Notting Hill dogs to go home
Court proceedings brought under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (DDA) section 4B against a number of dogs seized by Police at Nottinghill Carnival as illegal “pit bull types” were heard at West London Magistrates Court on Wednesday 17th September.
In total the police seized 21 dogs in their operation to “crack down on crime”. None of the seized dogs had shown any aggression before being taken by the police and they included one sixteen week old puppy, who has now missed out on her important socialisation training time that puppies need to become confident and happy dogs.
An owner turned up at court expecting to be able to take his dogs home with him, he even brought the dog’s lead, if the cases were dismissed. “We had been in touch with Endangered Dogs Defence and Rescue and DDA Watch who had explained how everything worked and had supported us but this owner had not reached anyone for advice” Kathryn White said, “He believed he was going to have his dog returned to him that day and to see his face as he realised his dog wouldn’t be back for a few more weeks was heart breaking. Everyone had a story to tell and all the dogs are clearly friendly pet dogs. Everyone was so worried”
As anxious owners waited at the court news came through to them that three of the seized dogs had died in the secret kennels where they had been held. Two were said to have died of “unknown causes” and a third of pneumonia. At Crufts this year Dr Roger Mugford showed Our Dogs pictures of dogs being held in kennels, which were is a very bad state, many with obviously sore wounds. If the dogs had been in the hands of a pet owner in this state they would be prosecuted by the RSPCA and deservedly so! Freedom of Information request recently revealed that over a year on average one seized DDA dog had died every week whilst in secret kennels.
As each owner went before the Magistrates they were told they could have their dogs back but the dogs must be registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs. The EDDR and members of DDA Watch are working closely with the owners guiding them through the process of registration which require that they are to be spayed or neutered and identifiable by tattoo or microchip. Once registered the dogs can be return to their owners. None of the owners received a criminal record as the cases were heard under section “4B” of the Act- a civil action rather than a criminal charge. This normally leads to a much shorter period of time for the dog in kennels however it does have it downsides as some of the owners experienced. Under a 4B application you cannot claim legal aid. As the burden of proof is reversed under the DDA it is up to the dog's owner to prove their dog is not a “pit bull type” and for many this is impossible to do as the cost can run into thousands of pounds. As a result most owners are not in a position to challenge the issue of whether their dog is or is not of the prohibited “type”.
The EDDR and DDA Watch will also help owners with any problems they may encounter with their dogs once they are returned home. Sometimes dogs which have been kennelled for substantial time can take a while to get used to being back at home. Ms White summed up the feelings for the owners by saying she simply could not thank the EDDR and DDA Watch enough for their help, with the court cases and with the registration process now being dealt with.
All seemed to be well but then in a cruel twist of fate, it appeared that disaster had stuck when due to a clerical error all the owners over the weekend received letters telling them that their dogs would be put to sleep! The owners contacted the EDDR and DDA Watch immediately who tried but in vain to find out what happened to the dogs. They and the owners had to anxiously wait until Sunday 29th September to find out the fate of the dogs. “The owners were awaiting letters to conclude the paper work to register their dogs, instead they received orders for the destruction of their dogs, it is not imaginable how awful that must have been” commented Alison Green, “The DDA Watch advised owners to contact the police, but despite attempts worried owners could not speak to anyone”
Due to the frustrations encountered trying to contact somebody in the police who could tell them what was happening, DDA Watch contacted Tina Haye again to ask for help as a matter of urgency. Ms Haye contacted the dog section which dealt with the seized dogs but could only get through to the answer phone service. Calls to the Custody Sergeant also proved fruitless as there was nobody who could help. Finally on Sunday Ms Haye managed to contact PC McParland who as officer in charge was able to discover that this was a clerical error. He assured Ms Haye that the dogs were all still alive and safe. He also assured Ms Haye that he would make sure the orders were corrected. After 36 hours of not knowing if their dogs were alive and well the owners were felt with mixed feelings of relief their pets were safe and anger at this latest development.
Ms White said, “When I opened the letter I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I didn't know if Chi had been destroyed already and if she hadn't I had no idea if I could stop it. I didn't know what to do and my hands where shaking. At the same time I was checking my phone messages and found one from DDA Watch telling me to contact them, that they were aware of the letters and were dealing with it. I rang them right away and they put me in touch with Tina Hay. I heard late Sunday that Chi was alive but it was the worst weekend of wondering I have ever had. I did not get a return call from the police until Monday by which time I already knew she was ok. This error should never have happened and now the shock has worn off, I'm angry that this happened in the first place"
New information reached Ms Hay regarding a virus spreading through a keenel where some of the dogs are held. Ms Haye made enquiries relating to rumours and these were confirmed by. PC McParland, who confirmed that one of the kennels has an outbreak of canine parvo virus and that six dogs are currently under veterinary care. He stated that the kennels are now on "shut down" and suits have been issued to the kennels involved in order to help prevent further contamination. He could not give further details on the dogs affected other than stating that none of the dogs seized at Notting Hill are currently showing signs of the virus. Parvo virus also struck Merseyside kennels following an amnesty for people to hand in their dogs which resulted in the deaths of several dogs.
This time the clerical error has not resulted in the deaths of any dogs, but a clerical error claimed the life of at least one dog held under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Last year, Jeanette and Stephen Hardwick's pet dog, Oscar was put to sleep after being logged into the computer as a stray by mistake.