‘Innocent’ dogs being destroyed under Dangerous Dogs Act

Read the original article by Patrick Sawer at telegraph.co.uk here.

More than half the dogs killed after being seized by police have not harmed anyone, new figures have revealed – prompting calls for urgent reform of the legislation.

Figures reveal for the first time that the majority of dogs destroyed after being seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act, which bans breeds such as pit bull terriers and Japanese tosas, had not exhibited any dangerous behaviour or been involved in any incident with the public.

The latest available figures show that in 2015/16 a total of 307 dogs were destroyed after being seized, but that 175 of these (57 percent) would be widely regarded as “innocent”.

Indeed the vast majority of dogs seized during that period – 599 out of a total of 731- had not attacked anybody or showed dangerous intentions. Yet owners face a long and expensive legal fight to try and get their pets back.

The figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, have prompted animal welfare charities to denounce the Dangerous Dogs Act as a blunt instrument which allows police to seize and destroy dogs simply because they belong to a banned breed, not because they have done anything wrong.

And they say it ignores the potential danger posed by dogs that are not banned, lulling the public into a false sense of security about other breeds.

Born Innocent, which campaigns for the act to be replaced, said it allows for police to seize dogs of any breed or crossbreed that may look like a pit bull, irrespective of behaviour.

The charity said: “Our FOI analysis shows 82 percent of the dogs seized had done nothing wrong. We believe the Dangerous Dogs Act is not only unscientific and cruel, it is also costly to the public and wastes police time, whilst the issue of preventing dog bites is not being addressed.

“Bites and mortality have grown since the Act was introduced and one of the reasons, according to expert researchers, is that it creates a false belief that all other dogs are safe. Society is failing to address the issue of bite prevention correctly.”

The charity has launched a petition on the parliament.uk/petitions website calling for the law to be reformed. It found that in the past eight years £3 million has been spent on kenneling seized dogs and over £5m on police costs for investigation and prosecutions and argues that instead suspected banned breeds should be allowed to stay at home during investigations.

The new data comes after it was revealed that police in Northamptonshire seized a fluffy puppy under the Dangerous Dogs Act when it bit an officer on the hand and arm after running into the road.

The officer had tried to stop the 16-week old dog after it ran out of the drive of the family’s £2 million home near Towcester, last Saturday.

Bungle, a Chow Chow, was later returned to its owners, David and Susan Hayes, after they agreed to a voluntary control order.

The couple, who were inundated with messages of support, said: “It is not just us that feels the outcome of this accident is grossly draconian and disproportionate.”

Northampton police said it would have been negligent “to release a dog displaying such obvious aggression without first ensuring both the dog’s and the wider public’s safety”.

The 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act was passed after a series of attacks left several people, including children, severely injured.

But doubts have long existed about its efficacy, with NHS figures showing the number of people treated in hospital after a dog attack going up from 4,110 in 2005 to 7,461 in 2017.

Only last month MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee called for a full-scale review of current legislation to provide better protection for the public.

In its report the Committee said the Government should concentrate on educating dog owners – with speed-awareness style courses to make them more responsible – as well as imposing robust sanctions for offenders.

The Committee also highlighted evidence showing that some legal breeds can pose just as much a danger as illegal ones.

Neil Parish, Chair of the Committee, said: “Existing laws and the breed ban have not stemmed the rising tide of injuries and deaths from dog attacks. This is unacceptable. Our evidence was clear that the law is riddled with inconsistencies, harms animal welfare unnecessarily, and offers false reassurances to policymakers and the general public.

“All dogs can be dangerous, and we can’t ban all dogs that might one day bite someone. The Government should focus instead on encouraging responsible ownership, improving education, and ensuring offenders face robust penalties.”

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Dog attacks can have horrific consequences for victims and families and we must take any necessary steps to help prevent these.

“The Dangerous Dogs Act makes it a criminal offence for any dog to be dangerously out of control, and the police can seize such dogs.

“When a dog is seized, it will be for the courts to decide whether the owner can keep it, based on the dog’s temperament and whether the owner is a fit and proper person, including that they have the right accommodation to care for the dog.”

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