NATIONAL WORKING TERRIER FEDERATION (N.W.T.F.)
DANGEROUS DOGS CONSULTATION - N.W.T.F. Response 31st May 2010.
DANGEROUS DOGS PUBLIC CONSULTATION
A RESPONSE BY
THE NATIONAL WORKING TERRIER FEDERATION
31st May 2010
The National Working Terrier Federation (N.W.T.F.) is grateful for the opportunity to respond to this consultation and is happy to have its response made publicly available.
While sharing the concerns with respect to the use of some types/breeds of dogs as status/fighting dogs, by certain elements of society, we also recognise that one man’s “status dog” is another man’s loyal companion or another’s family pet. We also recognise that by far the vast majority of dogs fall into the latter two categories and only a very tiny minority the first.
In our view the real issue is one which more relates to the antisocial behaviour of a small and irresponsible section of our society, rather than that of the canine world or indeed the vast majority of dog owners who do behave in a thoroughly responsible manner.
We acknowledge the work, carried out by Defra and the Police, with respect to their review of existing legislation, and the comments of the then Minister, Jane Kennedy (April 2009) commenting on its findings “…it was clear that, while the legislation was sound, more needed to be done to raise awareness of the law and improve enforcement… We believe that better enforcement of the current law, ideally through local partnerships, will be more effective at tackling the problem of dangerous dogs than amending it.”
We support both the review findings and the comments of the then Minister, and are of the opinion that this review along with the subsequently published guidance for law enforcers (April 2009), and the public (June 2009) do serve to further ”raise awareness of the law and improve enforcement”.
We believe existing law in this area to be comprehensive and adequate, and that better enforcement of the present law is needed rather than any further legislation. We are also most concerned that some of the current proposals, particularly those relating to compulsory microchipping and insurance, would at a time of national austerity place an unnecessary burden on the majority of responsible dog owners and simply be ignored by those it is meant to target.
OPTION 1: AN EXTENSION OF CRIMINAL LAW (I.E. SECTION 3 OF THE 1991 ACT) TO ALL PLACES, INCLUDING PRIVATE PROPERTY.
1. Do you think that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 should be extended to cover all places, including private property where a dog is permitted to be? Why?
No. Current legislation already addresses this situation and gives extensive powers to magistrates.
2. Do you think that extending the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to cover all places could have a financial impact upon the police, court service, Crown Prosecution Service? Why?
Yes. Enabling prosecutions under the criminal law would clearly have financial implications both for the courts and the CPS as well as the police. Any increase in prosecutions would also have financial consequences in terms of the numbers of dogs requiring kennelling while individual cases are being determined, including appeals.
3. Do you think that extending the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to cover all places could have a financial impact upon welfare organisations/dog homes? Why?
Possibly Yes. It’s very much dependent upon whether such an extension leads to the abandonment of any significant number of dogs.
OPTION 2: ADDITIONS OR AMENDMENTS TO (INCLUDING POSSIBLE REPEAL) OF SECTION 1 OF THE 1991 ACT
4. Do you think that breed-specific legislation, in its current form, is effective in protecting the public from dangerous dogs? Why?
In a very limited fashion, yes (see 7. below). Clearly there are difficulties associated with breed specific legislation, not least the inherent difficulty in identifying whether or not a particular dog belongs to a specific breed or type. Similarly, not all dogs of a particular breed or type can justifiably be classed as dangerous.
Most dogs regardless of breed, type or size, if left uncontrolled might reasonably be regarded as being dangerous. For example any dog which is left to roam in an uncontrolled manner could cause road traffic accidents, and attack livestock, other pets and small children. The degree and type of “danger” which an animal poses is very much down to the actions of their owner and the manner in which they conduct themselves.
The offence of being “dangerously out of control in a public place” applies to any dog, regardless of breed or type. If the law is to be truly effective then it must ultimately be targeted more towards those individuals having responsibility for dogs and their behaviour, rather than at the dogs themselves.
5. Do you think that breed-specific legislation should be extended to include other breeds or types of dogs? If yes, which?
6. If breed-specific legislation were extended to include other breeds or types of dogs, what is the evidence to justify doing so?
We are not aware of any evidence to support such a move.
7. Do you think that breed-specific legislation should be repealed? Why?
No. Despite its limitations the current law, if properly enforced is available to the police and prosecutors and may act as a deterrent to some who might otherwise acquire dogs of a prohibited breed/type for all the wrong reasons.
8. Do you think extending breed-specific legislation would have a financial impact upon other organisations, such as the police, court service and dog shelters? If yes, in what way?
Yes. The assumption being that any such extension of the law would result in an increase in the number of prosecutions and all the associated costs. This includes kennelling during the often lengthy process of determining whether a particular dog is or is not of a given breed/type, and whether it is or is not actually dangerous in the sense of posing a risk. There is also a further risk of an increase in abandonments with financial consequences for shelters.
9. Do you think repealing breed-specific legislation would have a financial impact upon other organisations, such as the police, court service and dog shelters? If yes, in what way?
Yes. Assuming reduced legislation lead to fewer prosecutions, thus saving any associated costs. There is also the possibility of a reduction in the number of abandonments of dogs which might possibly be considered to be of a proscribed breed. If so, this could also lead to a reduction in the number of dog shelter placements.
OPTION 3: REPEAL OF THE 1997 DANGEROUS DOGS ACT TO PREVENT ANY MORE DOGS BEING ADDED TO THE INDEX
10. Do you think that the exemption introduced by the 1997 amendment should be removed? Why?
No. Given the problems associated with the breed type approach, if that is to remain then the courts must have the flexibility to exempt dogs. To remove the 1997 provisions would seem to ignore the fact that it is people who are responsible for their dogs and its training and behaviour. The law should target the irresponsible owner and not a dog simply on the basis of appearance or type.
11. Do you think that the exemption should be kept, but with tighter restrictions? If yes, what sort of restrictions do you think should be added?
We believe the current restrictions are adequate and appropriate.
12. Do you think that introducing an alternative monitoring system to the Index introduced by the 1997 amendment would improve the current situation regarding dangerous dogs? Which system would you consider best?
We have not aware of any alternative monitoring system which would improve on the present arrangements.
13. Do you think that removing the exemption introduced by the 1997 amendment would allow more effective enforcement of the current dangerous dogs legislation?
14. Do you think that removing the exemption introduced by the 1997 amendment could have a financial impact upon welfare organisations, dog rescue homes? Why?
Yes. There is a danger this could lead to a significant number of dogs being abandoned, at least in the short term.
15. Do you think that removing the exemption introduced by the 1997 amendment could have a financial impact upon the police force/other enforcement agencies? Why?
Yes. Assuming the removal leads to an increase in prosecutions then it is inevitable that enforcement costs will rise.
OPTION 4: THE INTRODUCTION OF DOG CONTROL NOTICES
16. Do you think Dog Control Notices might be an effective preventative measure for tackling dogs which are not being properly controlled?
17. What sort of incidents do you think could be covered by Dog Control Notices?
We believe that in practical terms they would be difficult to enforce, particularly in multiple occupier households.
18. Do you think the proposed remedial measures are appropriate or would you remove any of them? Why?
The remedial measures proposed replicate powers/options that are already open to the police and courts. It is clearly inappropriate for a Control Notice to be the means by which a person’s property can be confiscated and re-homed. Such a matter rightly belongs to a court.
19. Do you think it should be possible to issue Dog Control Notices which apply to private property, where a dog has the right to be? Why?
Powers as they apply to private property should remain the prerogative of the police and courts subject to rights of appeal.
20. Do you think there should be an appeal process for all Dog Control Notices?
21. Who do you think should be responsible for Dog Control Notices, if they were to be introduced?
Given the severity of the remedial measures the police would be the most appropriate enforcement authority and they would need adequate training.
22. Do you think enforcement authorities should have powers to ban dogs from certain areas on public safety grounds? Why?
No. Powers to exclude dogs from certain areas are already available under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act. There is also a danger that banning dogs entirely from certain places would simply punish responsible dog owners and do nothing about status/fighting dogs and that these would simply go elsewhere.
23. Do you think that introducing Dog Control Notices will have a financial impact on enforcement agencies?
Yes. As with any new legislation there will be associated costs in terms of staff training, enforcement proceedings and appeal processes.
OPTION 5: A REQUIREMENT THAT ALL DOGS BE COVERED BY THIRD PARTY INSURANCE.
24. Do you think that third-party insurance should be compulsory for all dog owners? Why?
No. This would simply penalise ordinary dog owners and be ignored by those to whom such measures are aimed.
25. If you support the requirement that all dogs should be covered by third-party insurance, how should such a requirement be introduced and enforced?
We do not support compulsory third party insurance.
26. Do you think that third-party insurance should be compulsory for owners of only certain breeds of dogs? If yes, why and which breeds?
27. Do you think that requiring all dogs to be covered by third-party insurance could have a significant financial impact upon individual dog owners? Why?
Yes. It would discourage ownership of certain breeds, possibly including those not traditionally thought of as “dangerous” depending on how insurance premiums were calculated and be an additional and unnecessary cost to responsible dog owners.
28. Do you think that requiring all dogs to be covered by third-party insurance could have a significant financial impact upon welfare organisations/dog homes? Why?
There would be a real danger of abandonment of a considerable number of dogs. This in the short term at least would have a significant financial impact upon dog homes/welfare organisations.
OPTION 6: A REQUIREMENT THAT ALL DOGS, OR PUPPIES, ARE MICROCHIPPED.
29. Do you think that all dogs should have to be microchipped? Why?
No. It is intrusive legislation with financial implications to dog owners at a time of national austerity. It is an uneccessary imposition on responsible dog owners (by far the vast majority) and will be ignored by those it is intended to target (a tiny minority).
30. Do you think that all puppies born after a specified date should have to be microchipped before they are one years old? Why?
No. See 29 above.
31. How do you think such a requirement could be introduced and enforced?
It could be introduced, but as with the present law is likely to be ignored by those it targets. As such it would be totally ineffective in dealing with the intended issues.
32. Do you think that it should be compulsory for some specific breeds of dog to be microchipped? If so, why and which breeds?
No. See previous comments regarding the issues associated with the breed type approach towards legislation and enforcement.
33. Do you think that requiring all dogs to be microchipped will have a significant financial impact upon individual dog owners? Please provide evidence.
Yes. It would be an additional cost to responsible dog owners (by far the vast majority) and as with present law is most likely to be ignored by those it is intended to target (a tiny minority).
34. Do you think that requiring all dogs to be microchipped could have a financial impact upon welfare organisations/dog homes? Why?
Compulsory microchipping might assist in returning lost dogs to their owners more quickly, thereby reducing costs in terms of kennelling and euthanasia. It could however also lead to increased abandonments and if dogs are found or abandoned without a microchip, dogs homes would incur a significant extra cost if each dog has to be microchipped before it could be rehomed.
35. Do you think that maintaining an up-to-date database of owners‟ details would have a financial impact? Who do you think should be responsible for maintaining this database?
Clearly there would be significant financial costs associated with creating and maintaining such a database, which to be effective, would need to be administered at a national level. The administrative, financial and enforcement implications are horrendous, particularly when weighed against the fact it is most likely to be ignored by the very group it is intended to target.
Being a legal requirement, such a database should only be maintained by the police or the relevant Government department/agency. Such personal data should not be available to external voluntary organisations, nor should it be out sourced.
OPTION 7: MORE EFFECTIVE ENFORCEMENT OF THE EXISTING LAW INCLUDING A CONSOLIDATION OF EXISTING STATUTES INTO ONE NEW UPDATED ACT
36. Do you think that all legislation relating to dangerous dogs should be consolidated into a single piece of legislation? Why?
The existing law and powers available to the police, courts and local authorities are extensive and adequate. There seems little point in using Parliamentary time to put the respective Acts into a single document. More important is the need to ensure that the present law and the powers available are more fully understood by the public and those responsible for their enforcement. As such we welcome the recent guidance issued by Defra.
37. Do you think that more effective enforcement of current legislation would improve the current situation regarding dangerous dogs? Why?
Yes most definitely. All of the issues raised as part of this consultation are already covered by existing laws and/or associated powers. Laws are intended to deter rather than punish, but if unenforced will simply be ignored as in this instance. The greatest deterrent is enforcement and the key to successful enforcement is proper training and resourcing of those responsible for enforcement.
38. Do you think further training for police officers to become Dog Legislation Officers would improve the current situation regarding dangerous dogs?
Yes, it would certainly assist officers to better understand the law, what powers they have and what they can do (especially in identifying section 1 type breeds).
39. Do you think the Government needs to do more to raise public awareness of the existing law and what to do if you are aware of a possible breach?
40. Do you think there are better ways for the Government to communicate with the public and dog owners, including owners of “status” dogs?
Probably the most effective form of across the board communication would be a nationally coordinated enforcement program resulting in a large number of successful prosecutions. Until this happens there will always be sections of the community who will continue to feel it is safe and acceptable to flout the law in this area. Proper enforcement would play a fundamental part in changing that view and serve to deter this and other forms of anti social behaviour.