Dangerous dog protest to take place in Bristol
Protesters are to gather in the centre of Broadmead on Sunday to demonstrate against dangerous dog legislation.
The protest, due to take place at midday, aims to target Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), which under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (Section 1) bans certain types of dogs in the UK.
The Act makes it a criminal offence to own breeds including Pit Bull Terrier and Japanese Tosa, even if the dog has not acted dangerously, and regardless of whether a complaint has been made against it.
Banned dogs can be captured and in many cases destroyed on the basis of their breed alone. The maximum penalty for possessing a banned dog is a fine of £5,000, or six months’ imprisonment, or both.
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Organised by The Lennox Campaign, the Bristol protest seeks to raise awareness of BSL, which the group claims is “evil” and “killing thousands of innocent family pets” every day.
Breed Specific Legislation seeks to reduce the number of dog attacks in the UK, but many campaigners - including prominent animal welfare and veterinary organisations - maintain the Act is futile.
The Dogs Trust says: “The Act has not reduced the numbers of pit bull type since the Act came in, and it has not reduced the number of dog attacks”.
Meanwhile the British Veterinary Association (BVA) says: “The Act is widely considered to be one of the most ineffective pieces of government legislation ever brought into force”.
And the National Canine Research Council (NCRC) points to a “record of ineffectiveness [which] comes to us from both Europe and North America”.
The Lennox Campaign, the group organising Sunday’s protest, was set up after Lennox, an old American Bull dog Labrador cross, was seized from his owners and eventually put down despite having never harmed a human being or another animal, and having no complaint made against him.
Peaceful protests against BSL organised by other groups have this year taken place in Nottingham, London, Brighton, Glasgow, Cardiff and Manchester. Worldwide events will take place on July 13, 2013.
Aside from maintaining the legislation is futile, campaigners are opposed to the breed specific element of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 for four key reasons:
‘Deed not breed’
Firstly, campaigners maintain it is wrong that dogs can be seized on the basis of their physical characteristics alone. They stand by the motto “deed not breed”, arguing that, in the words of the Dogs Trust: “Breed specific legislation is not effective in tackling the real cause of the problem, which relates to the owner’s actions, or omissions, rather than the type of dog concerned.”
The Trust argues: “Genetics plays only a part in the temperament of an individual dog. Socialisation and environment also have an important part to play.
“A large proportion of dog bite incidents are a result of the irresponsible actions of owners, who have either not taken the time and trouble to train their dog correctly, or have indeed trained them to behave aggressively.
“Consequently any legislation based on genetics that ignores the influence of the dog’s breeder and its subsequent keeper on its behaviour is likely to be ineffective.”
Protesters are calling for the Department of Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to instead focus on irresponsible ownership. They want the law to target those who train or allow their dogs to pose a danger to the public, and not well-behaved, good-natured family pets.
Secondly, many campaigners maintain there is insufficient evidence to support the law.
Citing an article published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the National Canine Research Council (NCRC) says: “There is no scientific evidence that one kind of dog is more likely to bite or injure a human being than another kind of dog; and in no event should dogs be characterised apart from their relationships with human beings.
Thirdly, campaigners feel the act is cruel. The NCRC says: “These laws break our bond with man’s best friend. Dogs are sometimes seized and killed for no other reason than their appearance.
“Animal shelters destroy countless thousands or millions of dogs, rather than attempt to place them in loving homes.
“Pet owners may face the grisly choice of submitting to expensive and onerous requirements, giving up their homes and moving, or turning over a cherished family companion for destruction.”
‘Keeping up appearances’
Fourthly, there are concerns the law encourages so-called ‘status dogs’. Many campaigners maintain animals are being trained to fight and impress, as owning a potentially lethal dog becomes linked to security and social standing.
The Dangerous Dogs Act Study Group, made up of animal welfare organisations, veterinary professionals and local authorities, maintains the legislation has created a 'status dog' problem.
However, not all bodies agree the legislation is flawed. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) backs the prohibition of certain breeds.
ACPOs lead for dangerous dogs, Assistant Chief Constable Gareth Pritchard, said: “In the short term, ACPO supports the continued prohibition of breeds within the Dangerous Dogs Act.
“The Pit Bull Type dog in particular remains the breed of choice in a variety of areas of criminality, and has been responsible for a disproportionately high amount of serious and fatal attacks on people, including young children, in both public and private places.”
‘Time for change’
As a result of their complaints, campaigners are calling for a number of alterations to be made. Firstly, many say microchipping is a vital first step.
The Dogs Trust believes “compulsory microchipping of all dogs should form a central part of any future policy on tackling irresponsible dog ownership”.
It explains: “Microchipping will not prevent attacks, but we believe 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”.
Protesters also advocate the removal of the stipulation to kennel dogs while court proceedings are pending.
As it stands, seized dogs are kept by police until a decision is reached on whether it needs to be destroyed or released. This can take several weeks or months, during which times owners are not allowed to visit their dogs.
Many campaigners also believe mechanisms should be put in place to allow 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. This, campaigners say, would improve welfare for dogs.
ACPO too acknowledges there are improvements to be made. Assistant Chief Constable Pritchard said: “In the longer term, we are keen to move to a system which has early preventative intervention at its core.
“Problem owners and dogs can then be identified, regardless of breed, and appropriate control measures and penalties can be applied, so that serious harm is avoided in the first instance.
“It is in the police service’s interest to tackle the problem of dangerous dogs, not only due to the serious physical and psychological harm that dangerous dogs cause, but also because kennelling dogs is a significant drain on police resources and is of no benefit to the animal or owner.
“We would like to see a more streamlined process which make the prosecutions process quicker, and so reducing the length of time dogs are kennelled.”
The Dogs Trust also advocates the introduction of Dog Control Notices. Already in force in Scotland, these measures would force an owner to take reasonable steps to control their dog after aggression has been demonstrated, but before an attack has taken place.
This could include training, muzzling, microchipping and neutering.
To find out more about The Lennox Campaign, visit www.thelennoxcampaign.co.uk.
To read more about dogs that are banned in the UK, visit www.direct.gov.uk.