Here we go again with the subject of banned breeds, dangerous dogs and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Having had forty years in the animal welfare business it becomes a bit tedious. Now it is has been the turn of the poor old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, which has thankfully been reprieved or was it ever at risk?
All the usual protagonists lined up with outrage at PETA for starting the debate and causing anguish to bull terrier owners. The Government is now in the process of reviewing the banning of breeds again and will probably mess everything up as they haven’t got a good track record at formulating animal protection laws that actually protect.
Of course the Staffordshire bull terrier as a breed is not a dangerous dog and I do not think anyone was saying so – were they?
We have been down this road so many times before. Dog breeds of a certain stature suddenly become the victim of trends and crazes and through no fault of their own become the must have dog, with dare I say it, often not with the most sensible owners. A small number who have been ill-treated and trained to be vicious give the breed a bad name.
They are then bred in huge numbers by people hoping to make a quick buck. They are sold or given away to anyone who will have them, making them popular with everyone. Acquired on a whim they quickly become unwanted and fill the rescue centres to breaking point taking up all the space for other types of dogs. Prospective owners get fed up seeing cage after cage of Staffie type dogs and go elsewhere to find a pet. The poor dogs then spend months and sometimes years of their short lives incarcerated. And then someone wants to ban them.
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 as it stands cannot deal with this recurring problem.
I remember well in the late sixties and seventies we had a fad for German Shepherds, particularly as protection dogs, and I remember being constantly called out by the Police as an RSPCA officer to deal with vicious out of control ones, including two that had pulled a young child under a gate and killed her. Pretty soon everyone wanted to ban them. Then as the decades past we had similar problems with the Doberman, then the Rottweiler followed by the Pit Bull. Next no doubt it will be handbag dogs and designer breeds like Chihuahuas which strike out and bite through frustration.
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was introduced to protect humans from dogs and with recent amendments it does what it says on the tin, and if anything is a bit over the top. Any dog of any type that bites or only causes alarm, on public or private property, even your living room, can be seized, destroyed or put on the Index of Exempted Dogs (IED) register, a bit like tagging of humans except they are muzzled and neutered.
What is doesn’t do is give any consideration to the welfare of the dogs suspected of being a banned breed. Therefore everyone wants to get rid of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), which at the moment blanket bans four breeds from being owned and nearly did the same to Staffies.
PETA’s reasoning was that if Staffies became a banned breed they would all need to be neutered under the law thus reducing their numbers and improving their welfare, but there could be other ways.
But as it stands the Act cannot deal with the recurring problem of breeds which from time to time become too popular for their own good and are believed a nuisance to society. A nuisance caused by irresponsible dog ownership I hasten to add.
As the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have suggested we are talking more about vulnerable dogs than dangerous dogs that through our irresponsibility we have allowed to become unwanted and ill-treated in large numbers.
We need a different law to cope with the problem of vulnerable and abused breeds as and when the problems arise.
We have all let Staffies down badly including all the animal charities who have just sat back and let it happen, so we shouldn’t allow any other breed to get into this situation and be penalised.
The Dangerous Dog Act is being reviewed this year and all dog owners should make themselves aware of it and make sure that whatever replaces it has both the dog and human interests equally covered. It is a time for a different law to cope with the problem of vulnerable and abused breeds as and when the problem arises.
We should have a mechanism whereby the law can step in when a breed reaches a crisis point, and gets out of control, by imposing temporary breeding restrictions (not bans) until their unwanted numbers are reduced; restrict the number of dogs anyone can own or keep in one place; and make it mandatory for all owners of that breed to have them neutered, micro-chipped, socialised and trained.
Yes it is complicated, time-consuming and probably expensive, but if we are serious about controlling dogs in the UK, and maintaining their welfare, lets try and think of practical and out of the box solutions.
Of course, any dog can potentially be dangerous or vicious, but there are some breeds with more of a predilection and being too quick in removing the banning option for future use could be a mistake. Just take a look at what is happening with so-called Wolfdogs in the USA.
All dog owners should keep a close eye on the forthcoming review by the Government to make sure their dogs do not lose out.
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