Stronger Legislation to Protect Victims of Dog Attacks

Dog AttacksOwning a dangerous dog is seen as a status symbol by some, and in spite of the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991, recent years have seen a rise in the number of dog attacks across the UK. Children are most often the victims of aggressive and violent dogs. Many feel that even though the Dangerous Dogs Act was amended in 1997, it still lacks the teeth to make any real difference. Will the recent plan for making it mandatory to micro-chip all newborn puppies be enough to curb the rising trend of violent dog attacks?

The proposed plan suggests not only that all puppies must be micro-chipped, but that it should be compulsory to install a micro chip in every adult dog too, so that the owners of any dangerous dog can be traced and prosecuted. There is some opposition to this plan, because even responsible dog owners would have to bear the brunt of being mistrusted and would have to pay extra money for the procedure. However, considering that the current lax rules have failed to have any impact, this may be a welcome step if it becomes the law.

Owners of dangerous dogs face minimal prosecution at the moment, as the current legislation merely bans certain breeds of dogs. According to the Dangerous Dogs Act, it is against the law to own ‘specially controlled dogs’ – such as the pit bull terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Fila Brasileiro, the Dogo Argentino and any cross breeds of these – without a special permit from the court. If a permit has been procured, it is mandatory to keep the dog on a leash and muzzled in all public places.

However, the Act does not extend to private property. Any attack by an animal that may take place on privately owned land is exempt from prosecution, because the victim is likely to be considered an illegal trespasser! The owner in such a case is not held liable for any injury or damage his or her pet may cause. This seems counterintuitive; the most common victims of dog attacks are small children, who are unlikely to be held accountable for trespassing, and people who routinely set foot on private property as part of their job, including postal workers, utility engineers and health workers. From the perspective of these people, not extending the Act to private property is a fundamental flaw and a grave concern.

It should be considered a criminal offence anytime a dog attacks someone, including another pet dog. This is particularly significant in cases involving service dogs of visually impaired people. For the blind, guide dogs are not simply pets but mobility aids, and losing one’s dog is almost akin to losing one’s eyes. As such, an attack on a guide dog should be considered a criminal offence, and the owner must be brought to book.

No thanks to relaxed regulations and minimal punishment, there is a growing demand for violent ‘fighting’ dogs. These dogs are ‘created’ by breeding especially vicious dogs. Violent dogs are also often victims of abuse, which is inflicted on them to make them more fierce and aggressive. Micro-chipping and making registration mandatory will help make owners more accountable and may also help reduce animal abuse and cruelty towards these dogs.

The strongest argument against the currently proposed rule is that it will penalise good pet owners thanks to a few miscreants. However, it seems very difficult to identify those who own violent breeds of dogs for the very purpose of intimidation without imposing a blanket law on all dog owners. The laws in relation to dangerous dogs and dog attacks should not only target particular breeds of dogs but, more important, penalise irresponsible owners.