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.
The RSPCA aren’t alone in expressing frustration at the Government’s proposals. The Dogs Trust was also unhappy and expressed disappointment and frustration that the Written Ministerial Statement on tackling irresponsible dog ownership failed to effectively address two elements that the charity believes are vital to successful policy in this area – compulsory microchipping of all dogs to connect owners with their dogs and preventative measures to reduce the number of dog attacks.
The announcement, which Dogs Trust believes will provide an outline for the government’s future proposals on dangerous dog law, has been long awaited and the charity had hoped that it would signal some significant and effective changes to dangerous dog legislation. It has taken over twenty years of campaigning to get the government to attempt to redress the mistakes that were made by rushing the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 through Parliament.
Dogs Trust believes that compulsory microchipping of all dogs should form a central part of any future policy on tackling irresponsible dog ownership. Microchipping will not prevent attacks but the charity believes that it is the most effective way to link a dog to its owner and to make irresponsible owners accountable for the actions of their dog. Microchipping all puppies is a step in the right direction but will mean that the effectiveness of any policy will be delayed by upwards of 10 years. Dogs Trust research shows that 83% of the UK population believe all dogs should be microchipped – it is hard to understand why government is so reluctant to take this step.
The charity is also concerned that this consultation makes little provision for the prevention of dog attacks. We would like to see the government identify ways to deal with irresponsible owners before an attack takes place, which could take the form of Dog Control Notices to keep dogs on a lead or muzzled in public places where necessary.
Dogs Trust does, however, welcome an extension of the law to private property as this would send a strong signal to owners who fail to keep their dogs under control that they could now face the full force of the law. The charity believes that the most severe attacks should be considered a criminal matter, while minor incidents should continue to be dealt with as a civil matter by the courts under the Dogs Act 1871, but with a power of compensation for the victims of dog attacks.
And finally, in the absence of a repeal of breed specific legislation, Dogs Trust would like new provisions to be introduced that would better improve welfare for dogs that could be deemed to be of ‘type’ by allowing responsible owners to make applications to Court for their dog to be registered and for Magistrates to be given a new power to allow a dog to be returned home on ‘bail’ pending a case being concluded.
Clarissa Baldwin, CEO of Dogs Trust, says:
“The Government has spent a great deal of time examining this legislation since it came to power and whilst we accept DEFRA has done their best to look at this issue, unfortunately, their best is no where near good enough. Not good enough to better protect the public or good enough to improve animal welfare.
“Government must tackle this problem head on with completely new legislation rather than just tinkering around the edges. We’re extremely disillusioned that there is nothing in the consultation on measures that will actually help to prevent dog attacks, which is surely what the aim of these proposals should be. We seem to be waltzing along on this issue rather than the quick step we need to meaningful reform.