342 Breakthrough on DDA
BREAKING THE DANGEROUS DOGS LAWS
The greatest of many flaws in the outrageous Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991, the mandatory death sentence apart, was in its absurd attempt to identify breeds with any danger posed by savage or out of control dogs. This led to vets, with no qualifications for identifying breeds of dog, and policemen, with no knowledge of dogs at all, being permitted by foolish magistrates to give 'expert' evidence in courts of law. Now, and, unusually, from mainland Europe too, comes an official voice of reason - at long last.
The influential Federation of Veterinarians in Europe has recently published a paper summarising their professional views. This paper states two key points: "The FVE strongly believes that the most effective means of preventing and controlling aggression is to direct measures at the individual dog and its owner". It recommends that legislators "postpone the adoption of further breed-specific legislation until a proper risk assessment has been carried out". If our law-makers and political leaders had exercised comparable caution in 1991, over a thousand innocent dogs would have been saved from destruction.
The minds of these continental vets may have been concentrated by the recent wave of anti-dog hysteria afflicting Germany, France and Holland, or rather the hastier attention-seeking politicians of those countries. But the question has to be asked: what were British vets, the RSPCA and our Kennel Club thinking about when they advised on the DDA ten years ago? The Act specifies that: "...the Secretary of State shall consult with such persons or bodies as appear to him to have relevant knowledge or experience, including a body concerned with animal welfare (i.e. the RSPCA), a body concerned with veterinary science (i.e. the British Veterinary Association) and a body concerned with breeds of dog (i.e. the Kennel Club)."
This Act was in fact instructing the Secretary of State to consult the RSPCA, whose remit is to prevent cruelty to animals not to humans, the BVA, whose knowledge of animal behaviour is extremely limited, and the KC, which has no knowledge whatsoever of the pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino or Fila Brasileiro, breeds mentioned in the Act or its subsequent import controls. As a result of such Alice-in-Wonderland legislation, we have had one RSPCA inspector devoting his time to activities beyond the remit of his organisation, two particular vets spending hours in court giving 'evidence' on a subject for which they were not qualified and the KC trying to keep its head down.
Bigger culprits in this fiasco have been the police service, the Met in particular, which has acted shamefully, sometimes misusing the Act to prevent legal aid from being claimed by defendants. Police 'witnesses' have stood up in court and claimed greater knowledge of Bull Terriers than men who have spent their whole lives in the breed. And naive magistrates have believed them. But whilst the police service continues to dip in polls of public confidence, who are the guilty men in the RSPCA and the KC who helped to draft such ill-informed, mistaken and wrongly-directed legislation? Are they not man enough to put their hands up and admit their lack of wisdom?
Two recent court cases illustrate the sheer folly of this odious Act. In October 2000 the Kent police charged the owner of a Yorkshire Terrier, yes, a Yorkshire Terrier, under the Dangerous Dogs Act for allowing his tiny dog to be 'dangerously out of control' in a public place. My God! There are times when you feel sorry for the public over the terrifying dangers they face in modern Britain! Luckily the Yorkie's owner contacted the admirable Fury Defence Fund, and the offence was changed to one under the 1871 Dogs Act. The little dog thereby was spared a possible destruction order. What kind of police force is it that has the time, let alone the lack of common sense, to pursue such idiotic cases?
The second case, also in October 2000, concerned a lurcher called Sam, whose owner was summoned under the DDA by the Essex police, after a minor squabble between Sam and another lurcher. Again the Fury Defence Fund stepped in and Sam was found not guilty, sparing his owner a criminal record. The DDA was designed to reduce the number of unprovoked attacks on people by savage dogs. It was NOT designed to reduce the incidence of dog versus dog minor disputes. What motivates the Essex police to seek the destruction of a dog through the misuse of a bad law in an incident when two pet dogs have a difference of opinion? What is happening to our once much-respected police service?
The passing of this Act has not reduced the incident rate of dog-bites in Britain. It has however achieved a great deal, none of it good. Over a thousand dogs destroyed, decades of police time wasted - as violent crime soars in many areas, the BVA, the RSPCA and the KC made to look unfit for their role and the public insulted by the culpable crassness of misguided law-makers. The quiet sanity of the European Vets, in their recent report, makes stark contrast to the combined insanity of a number of public bodies in Britain, a country once admired for its levelheadedness, but now a country being threatened by dangerous Yorkies! Anyone out there with a pugnacious Peke? Start saving for your court case straightaway!