The Dangerous Dogs Act: It’s Time For Breed Specific Legislation To Go & Go Now

Well, here we are. It’s 2008 and we’ve had a total of 17 years to evaluate the effectiveness of Lord Baker’s personally endorsed canine legislation: The Dangerous Dogs Act. So, how well has it been working?

Well here’s a bit of an insight: A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do an interview for BBC’s The One Show (to be broadcast Monday 10th November, 7.00pm) regarding the DDA – specifically BSL (breed specific legislation) – only there was a bit of a problem. The makers of the show wanted/needed someone to put forward ‘the other side’ i.e the case for BSL within the DDA. Nobody would step forward. They tried every avenue. The govt, the police, the original legislator – not a single person could they find who was willing to appear on camera and give a glowing endorsement for this highly derided piece of legislation. Quite telling.

But it’s certainly not compelling enough to scrap this law purely because of this superficial piece of reasoning. No. But it is compelling to scrap this law when we look at the figures.

Banning a ‘type’ of dog breed is an impossible law to uphold.

Many people simply don’t realise what breed bans actually are. Because – straight off the bat – they are NOT breed bans. They are breed ‘type’ bans. And there’s the problem. A breed ‘type’ opens up an area of ambiguity that simply destroys any chance whatsoever of being able to fairly and effectively outlaw the breeds deemed ‘dangerous’.

Here’s an illustration:

Here we have a fairly stereotypical ‘pedigree’ Rottweiler dog. Most people would agree that this is a fair interpretation of the ‘breed’:

Now, let us imagine for a moment that the Rottweiler was added to the list of banned breeds (Oh, and please bear in mind – the secretary of state can add ANY breed to the list of illegal breeds at any time).

So the dog pictured above (great dog that he is) is now illegal, liable for euthanasia based on nothing more than his genes and appearance.

But wait. This is not how the law works. The key word is ‘type’. It is not ‘pit bull terriers’ who are banned in the UK, it is ‘pit bull type’ dogs. There is no definitive ‘pit bull terrier’ here. So what does ‘type’ do to this equation? Let me show you…

The law is now changed. Added to the list goes the ‘Rottweiler type’ dog. So let’s take a look at this guy:

Hmmm. Is this a ‘Rottweiler type’? Maybe? Probably? Could be?

How about this:

^^Looks like a Staffordshire x Rottweiler to me. But make no mistake folks, under our DDA (section 1), if the Rottweiler ‘type’ was added to the list of banned breeds, this dog too would fall foul of the legislation.

Now, let us imagine you are a policeman or a dog warden. You’re out and about doing your daily rounds, serving the public and you see a little old gent walking toward you exercising this dog…

dorisb_juno.jpg

Are you going to seize it? You – technically – should you know! I mean, yes seizing dogs like this one (below) is easy, even a (very) lay person can tell what kind of a ‘breed’ this is:

but how about this guy?

bcdh_james.jpg

or this one?

bcdh_barney.jpg

Hard, isn’t it? You might even say, impossible. I mean, I’m pretty familiar with many dog breeds, I happen to own a Rottweiler and I can see the dogs pictured are ‘of Rottweiler type’ but for all I know they may have absolutely no Rottweiler in their immediate parentage at all. So how am I meant to enforce the law? How can I possibly be sure? Do I seize anyway? If I do, I could – in fact probably AM – ripping apart a family’s life. Think about it for a second, regardless of what breed you own, how WOULD you feel if someone came and took your dog from you and said ”Sorry pal, your dog’s now illegal. I know it’s not done anything but it fits the description of the banned type so we’re carting it off to live in some kennels for a bit. See you in court”. Honestly, how WOULD you feel?

So if we have established that the law is an absolute impossibility to even begin to enforce. If we can establish that the law is focused on the appearance of a ‘breed type’ rather than any dangerous behaviour, we must then look at the figures. Surely such a horrendously complex and derided law must, at least, have going for it a record of success?

Well, unsurprisingly, no. It doesn’t.

Dog attacks have risen. Millions (and I DO mean MILLIONS) of pounds of tax payer’s money has been spent on ‘enforcing’ the Dangerous Dogs Act. This is money that could easily have been diverted in to education campaigns, putting more dog wardens on the street, providing animal control officers with more resources and generally investing in schemes that focus on owners, not breed types. If we HAD done this, I’d lay a personal bet that we would have seen a genuine impact. If we HAD steered away from the ludicrous notion of labeling certain breeds as ‘dangerous’ (thus defining the ‘legal’ breeds as ‘non dangerous’) we would not have created a demand from certain types of dog owner who are attracted to so-called ‘dangerous breeds’. We’ve not only failed to make an impact on the dangerous dogs problem, we’ve gone and ADDED to it!

So this leaves us in a strange position. Hardly ANYONE in power believes in section 1 of the DDA. Dog owners, by and large, don’t even understand how it works (hopefully my Rottweiler scenario helps to explain the flaws) and the major animal welfare organisation have ALL stated a position of being against the notion of breed specific legislation. We even have a group known as the Dangerous Dogs Act Study Group, which is in place – one would presume – to offer solutions and alternatives to this monumentally flawed piece of legislation. And so I have but one question; Why do we still have this law? Why, nearly two decades later are we still saddled with section 1 (breed specific legislation)? And further more, what do we need to do to get it repealed in favour of a fairer, more effective law?

Here’s my 3 pronged proposal:

1) If you are a major animal welfare group, dog related organisation or individual who is – genuinely – against BSL, then don’t just say ‘we’re against BSL’, that is NOT enough. Come out and call for a repeal of section 1 and do it now. If you don’t, you really have no basis to call yourself anti BSL. It’s very, very simple. Section 1 of the DDA is the BSL part. That’s the bit where the problems are. Call for a repeal. There’s no excuse not to. None. Not one. Either call for a repeal or face the accusation of double standards.

2) The Dangerous Dogs Act Study Group needs to either step up or step off. We still have section 1 of the DDA, so what – exactly – have they achieved? if the DDASG isn’t publicly going to call for an immediate repeal of section 1, then as far as I’m concerned they may as well be supporting it. This is a money where your mouth is time folks. If people are not out there, banging fists on desks, lobbying politicians and actually calling for an end to BSL (rather than being mealy mouthed about being ‘anti BSL’ in theory) then we’ll still have BSL in the UK. It really is that simple.

3) The media and the public must, absolutely must, be in full possession of the facts. Anti BSL campaigners are NOT, despite what some would have you believe, a bunch of pit bull enthusiasts who want to be importing dangerous dogs. This is so far removed from the reality, it’s painful to even have to accept that it IS what some people believe. There are thousands and thousands of bull breed dogs in the UK RIGHT NOW which could fit the description of ‘type’. They are illegal dogs. Their owners are breaking the law – their owners don’t even know it! And how could they? If two legal breeds can produce offspring that fits the physical description of ‘type’ then that alone proves how flawed this law is. Think about it for a second, a boxer crossed with a mastiff could (easily) produce puppies which grow up to be ‘type / illegal’? It’s madness. The media and the public must understand this. We must try and help people to understand this. We must get away from this groundless fear about certain breeds being inherently dangerous – the facts are, the proof is, they are not. We have to communicate this message far and wide.

Whilst the UK has a law which permits dogs to be killed as a result of what they look like we have no right to begin to call ourselves a nation of animal lovers.

If you care, if you are motivated, if you’d like your voice to make a difference on ending BSL in the UK – please visit www.cfidos.co.uk – Thank you.

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