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APGAW consider Dangerous Dog laws

L to r: Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club; Chris Lawrence, Dogs Trust; Supt.Simon Ovens, Met Police; Eric Martlew MP, Chairman of APGAW

THE TOPICAL subject of Dangerous Dogs and laws for their control was the focus of attention at the latest meeting of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW), held at the House of Commons on Tuesday evening this week.

The issue of dangerous dogs is, largely thanks to media, firmly in the public eye following the tragic events in Merseyside on New Year’s Day when five-year-old Ellie Lawson was mauled to death by her uncle’s pit bull ‘type’ dog. The APGAW meeting was called to discuss the issues surrounding dangerous dogs and to ask how the Group should respond to this issue.
OUR DOGS Chief Reporter Nick Mays was in attendance to report on proceedings.

There were a number of eminent and highly placed guest speakers at Tuesday’s meeting, including Superintendent Simon Ovens of the Metropolitan Police, RSPCA Chief Inspector Mike Butcher and Chris Laurence, Chief Veterinary Officer of the Dogs Trust, along with Caroline Kisko, Secretary of the Kennel Club.

Supt Simon Ovens spoke first, stressing that his presentation was a mixture of the Met’s policy and personal opinion, which he would specify as appropriate. He outlined how, when he took over his role five years ago, there were still several pit bull ‘type’ dogs held in police kennels in a state of ‘legal limbo’ as no determination had been made as to their type and the Index of Exempted Breeds had not been re-opened. Supt Ovens had made it his business to have all the dogs registered as being ‘of the type’ on the index and released from custody – some after many years incarceration. He explained that each month he, personally, reviews the case of each dog held under the DDA.

‘We in the Met take a pragmatic approach to the Dangerous Dogs Act,’ he said. ‘We tend not to trawl the streets looking for dogs of the type listed under Section One, but we will investigate and take action if they are reported to us. We enforce Section Three, with ‘dangerously out of control dogs’ as a matter of course. If someone is illegally breeding Pit Bulls – and this is usually for fighting – we will seize the bitch and pups.’

Supt Ovens went on to say that Met, in partnership with the Kennel Club, RSPCA and Dogs Trust were looking into the best ways to police the Act and ultimately to amend it into a form of more workable legislation. Supt Ovens himself chairs the Dog Legislation Advisory Group (DLAG) and pointed out that the view of all parties in the group was that nobody wants truly dangerous dogs on the streets.

‘DLAG’s strapline is ‘Punish the Deed, Not the Breed’,’ added Supt Ovens. ‘In my personal opinion we need to convince the Commissioner of the Met to move away from Breed Specific Legislation. DLAG do want to strengthen the law in other areas, but let me be quite clear, we do not want other breeds added to the DDA!’

Supt Ovens concluded by outlining the key areas of legislation that DLAG and the Met wanted to change:

1) To extend the Section 3 law of ‘dangerously out of control’ to include dog attacks on private premises. However, there would be an in-built exemption for a dog that bit someone who was on the premises unlawfully, such as a burglar.

2) To re-open the Index of Exempted Breeds so that any dog ‘of the type’ could automatically be registered as such, and duly neutered, tattooed and microchipped etc. thus avoiding custody and lengthy court proceedings.

3) To introduce a new range of orders against the owners of genuinely dangerous dogs, including ‘preventative measures’ if a dog comes to the attention of the authorities for bad behaviour. This could include obtaining a court order to compel the owner to train and control the dog,

The next speaker was Claire Robinson, Government Relations Manager of the RSPCA, who explained areas where the RSPCA was involved with the issue of dangerous dogs. The Society was no longer involved with prosecuting Section One cases, but was more concerned with fighting dogs, a point expanded upon by her colleague Mike Butcher.

‘We don’t want to see a return to the situation of the late 1980s and early 1990s with ‘knee jerk reactions’ to dangerous dog attacks,’ explained Ms Robinson. ‘We are more concerned now with education (on dog welfare and ownership). Dog fighting is covered very well by the Animal Welfare Act and we are grateful to Parliament or toughening up the law in this area’

Ms Robinson went on to speak candidly about the problem of dogs being used in anti-social behaviour. ‘I don’t want to say the word ‘hoodies’,’ she said, ‘But our Inspectors are seeing a lot of cases of kids on sink estates that have removed themselves from society and keep pit bull ‘type’ dogs, which they then use to intimidate other people, or use as status symbols, or even sometimes for fighting. The RSPCA’s concern is for the welfare of such dogs, but it covers wider issues.’

Chris Lawrence, Chief Veterinary Officer of the Dogs Trust pointed out in his presentation that any breed of dog could bite, and that breed and size of dogs was not the issue. He revealed the statistic that 70 per cent of children bitten by dogs know the dog in question.

Mr Lawrence agreed with the previous speakers that Section 3 of the DDA, covering aggravated offences, needs to be extended to private premises and not just public premises: ‘We need to incorporate the 1871 Dogs Act which is civil action, not criminal action and includes private premises. We are, if you like, after a form of ‘Doggy ASBO’, by which a court can issue a control order with a lower burden of proof.

We’d like to see Section One removed completely, although we all realise that, politically, right now, this is not practical. But we would like to see a time limit of five years set on this, remove the breed specific aspects and incorporate all the other issues into one Act. The issue of fighting dogs just muddies the waters and can be separated out from this, as it is covered under the Animal Welfare Act.’

A full report of the APGAW meting will appear in next week’s OUR DOGS.

STOP PRESS: OUR DOGS has learned that Merseyside Police intend to instigate a seven-day ‘Amnesty’ (or ‘Hand-In’) of pit bull ‘type’ dogs next Wednesday (February 7th), although the force is making no comment on the matter at this time.