Will New Dog Laws Finally Protect Postal Workers?

New legislation has recently come into effect regarding the punishment of dangerous dogs and their owners. The new guidelines outlined by the legislation serve a dual function. Firstly, they seek to guide the courts in making consistent, strict and fair judgments when it comes to dangerous dog attacks; secondly, they are designed so that these judgments act as a deterrent against further dog attacks. However, who is the legislation really meant to serve and protect?

Many have voiced their concerns that this new legislation cannot adequately deal with the dangerous dog attacks because the legislation itself is simply a reworking of an already faulty system. Added to this is concern that this new legislation will do nothing to improve the safety of postal workers, a startling number of whom have been the victims of dog attacks.

According to the legislation, owners of dogs who are dangerous and out of control can now face up to and including 18 months in prison. In extreme cases this can be raised to two years. The determination of an extreme case will be based on whether a vulnerable person, such as a child or elderly person, has been injured; if an injury was sustained; if the owner goaded the dog to attack; or if the owner has failed to respond to prior warnings.

The legislation, which may bring stricter penalties for dog attacks, only covers dog attacks which take place in public areas. If a dog demonstrates out-of-control and dangerous behaviour in a public area and a person is injured as a result, the owner will then be liable to face any penalties that the courts decide. A dog attack is considered an assault, and this new legislation also permits the courts to ban irresponsible dog owners from having a dog.

If the injury sustained in a dog attack is only minor, or the owner made the necessary attempt to regain control of the dog, then the owner may be allowed to go free with a discharge. Conversely, if there is no injury in a dog attack but the owner did nothing to control the dog, the owner may face up to six months imprisonment, especially if a vulnerable person was present at the time of the incident.

Lesser sentences may receive a fine, while more serious offences may be met with a Community Order. A number of dog breeds have also been banned; these include the Japanese Tosa, the Fila Brasileiro, the Dogo Argentino and the Pit Bull Terrier. These dogs have been banned because of their inconsistent and often violent temperaments, as well as their common use as fighting dogs – another punishable offence under the new legislation.

With all of these penalties put in place and guidance provided for the courts, it is clear that the aim of this legislation is not to prevent dog attacks but rather to standardise stricter penalties and hope that this will be enough of a deterrent against further dog attacks. One of many failings of this legislation is that it only covers attacks in public spaces, so the 4,000 reported attacks on postal workers each year have not been addressed in the slightest.
 
The only practical way to stop dog attacks is to firstly monitor dog breeders and secondly to monitor dog owners. In most cases a dog’s dangerous or out-of-control behaviour is due to lack of training. In Sweden, potential dog owners are made to take a test, just as we sit the Highway Code test to determine if we know the rules of the road. We should be tested to determine if we can train and maintain a dog properly. This will not only reduce dog attacks in public, but it will also provide a safer working environment for postal workers.