The UK is a nation of dog lovers. While the vast majority pose no threat to the public, concern is growing that the Government’s current approach to dog control is failing to protect people adequately. In October the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee published its report following an inquiry that was launched to investigate ‘Breed Specific Legislation’ (BSL) and wider dog control. The inquiry focused on one of the main pieces of legislation, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
The law was introduced to protect the public following a spate of high-profile attacks. Section 1 of the Act makes it illegal to own, sell, breed, give away or abandon specific breeds/types of dog regardless of the animal’s behaviour or temperament. Dogs suspected of being a prohibited type may be seized by the authorities and held in a police-appointed kennel pending examination by a qualified expert. Section 3 of the Act makes it an offence for any dog to be dangerously out of control, regardless of its breed/type. The majority of public concern over the Dangerous Dogs Act has concentrated on the breed ban in section 1, and there have been widespread calls for it to be repealed on animal welfare grounds.
Despite the fairly comprehensive legislative framework aimed at preventing dog attacks, the number of bite and strike incidents has steadily increased over the years. An initial review of the Dangerous Dogs Act, published five years after the law’s introduction, showed no significant reduction in dog bites and further investigations since then have continued to demonstrate the same. As part of the inquiry, the British Veterinary Association, the RSPCA, Dogs Trust, Blue Cross, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and the Kennel Club were unanimous in their condemnation of the breed specific provisions in section 1, concluding that there is a catalogue of research that tells us that breed is not a predictor of risk.
With that said, the legislation is essential to keeping the public safe and should not simply be repealed. It is clear however that children and adults are still suffering catastrophic injuries. The increase in attacks - most of them from legal breeds – would indicate that the current approach is failing to protect the public adequately. What came from the report is a clear message that improvements to public safety that also safeguard animal welfare can be achieved through open-minded engagement with new strategies, in particular education, enforcement and legislative reform, with the committee calling on the Government to carry out a full-scale review of its dog control strategy.
At the present time, a formal response from the Government on the report is awaited.