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Clear steer on dangerous dogs

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THE Government has made clear that it intends to tackle the problem of ‘irresponsible ownership of dangerous dogs’, although quite how it intends to do this has still to be clarified. The results of a recent Defra consultation on the issue may not provide all the answers – but they should give the Government a pretty good steer.

The consultation was launched by the previous administration, before the General Election (VR, March 13, 2010, vol 166, p 311). Defra has now published a summary of the results,* and the Government intends to announce its approach to the issue early in the New Year.

A total of 4250 responses were received to the consultation, which perhaps reflects the strength of feeling this issue provokes. Despite the complexity of the issue, and unlike some of the documents produced after previous consultations, Defra's summary of the results is helpful both in highlighting the range of opinions expressed and clarifying where the majority opinion lies.

In presenting the results, Defra summarises the views of all respondents, as well as the views of ‘key interested parties’ – that is, 31 organisations that it has identified as having a direct involvement with dangerous dogs. It has also included representative comments from those answering either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questions asked in the original consultation.

Among the findings were that 88 per cent of all respondents and 24 of the 31 key interested parties did not consider that breed-specific legislation is effective in protecting the public from dangerous dogs. Similarly, 71 per cent of all respondents and 20 of the key interested parties believed that breed-specific legislation should be repealed. Seventy-eight per cent of all respondents and 26 per cent of the key interested parties agreed that dangerous dogs legislation should be consolidated into one law, while 68 per cent of all respondents and 28 of the key interested parties considered that the introduction of dog control notices would be a good idea. Meanwhile, 84 per cent of all respondents and 27 of the key interested parties were in favour of all dogs being identified by microchip.

The results of the consultation add weight to a recent call, made by a group of 20 organisations, for the main political parties to address inadequacies in the current laws on dangerous dogs, and to take a more holistic approach to the problems arising from irresponsible dog ownership (VR, September 4, 2010, vol 167, p 357). The BVA was among those signing up to that call, having pressed for reform of the legislation for some time.

The BVA was also considered to be a ‘key interested party’ in Defra's analysis of the responses to its consultation, along with organisations that included animal welfare charities, local authorities, police and other enforcement agencies. In a detailed response to the consultation, backed up by evidence provided by the BSAVA, the BVA called for an end to breed-specific legislation that targets dogs based on the way they look rather than their actions. It pointed out that there is no rational basis for breed-specific legislation, and that there is no evidence that the breed-specific legislation contained in Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act has been effective in reducing the incidence of aggressive behaviour in dogs or bite-related injuries. As an alternative, it suggested that new legislation should include compulsory microchipping and registration of all dogs, along with a system of control notices for dogs which are out of control and measures to educate the public about responsible pet ownership.

It is to be hoped that the Government will act on the results of the consultation exercise. In the meantime, a comment from Defra last week that ‘the Government is currently working on a proposal for a project to look at the motivations, barriers and social norms surrounding the acquisition and keeping of “status” dogs in urban communities in the UK’ is encouraging. As highlighted in a debate at this year's BVA Congress, ‘status’ dogs are part of a wider problem in society, and it will not be possible to solve the problem without understanding the root cause and addressing the issues in an integrated way (VR, October 2, 2010, vol 167, pp 508–509).


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