MISSED OPPORTUNITY TO PREVENT DOG ATTACKS
Veterinary associations have described the Government’s package on dangerous dogs as a missed opportunity to prevent future dog attacks.
The package (for England) includes an extension of dangerous dogs law to cover private property, the removal of the requirement for all dogs to be held in police ‘custody’ and a range of options to introduce the compulsory microchipping of all dogs.
The announcement follows the 2010 Defra consultation on a wide range of dangerous dog and dog control issues.
Although the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) broadly welcome the individual measures announced, the proposals do not include any of the preventive measures that the BVA, BSAVA and many other organisations and individuals have called for since the introduction of the failed Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991.
Commenting, Harvey Locke, Past President of the BVA, said:
“In the 2010 consultation the Government received the message loud and clear that the Dangerous Dogs Act has failed to protect both the public and dog welfare. Unfortunately, today’s announcement has missed this once in a generation opportunity to overhaul the legislation.
“Dog welfare charities, veterinary organisations, trade unions, and enforcement bodies have been united in the call for a complete overhaul of the legislation and a new, consolidated Bill to focus on prevention. There will be a huge amount of frustration and disappointment with today’s announcement.”
Mark Johnston, President of BSAVA, said:
“Although we welcome the individual proposals they only tinker with the inadequate existing laws. The move to cover incidents on private property is a positive step but it will do little or nothing to actually prevent attacks happening in the first place.
“We are pleased that the Government has recognised the problems associated with breed-specific legislation and has proposed steps to ensure the welfare of dogs that have become the subject of court proceedings. This type of ‘bail’ for dogs is a welcome move to improve welfare, but we hope we can make the case for it to go further.”
On compulsory microchipping, Mr Locke added:
“The BVA strongly supports the introduction of compulsory microchipping and will be making the case for all dogs to be microchipped from a certain date, rather than a phased-in approach that would be very difficult to enforce.
“However, microchipping is primarily a welfare measure. It is not the answer to the serious problem of dangerous dogs and shouldn’t be promoted as such.”
The Government has wasted the best opportunity to tackle irresponsible dog ownership in more than 20 years, claimed the RSPCA today.
The country’s biggest animal welfare charity has accused Defra of ignoring the advice of the country’s dog law enforcement agencies, and instead launching yet another unnecessary consultation.
The RSPCA’s believes the coalition has broken its promise, set out in its ‘programme for government’, to “promote responsible pet ownership” and that it “will ensure that enforcement agencies target irresponsible owners of dangerous dogs.”1
An extension of the law to cover private property, as well as public land, is a step in the right direction. However, along with compulsory microchipping of puppies, it is a purely reactionary measure that fails to prevent dog bites and attacks from happening in the first place.
The RSPCA also fear suggestions of an increase in the fee to have dogs put on the exempted register from £24 to more than £70 could lead to more people choosing instead to have their dog put to sleep rather than pay costs of up to an estimated £850 for it to be exempted.2
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “Britain’s dogs deserve better. Too many are abandoned and abused, demonised and dumped. All owners need to be accountable to their dogs, the irresponsible deterred and the abusive prosecuted. That is the approach we need to take. These proposals need to go a lot further to achieve that.
“It has been 21 years since the disastrous Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced. After years of watching the problem of irresponsible dog ownership spiral, this was the perfect chance for the current Government to make huge strides forward for dog welfare. Instead they have taken only the smallest steps and merely tinkered with a piece legislation that many people widely acknowledge is one of the biggest failures of modern politics.
“These measures not only lack bite, they raise major questions about how exactly they expect to effectively tackle the danger of irresponsible ownership to both people and animals.
“Animal rescue centres are filled to breaking point with unwanted, neglected and cruelly treated dogs. Irresponsible owners are continuing to make money from breeding dogs with little care for their health or welfare. Meanwhile, people continue to be put at risk of being attacked or injured by out of control dogs and their irresponsible owners.
“The proposals set out by the Government in Westminster today do not appear to fundamentally address these growing problems of irresponsible dog ownership.
“Instead, Defra has only papered over the cracks of much more serious matters than this response gives credit to. The RSPCA believe enough is enough.”
The launch of a new consultation puts England once again on the back foot in tackling irresponsible ownership, compared to other home nations.
Northern Ireland remains the last part of the UK to retain a dog licensing scheme, while the Welsh Government is currently working on proposals for the control of dogs and Scotland has just updated its dog control legislation providing for earlier intervention. This leaves England trailing in last place again.
Defra’s announcement today also ignores the 78% of respondents to the previous Government’s consultation on dangerous dogs who said they believe current legislation should be consolidated and updated into one law.3
Mr Grant added: “They do not appear to understand what the people want and what the dogs need.
“It has not listened to those who deal with this problem on the frontline – the police, the local authorities and the RSPCA and other animal charities and vets.
“There has been more than two years since the last consultation to ensure the Government got this right. The RSPCA, along with the other law enforcement agencies, have stated on numerous occasions the measures we believe are vital to solve what is a huge social, public safety and animal welfare issue.
“Yet here we are again, and the Government has once more ignored the advice of those who deal with irresponsible dog owners every day.”