‘Dog Asbos’ for dangerous pets

By Alex Stevenson

The government is proposing to give police and councils the power to impose ‘dog control notices’ as part of a crackdown on dangerous dogs, but a prominent backbencher has criticised the proposals for not going far enough.

Environment secretary Hilary Benn said growing public concern about dog attacks was a “serious issue of public safety” after the RSPCA saw a 12-fold increase in complaints about dog fights between 2004 and 2008.

Dangerous dog attacks on the rise

New guidance is being published for MPs and councillors to help tackle antisocial behaviour which includes dog-related issues. Later this year police or local authorities will be able to ask the courts to stop gang members from doing a number of things, including being in charge of an animal in a public place.

Later this morning home secretary Alan Johnson will tell an audience in central London the government views the problem as being closely linked with antisocial behaviour.

“Britain is a nation of animal lovers, but people have a fundamental right to feel safe on the streets and in their homes,” he said.

“The vast majority of dog owners are responsible, but there is no doubt that some people breed and keep dogs for the sole purpose of intimidating others, in a sense using dogs as a weapon.

“It is this sort of behaviour that we will not tolerate; it is this sort of behaviour that we are determined to stop.”

A consultation launched today reveals plans to introduce compulsory microchipping for dogs, the introduction of compulsory third party insurance so dog attack victims are financially compensated and the extension of dangerous dog laws to cover all places – including private property.

The latter is expected to help postal workers, telecoms engineers and others whose work takes them on to private land.

Not all are impressed by the proposals, however. Conwy MP Betty Williams, who was the victim of a dog attack in September, told politics.co.uk that she wanted the government to go further, by automatically impounding all dogs who commit an attack involving a bite.

“A vicious attack like this leaves you with a mental scar. I’ve not been to a park since this incident,” she said.

Conwy MP Betty Williams tells the story of her dog attack nightmare

Existing legislation is dominated by the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which Ms Williams said most MPs present subsequently conceded had been “hurried”.

Dog attack MP rejects control proposals

Four types of dogs are currently banned, making it illegal to breed or keep one of these breeds unless a court places the dog on the exempted dog index.

These dogs must be neutered, tattoed, microchipped, muzzled and on a lead in public.

Today’s consultation backs considering removing the exemption rules altogether, or reforming the system to ensure it works more effectively.

Mr Benn commented: “The government wants to hear what people think about the law as it stands and what more we might do to protect people from dangerous dogs.”

The RSPCA has expressed concern that ‘status’ dogs, as well as being intimidating and causing injury, are often victims of animal cruelty themselves through neglect or conditioning to encourage aggressive behaviour.

“Status, dangerous and prohibited dogs are often victims of animal cruelty themselves, with suffering inflicted on them through neglect or conditioning to encourage aggressive behaviour, eg hanging from trees and illegal dog fighting,” it said in a statement.

It agreed with the government that the issue is linked with gang culture and socio-economic issues, backing a “coordinated approach”.

The statement added: “This approach should be two-pronged; to address the immediate problems in the short term through better resources for education and enforcement, but also develop more effective policy and legislation for the long-term that tackles the root cause of the problem – indiscriminate breeding and irresponsible dog owners.”