and eye-witness evidence from our inspectors.

‘By bringing together 'dog experts' from a wide range of fields - from charities to police, vets to dog wardens - we hope to have a lively discussion which will lead to a positive, effective way forward.’

Delegates to the conference were able to take part in instant voting on the issues, to enable the RSPCA to gather opinions – which threw up some interesting results. Asked whether Breed Specific Legislation was good or bad attracted a 88% ‘no’ vote whereas a question asking who was in favour of compulsory microchipping attracted a 80% ‘for’ vote. Should additional breeds be added to the DDA proscribed list - ‘no’ said 77%. The summer conference was the first organised by the RSPCA as an annual series, aimed at confronting topical animal welfare issues.

The full list of speakers included:

* Rt Hon Lord Rooker, Minister of State for Animal Welfare. General discussion.

* Richard Brunstrom - Chief Constable, North Wales Police. ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) lead officer on stray & dangerous dogs, and has raised the profile of wildlife crime. Talking about dog management; trends and enforcement issues.

* Inspector Neil Davies - Head of Merseyside police dog section. Managed the proactive targeting of pit bull owners, and a pit bull amnesty in 2007. Discussing status dogs.

* Adam Goldfarb, Humane Society of the United States. Companion animals specialist. Discussing lessons to be learned from the US re dangerous dogs.

* Dave Griffiths, chair of Hampshire and Isle of Wight dog wardens group. Sat on reform group which led to Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997. Talking about stray dogs, and how to improve local control measures.

* Tim Wass, RSPCA Chief Officer, Inspectorate. How to engage with communities using dogs.

* Angela Walder, RSPCA trustee, and Associate of the Institute of Animal Technology. Focussing on registration, rehoming and responsible dog ownership, using lessons from New Zealand and Kent.

A full Report of the conference will appear in next week’s OUR DOGS