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‘Enforce dog laws better’ police told

‘Having carefully considered what the police said to us, our view is that it is important that the
existing law is more rigorously enforced rather than introducing new legislation.’
Jeff Rooker, DEFRA Minister

POLICE FORCES around the UK have been told by a DEFRA Minister to enforce dog laws which are designed to protect the public from attacks by dangerous dogs.

The apparent action comes after the regional newspaper, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus ran a campaign about dangerous dogs last year, in which it called for the DDA to be extended to other breeds and for harsher controls and penalties on dogs. The newspaper presented a dossier of its ‘Curb the Danger Dogs Campaign’, containing a petition of thousands of names, to Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.

The newspaper claims that following its campaign, DEFRA Minister Jeff Rooker said that police chiefs have now been told to enforce legislation to protect people from dog attacks more effectively.

New guidance for police and local authorities has also being prepared and local projects to offer advice and free neutering to owners of dogs which potentially pose a risk to society are being set up.

Mr Rooker said a review of the legislation had also taken place following dog attacks on children early last year. Chief police officers were consulted and discussions took place with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

He said that DEFRA would work closely with ACPO in helping to implement the new initiatives.
Mr Rooker said DEFRA was revising its guidance to police, local authorities and the public about the law on dangerous and unruly dogs.

He said local projects involving welfare groups, with the support of police and the local authority, to meet people with dogs that may pose a risk and offer advice, were being set up.

In a rare display of political commonsense, the Minister did not advocate introducing harsher laws or extending the already discredited Dangerous Dogs Act, but insisted that the existing laws relating to the control of dogs, of which the DDA is but one, were perfectly adequate but simply needed to be enforced properly by the police and local authorities.

The Minister said: ‘Where no other route is possible, enforcement action is being taken. I see these projects as an important step forward in dealing with the problem of dangerous dogs. I believe that this approach, rather than a return to dog registration, is the most effective way forward.’

The Minister added: ‘Having carefully considered what the police said to us, our view is that it is important that the existing law is more rigorously enforced rather than introducing new legislation.’

‘A wide variety of legislation is already in place to help control dogs and protect the public. To enact further regulations would only be repetitive and confusing to both the public and the officials that enforce the regulations.

‘We look forward to receiving the results of the current consultation and developing new guidance for the effective control of dogs.’

Much to the Bradford T & A’s obvious disgust, neither West Yorkshire Police, nor Bradford Council, were able to give details of any new projects or initiatives.

But a West Yorkshire police spokesman was quoted in the paper as saying: ‘We take the issue of dangerous dogs on the streets of West Yorkshire very seriously. Our Neighbourhood Policing Teams regularly patrol with our partners at the dog warden service to provide public reassurance and a visible presence, as well as giving the public the opportunity and confidence to approach officers and provide them with information that can then be acted upon.

‘We also carry out proactive operations to seize suspected dangerous dogs and work with our partners in the council and other agencies to take appropriate action against both dog and owner, if and when a breed is confirmed as one of those banned under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act.’

Acting Chief Inspector Paul Hepworth, of Airedale and North Bradford Police, added: ‘The officers and dog warden will carry out joint visits to any properties of concern and will offer advice, guidance and, where necessary, will enforce the legislation. Anyone with any concerns about dangerous dogs should contact their local NPT or the dog warden service.’

John Major, the Council's assistant director of environmental health, said: ‘The council deals with stray dogs and dog fouling, dangerous dogs are the responsibility of the police. We are happy to assist them when we can.’

Mr Rooker said the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act was not the only legislation governing dogs. The Town Police Clauses Act 1847 made it an offence to allow an unmuzzled ferocious dog to be off a lead in a street, park or open space or to allow a dog to attack or menace any person or animal.
He said the Animals Act 1971 made the keeper of an animal liable for any damage it causes if they knew it was likely to cause damage or injury unrestrained.

The Dogs Act 1871 allows magistrates to order the destruction of dangerous dogs or impose alternative controls on them. Under the Act any person can make a complaint to a magistrates court that a dog is dangerous or report the matter to police.

The T & A had called for a mandatory dog licence as part of its campaign ‘crackdown’. There was a humiliating defeat for the paper’s campaign here too, when this was also roundly rejected by Mr Rooker who finally said what OUR DOGS and many experts and responsible dog owners had been saying for years, namely that the minority of irresponsible owners would be most likely to try to evade any licensing or microchipping scheme. He said that the Government had no plans to introduce compulsory dog licensing, but that DEFRA supported voluntary identification where owners undertook to have their pets permanently identified and registered on nationwide databases.

Mr Rooker added: ‘As a large section of British dog owners already choose to microchip their pets, it would be virtually impossible for every veterinary practice, police station or animal shelter to be stocked with all the microchip readers they would need.’

He said the current law provided for lifetime bans for anyone convicted of owning a dangerous dog.

The Minister said, with regard to stray dogs, the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 had powers to make Dog Control Orders. Owners can be fined or given Fixed Penalty Notices for such offences.

He added: ‘It is at the discretion and the responsibility of the local authority to establish and enforce these control orders, which is why effective guidance for local authorities is crucial in enforcing already existent powers to control dogs in public places.’

The Ministers comments were greeted with a variety of reactions from anti-DDA and anti- Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) protestors.

A spokesperson for Endangered Dogs Defence & Rescue said: ‘DERFA have got it totally wrong. Existing legislation is blatantly not adequate. BSL in the form of the Dangerous Dogs Act should be totally scrapped and replaced with legislation which focuses on the real danger – i.e. people, not dogs.

‘We don’t need a ‘crackdown’ on pet dogs, in a futile attempt to be seen to be doing something, taking action, action against defenceless dogs who are the wrong shape and size is not the way to protect the public. DEFRA should try addressing the huge welfare implications involved with the seizure and long term detainment of pets, including puppies who are held in isolation in kennels waiting to be ‘breed identified’ to determine whether they live or die. The current situation is a shambles, confusing and soul destroying to everyone who is unfortunate enough to be caught up it in.’

Melanie Page of the anti-BSL group Deed Not Breed commented: ‘We’d like to know who’s been consulted by the Government and would need more information to be abler to make any detailed comment on their proposals.

‘Taking some of the points raised in turn… Deed Not Breed do support mandatory microchipping as we feel it would be beneficial to dogs’ welfare.

‘There is currently nothing at all being done about irresponsible owners. Dog attacks and dogs’ behaviour has not changed, so we feel that education should be the primary focus and although the Telegraph and Argus talks about education, its not enough to offer free neutering of dogs. Many people will not take it up, especially the breeders of real fighting dogs and backyard breeders

‘There is no mention of the bad parts of the current law, particularly Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act, which is totally unfair as it is BSL. If the Government and DEFRA feel that the current law is sufficient in dealing with dogs, then why is there a need for Section One?

‘As for controlling and prosecuting dog fighting, this is well covered under the Animal Welfare Act 2007.’