Animal welfare groups call for an end to dog breed specific legislation
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Leading animal welfare and veterinary organisations have joined forces to demand an end to breed specific legislation (BSL). It comes as Friday marks the 31st anniversary of the Dangerous Dogs Act which came into force in 1991 following a spate of dog attacks in the UK.
Campaigners want part of the law repealed which labels four types of dogs – Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro – as dangerous based on their looks.
They argue that BSL is not fit for purpose and the focus should be on encouraging owners to be responsible.
RSPCA campaign manager, Shelley Phillips, said: “We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but that’s what BSL does. It says that dogs who look a certain way are more likely to be aggressive or dangerous than other dogs.
“This is completely unfair and untrue, and also lulls the public into a false sense of security that only certain types of dogs can bite.
“There’s no robust scientific evidence to suggest that these types of dogs are more dangerous, more likely to use aggression or have a unique bite style that could cause more serious harm, than any other type of dog.
“We need to move away from outdated, ineffective legislation that sentences dogs to death because they happen to look a certain way, and we need to focus on helping dog owners be responsible, providing support to dogs who have shown early signs of behavioural difficulties, and educating the public on how to safely interact with dogs. These dogs don’t deserve to die.”
If a dog is suspected of being of banned type they will be assessed by police against a list of criteria.
If they are identified as being of a prohibited type then their owner must have them exempted through the courts and if approved follow strict rules such as always keeping them on the lead and muzzled in public.
Banned types cannot be rehomed meaning charities such as the RSPCA are forced to put dogs to sleep even if they are friendly.
Battersea chief executive Peter Laurie said: “We have long been calling for a complete overhaul of the law around banned breeds.
“For 31 years this ineffective legislation has unfairly punished thousands of innocent dogs and ultimately failed to protect the public.
“We are urging the Government to review this legislation and make it fairer and more effective for humans and dogs alike.”
Dogs Trust CEO Owen Sharp said: “Dogs seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act can spend protracted periods of time in kennels during the court process, often in poor conditions, and too many healthy dogs are put to sleep because they are prohibited and cannot legally be rehomed.”
Blue Cross CEO Chris Burghes said: “Another year passes and we have seen no progress on a repeal of Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act and more innocent canine lives lost.
“Academics, policymakers and charity experts are all in agreement this legislation has failed for the 31 years it has been in force. Section 1 dogs continue to be demonised and euthanised on looks alone.
“I hope this anniversary serves as a wake-up call to the Government to make the urgent changes that have been requested for so long, such as giving animal welfare charities powers to rehome Section 1 dogs and undertaking a review of all dog control legislation.”
It comes after independent research commissioned by the Government and published by Middlesex University last year cast doubt on the basis of BSL.
Meanwhile, NHS data shows that the number of hospital admissions due to dog-related injuries has increased since it was introduced.
Dr Ed Hayes, head of public affairs at The Kennel Club, said: “Any dog can be a wonderful pet if trained and socialised properly, and demonising certain types of dogs is not only unfair, it is also dangerous.
“BSL has failed to reduce the number of dog bite incidents, and has only served to make certain breeds of dogs more desirable to the wrong types of people, proving that action should instead focus on prevention and ‘deed not breed’.”
British Veterinary Association president Justine Shotton added: “A complete overhaul of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act is urgently needed.
“Blanket targeting of specific breeds rather than tackling the root causes of why dogs act in an aggressive way gives a false and dangerous impression that dogs not on the banned list are safe – this fails to properly protect the public or safeguard dog welfare.
“We are disappointed that despite the findings of last year’s independent report by the University of Middlesex, the Government has failed to include a review of breed-specific legislation as part of its ongoing work on responsible dog ownership.”
Defra has been contacted for comment.
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