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Calls for reform of Dangerous Dogs Act

Reading time: 3 mins 39 secs

Alice Sanderson, October 19, 2018

MPs are calling for a review of current laws surrounding dangerous dogs, following a report by parliament’s environment, food and rural affairs committee.

The new report says that the law as it stands is inconsistent on dangerous dogs and demonstrates disregard for animal welfare.

Current laws

The breeds that are currently banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 are Pit Bull Terriers, Dogo Argentinos, Japanese Tosas and Fila Brasileiros.

In the UK, hundreds of dogs from these breeds are put down every year, and some cross-breeds may also be categorised as a banned breed, depending on their characteristics and size, leading them to be euthanised.

Dogs that are classed as dangerous dogs can be put down or their owners are subject to numerous restrictions. This includes always being muzzled and on a lead when out of the house, and they cannot be rehomed.

Recommendations for change

One of the recommendations of the report is that the law is changed to allow banned breeds to be rehomed.

It also suggests that more research is needed to establish whether illegal dogs pose a greater risk to the public than some breeds which are currently legal.

In addition, the report recommends that people involved in low to mid-level offences should be made to take mandatory dog behaviour awareness and training courses.

While the introduction of the courses for owners is recommended, the cross-party committee has also recommended that dog safety awareness should be taught in schools.

The committee said it was ‘shocking’ that this isn’t on the curriculum and there are no plans to introduce it, despite children under nine being the age group most likely to be hospitalised for a dog bite.

New parents should also be given information on how to protect their children and keep them safe from pets, says the committee.

They said that evidence showed, “human factors played a prominent role prior to the majority of dog attacks and any systematic attempt to reduce the number of incidents needs to place a greater emphasis on education."

Legal breeds

While the law was designed to protect the public from serious injury or death in response to various incidents, the report says that some legal breeds may pose the same risk to public safety as illegal breeds.

Chair of the committee, Neil Parish, said: “Existing laws and the breed ban have not stemmed the rising tide of injuries and deaths from dog attacks.”

He quoted NHS figures showing that there were 7,461 hospitalisations as a result of dog bites in 2017 - up from 4,110 in 2005.

Bristol’s Animal Rescue Centre says that between 1991-2016 37 adults and children died as a result of dog attacks. Of those 28 were by legal breeds.

Comments and response

Committee chair Neil Parish says that the Dangerous Dogs Act is ‘riddled with inconsistencies’ and it is a ‘death sentence’ for many good-natured animals, who are put down due to breed-specific restrictions.

He said: "All dogs can be dangerous, and we can't ban all dogs that might one day bite someone.

"Evidence from across the world shows that the government should focus instead on encouraging responsible ownership, improving education and ensuring offenders face robust penalties."

In response, a spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said there are no plans to amend the current law. They said that "prohibiting breeds of dogs that are bred for fighting is critical to tackling the heightened risk they pose.”

"However, any dog can become dangerous if it is kept by irresponsible owners in the wrong environment, which is why the act covers any type of dog that is dangerously out of control."

Andrew Cullwick, spokesperson for First4Lawyers said: “The rise in hospitalisations for dog bites between 2005 and 2017 suggests that there is a need for change to current laws for dangerous dogs.

“While legal breeds may be causing more injuries, it is important to note that this may be because there are more legal breeds than illegal and statistically it is therefore more likely.

“The Dangerous Dogs Act covers any dog that is dangerously out of control, and the figures quoted by the committee do not show how many of these attacks led to legal dogs being punished, or how many of them were carried out by illegal breeds.

“Education is key when it comes to dog attack prevention, and this applies to all members of society, not just the owners.”