Fewer dangerous dogs put down as they lose status with criminal gangs

The number of dogs killed by the state has fallen in recent years, though dozens are still being put to death.

By Michael Holmes
Wednesday, 24th July 2019, 3:15 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th July 2019, 4:15 pm
Fewer criminals are using status dogs
Fewer criminals are using status dogs

Lancashire Police seized 212 animals under the Dangerous Dogs Act last year and euthanised 76, an investigation found.

That’s down from 279 and 162 respectively five years ago, though officers have noted a rise in the number of reports of dogs being “dangerously out of control in a public place and causing injury”.

The force said there is “no obvious explanation” for the fall in animals being put down and said it would not be able to comment further “without analysing every case”.

Fewer criminals are using status dogs

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She said: “We all wish it weren’t so, but euthanasia is often the kindest and most humane option for dogs who are a true danger to the community.

“It’s good to see that the number of ‘dangerous’ dogs euthanised by Lancashire Police has dropped over the years, suggesting that the Dangerous Dogs Act - which banned the breeding of pit bull terriers, who are often seen by thugs, drug dealers, and others as symbols of toughness and so are the most abused breed - is doing its job.”

The animal charity RSPCA said it was “difficult to comment directly” on the figures released by Lancashire Police because the force did not say how many dogs were seized because they were suspected to be a banned breed, or how many were seized for allegedly being out of control in a public place.

Welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: “Dogs which are suspected of being a prohibited type of dog are typically seized and kennelled during which they will be assessed using a set of standards which are predominantly appearance based.

“In some cases dogs may be returned to their owners under very strict conditions but others will end up being euthanised. It’s incredibly sad that any dog has to lose their life simply because of how they look.”

The RSPCA wants the Government to lift its ban on four breeds of dogs - the Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro, Pit Bull Terrier, and Japanese Tosa - and said it is urging Whitehall to “consider replacing this unfair law with an approach that better protects the public while also ensuring the highest levels of dog welfare”.

Dr Gaines added: “We would urge people to learn how to interact safely with dogs and would encourage any dog owners who are concerned about their pet’s behaviour to speak to a vet or clinical animal behaviourist.”

The current dog laws were branded inconsistent and “misguided”, and not fit-for-purpose after it was revealed that hospital admissions for dog attacks has rocketed by 81 per cent since 2005.

Harmless dogs are being put down because they are banned breeds and cannot be legally rehomed even if they have a good temperament, while four in five dog attacks involved legal breeds, a report from a cross-party committee said.

Police can seize animals they suspect are banned breeds and keep them in kennels for testing.

If they are judged to be banned, their owners must go to court to keep them, proving they are “fit and proper” and their pets are not a risk to the public.

If they are ‘exempted’ - and there are 155 in Lancashire - strict requirements are imposed, including the need to be muzzled and kept on a lead in public.

Exempted dogs can only be given to a new owner if their current one dies or is incapacitated. If they are lost or abandoned, they are likely to be put down.

Tory MP Neil Parish, who chaired the committee, said: “If the original owner could keep it and take it out muzzled and on a leash in public, why can it not be rehomed?”

The committee made several recommendations, including lifting the ban on transferring banned breeds to new owners, if they are deemed safe.

It also called for an independent review into the factors behind dog aggression and attacks, and whether banned breeds pose a greater risk, after finding 80 per cent of attacks involved legal breeds. Owners involved in low to mid-level offences should be sent on dog awareness courses similar to speed awareness courses for drivers.

And there should be awareness campaigns to encourage responsible ownership and to teach children on how to stay safe around dogs, after the committee found youngsters are the most likely victims of attacks.

Mr Parish said: “Each year, thousands of dogs are seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Hundreds are subsequently put down. That might once have been described as a price worth paying to save people from vicious dog attacks, but I was concerned to discover that since the Act was introduced, injury and fatality rates from dog attacks have increased, not gone down.”

He added: “Particular breeds are potentially very dangerous, but they account for only 20 per cent of the bites and attacks.

"The Government need to review how we protect workers and others who enter homes where there may be other dogs that are potentially dangerous. Just sticking to the four breeds on the dangerous dogs list is not working.​

“Any dog can bite, but the larger the dog, the more chance of the attack being a vicious one. Should we therefore ban every large dog that we come across? The answer is that of course we will not. In that case, do not just pick on particular breeds.”

But a debate in Parliament heard how the Government has refused to consider repealing the ban on the transferring of owner, and “considers the prohibition on possession of such dogs should remain in place for reasons on maintaining public safety”.

Blackpool South’s Labour MP Gordon Marsden said he has been the owner of two dogs - one of which was called Tweed, which was found wandering around Weeton.

He told the now former Prime Minister Theresa May late last year: “My wonderful bull terrier-type dog was rescued from the streets, and to think of her being destroyed because her face did not fit in court is chilling.”

And he spoke at his disappointed at the lack of Government action on the committee’s recommendations - and at its refusal to lift the ban on the four breeds outlawed by the current Act.

He said the “issue has aroused strong passions and it affects many personally”, including resort woman Helen Harris, who supports an end to breed-specific legislation. Ms Harris said she worked in a pet shop in 1991 and remembers the “devastation” the Dangerous Dog Act caused “quite a few customers with pit bulls”.

She said: “We allowed people to bring dogs into the shop and every pit bull I met was friendly and happy. Once the law came in and the dogs were no longer allowed off the lead in public places and had to wear a muzzle the dogs noticeably changed.

“I did not live with these dogs and only saw them when they were brought into the shop but they all went from calm happy dogs to very unhappy dogs in a few weeks. Some of them were very hyperactive because of the decrease in exercise.

“They had done nothing wrong and did not know why they were being punished. Breed specific law is not working.

“I understand that that has to be weighed up against all the other issues, but this issue will not go away. Dogs might have been man’s best friend, but man has not always been dog’s best friend.”

She added: “It is crucial for us to reduce the terrible toll meted out to children and adults year after year - but this is actually being aided and abetted by the misidentification of the causes of this particular position.”