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RSPCA urges changes to Dangerous Dogs Act

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 18 April 2016
  2. Miscellaneous
  3. 0 comments
Canine eyes hide malevolence

The RSPCA has called for changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act which would see dogs banned on the basis on behaviour rather than breed.

Freedom of Information requests made by the BBC showed that over the past three years, 4,757 dogs had been seized by police in England and Wales on suspicion of belonging to breeds banned under the Act.

But while the government insists that the legislation is vital for tackling the “heightened risk” of certain dogs attacking people, both the RSPCA and West Yorkshire Police have spoken out against it.

What the Act says

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 prohibits ownership of four specific breeds of dog – the pitbull terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Argentine mastiff and the Brazilian mastiff – under the assumption that these dogs are more likely to engage in aggressive behaviour.

Courts can add individual specimens to the Index of Exempted Dogs (IED) if they believe that they do not pose a threat to the public, but the owner will be legally required to neuter the creature, keep it on a lead and muzzled when out in public, and ensure that it is unable to escape from the private property on which it is kept. The owner will also need to take out insurance in case the dog harms anyone.

However, even getting a dog onto the IED is a matter for the court to decide, and dogs suspected of belonging to a banned breed will be taken from their owners and kept in police kennels in the meantime.

Time for a change?

The Dangerous Dogs Act has been controversial ever since its introduction, with campaigners insisting that the breeds forbidden by the law are not necessarily any more hazardous than any other breed.

Another point of contention is that the delineation between breeds is unclear, as it is based on how the dog looks as opposed to its actual lineage.

The RSPCA has objected on these grounds as any dog could be at risk of being seized simply for resembling a banned breed.

And Supt Pat Casserley of West Yorkshire Police has agreed that the law is unbalanced, saying: “This piece of legislation - I don't think it is particularly fair or clear.

“There's an expectation that suddenly police officers will be expert at identify dog genetics and I don't think we are.”

Dr Samantha Gaines of the RSPCA’s companion animals department commented that the current approach was “ineffective at protecting public safety” as the issue was more complicated than what breed a dog is.

“Aggression can be influenced by a range of factors including how dogs are bred, reared and experiences throughout their lifetime,” she said.

But the government seems unlikely to change its stance any time soon. A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) stated: “Dog attacks can have horrific consequences for victims and families.

“While any dog can become dangerous if it is kept by irresponsible owners in the wrong environment, the prohibition of certain types of dog under the Dangerous Dogs Act is crucial to help us deal with the heightened risk they pose.”

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