Following an unusually high number of serious dog attacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the government at the time felt compelled to pass the Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991. This statute aimed to control some of the breeds of dogs that seemed to be featured in the news most prominently at the time, with the Pit Bull Terrier being particularly targeted.
This legislation has always proven to be a contentious issue. People seem to stand on either side of the fence and there does not appear to be much in the way of a middle ground. For those in favour of these legal controls, the opinion appears to be that the Act did not go far enough. Many breeds of dogs that often feature in the news as a consequence of vicious attacks were not brought under control in the legislation. This includes breeds such as the Rottweiler and the breed that is causing increasing concern today — the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
Even more worrying is the fact that the Act has failed to protect individuals that have been attacked by a dog on private land. Moreover, many people feel that the court orders and measures available to deal with dangerous animals in this Act are exceptionally weak. A good case in point here can be seen through a Bolton dog owner, who had already been issued with a court order from the local magistrates’ court when his Staffordshire Bull Terrier attacked three separate police personnel. The same dog managed to escape again and attack another unsuspecting member of the public.
Those in favour of the abolition of this legislation maintain that the Act is penalising the majority for the irresponsible behaviour of just a few. They believe they have a fundamental right not to be dictated to over the type of breed they are permitted to keep. Furthermore, it does appear to be clear that this legislation was conceived in a hurry, as a response to the media-exacerbated public anxieties of the day. Also, the Act has come under further criticism, as it fails to furnish magistrates with a necessary level of discretion when dealing with such cases.
What does appear to be clear, even following an amendment to the Act in 1997, is that a review of this legislation is well overdue. For one, the breeds that are covered under the law are very limited: if you actually take a look at those included, you will feel as though you’ve never heard of the majority of them. It seems to be the case that other breeds have filled in the ‘dangerous dogs’ niche and there will always be a certain section of society who feels the need to keep these types of dogs as a status symbol.
As a further benefit, new legislation would have the benefit of nearly twenty years’ worth of case law to analyse the way in which this law should go forward. Perhaps a consolidation of this area of law is required in order to address all of these issues.
Whichever opinion you may hold towards the laws that were conceived in an attempt to control dangerous dogs in our society, once you have studied how these have worked in practice, you will discover that they are not working as they should be. When investigating cases for this article, one breed came up time and again, and this is something that causes huge levels of concern to many people, especially those that have already suffered an attack from a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. It is all very well keeping a pet as a status symbol, but it is important to bear in mind that the animal will only ever become a product of the environment in which it is raised. Perhaps harsher punitive measures against the owners of the dog themselves are in order; after all, the owner is usually responsible for encouraging the aggression that is portrayed through his or her dog.