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15 Jul 2022
Organisations join forces to fight legislation that punishes dogs due to their looks as controversial law reaches 30th anniversary this week.
Six of the UK’s leading dog welfare and veterinary groups have joined forces to launch a fight against legislation that gives dogs a ‘death sentence’ due to the way they look.
Battersea, Blue Cross, British Veterinary Association (BVA), Dogs Trust, The Kennel Club and the RSPCA have come together in a bid to lobby for changes to Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act, which applies breed specific legislation (BSL) prohibiting the keeping of four types of dogs.
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said:
“It’s been 30 years since the Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced on 12 August 1991. It was brought in to keep the public safe following a number of tragic incidents involving dogs but was never well thought-out or based on scientific evidence.
“Since then, thousands of innocent dogs have lost their lives simply because they happen to look a certain way and not because of their temperament or behaviour. Hospital admissions due to dog bites have increased dramatically in that time which means the legislation has failed, not only to protect dog welfare, but also to keep people safe.”
August 12 is the 30th anniversary of BSL in the UK. In 2016, the RSPCA launched the #EndBSL campaign calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the legislation, which took place in 2018. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published its findings that year and said a change in the law would be desirable, achievable and would better protect the public.
The Government, however, remains committed to its view that these four types of dogs are more dangerous than others. Defra’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare, released earlier this year, states that it will “ensure dangerous dogs legislation continues to provide effective public safety controls”.
In 2018, Defra commissioned further research into dog control measures, the causes of dog attacks and how to promote responsible dog ownership. We are yet to hear the findings of this research. In the meantime, hospital admissions due to dog bites continue to rise* and dogs continue to lose their lives.
BVA Senior Vice President Daniella Dos Santos said:
“The veterinary profession has long campaigned for a total overhaul of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act because it targets specific breeds rather than deeds and gives a false impression that dogs not on the banned list are ‘safe’.
“All the latest evidence supports our view that breed specific legislation has been ineffective in its intended aims, thereby failing to either properly protect the public or safeguard dog welfare over the last three decades. As the Dangerous Dogs Act completes 30 years, we continue to call on the Government to enact robust, fit-for-purpose legislation that effectively tackles individual acts of aggression and irresponsible ownership, rather than banning entire breeds.”
Battersea chief executive, Peter Laurie, said:
“The Dangerous Dogs Act was created to keep the public safe. However, since it was introduced 30 years ago it has actually done very little to protect the public from dog attacks, with hospital admissions for dog bites having increased by 154% between 1999 and 2019**.
“Every year many friendly dogs are unfairly condemned simply for the way that they look. Ultimately it is rescue organisations like Battersea who care for these dogs and that have to deal with this flawed and unfair legislation. We urge the Government to review the law properly; and work with welfare groups and dog owners to craft new legislation that puts the focus on a dog’s actions rather than its appearance.”
It’s impossible to know how many dogs have lost their lives as a result of BSL across all of the UK’s police forces, pounds and rescue centres but, between 2016 and 2021, Battersea, Blue Cross and RSPCA were forced to euthanise 482 dogs because they’d been identified by police dog legislation officers as prohibited types. Many of these were friendly, loving dogs who could have easily been rehomed to families.
RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said:
“This legislation is outdated, draconian, ineffective and unjust. For 30 years it has judged and punished dogs for how they look and not on their own, unique personalities. It fails dogs, it fails people and it’s time it was repealed and replaced with legislation that is based on robust scientific evidence.
“Aggression is such a complex behaviour and whether a dog chooses to show aggression or not comes down to their breeding, rearing and early-life experiences, as well as the specific circumstances in which they may bite. Any dog has the potential to be dangerous and we need to be focusing our attention on responsible dog ownership and educating people - particularly children who we know are more likely to be bitten - on how to safely interact with our dogs.”
The coalition is calling on the UK Government to commit to ending BSL and, until that time, to allow rescue groups to rehome Section 1 dogs to members of the public.
Blue Cross CEO Chris Burghes said:
“There is simply no other way to put it than for 30 years, the Dangerous Dogs Act has failed both animals and people in the UK. We see rising numbers of attacks and the continued persecution of dogs who have shown no aggression but are demonised because of their looks.
“An urgent repeal of Section One is needed, at the very least, as euthanising, or curtailing the freedoms of well-behaved dogs, simply for their physical measurements is inhumane. It is utterly heart-breaking for Blue Cross teams to be forced by the hand of the law to end the life of healthy, friendly, sentient beings.
“The government needs to focus on cracking down on dog owners who use their dogs for illegal and irresponsible purposes rather than banning breeds based solely on how they look.”
Mark Beazley, chief executive of The Kennel Club, said:
“The UK’s breed specific legislation is deeply flawed - it places a misguided focus on how a dog looks and demonises certain breeds, while diverting attention away from their behaviour, temperament, and importantly, their owner’s actions and conduct.
“On the anniversary of this damaging legislation’s enactment, we, alongside other dog experts, welfare organisations and vets, are urging a repeal of breed specific legislation and a full review of existing dog control laws, which are failing dogs, owners and victims of attacks.”
Dogs Trust chief executive Owen Sharp said:
“We remain deeply concerned about the impact of breed specific legislation on dog welfare. Dogs seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act can spend protracted periods of time in kennels during the court process. They are often kept in poor conditions and many are put to sleep because they cannot legally be rehomed. At Dogs Trust, we believe that all dogs deserve the chance to live a happy life, free from the threat of unnecessary destruction.
“Dogs Trust would like the breed specific element of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to be repealed. Action is instead needed to ensure responsible dog ownership, traceability and accountability of dog owners and the identification and prevention of aggressive behaviour as early as possible. We would like to see preventative legislation come in that focuses on deed not breed.”
Eleanor Singer and her mother, Barbara, spent two years and £20,000 fighting to save the life of an exempted dog, Sky, who ended up in kennels when her owner moved abroad. Defra said keepership could not be changed even though the duo had been helping to take care of her for two years.
They took the case to the High Court and won, helping pave the way for more exempted dogs to be saved. Eleanor said: “Dogs should be judged not by how they look but by how they behave and irresponsible owners should be held accountable. It’s tragic that so many dogs aren’t as lucky as Sky; we’re so glad we kept fighting for her and that she’s helped to save other lives since but it’s so wrong that they have to go through this in the first place.
“Sky lost many years of her life due to BSL but, thankfully, she’s still with us and we hope to have her for many more years to come. Many other dogs don’t get that chance and that’s why we’re supporting the #EndBSL campaign and are calling for the Government to review and repeal this law.”
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