The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was rushed through Parliament in response to media and public pressure following a string of high profile dog 'attacks'. Under the Act Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) prohibits the ownership of certain ‘types’ of dogs the most popular prohibited ‘type’ is the Pit Bull Terrier.(RSPCA 2016)
Dangerous dogs are classified by conformation, not necessarily breed or individual behaviour. This means that a dog’s physical appearance will determine whether it’s deemed to be prohibited under the law. A dog does not have to be considered 'out of control' to be considered dangerous by law.
Section One(S1) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991(DDA )applies to the following dog types known as:
The Pit Bull Terrier (PBT)
The Dogo Argentino
The Fila Braziliero
The Japanese Tosa
It also allows for the Secretary of State to designate any “type appearing to him to be bred for fighting or to have the characteristics of a type bred for that purpose”
It is illegal for any for anyone to breed, sell, exchange advertise or expose for sale, make or offer such a dog as a gift, allow such a dog in public without a lead and muzzle, abandon, or be in possession of a dog as named above. Section 1 (S1) is a criminal charge.
How are suspected prohibited breeds assessed?
A qualified Dog Legislation Officer (DLO) or trained Dog Warden is required to legally ‘type’ a dog and is supposed to take measurements and physical characteristics into account when looking at a suspected S1 dog. However it is stated and proven that it is very difficult to correctly assess as many dogs are crossed. The description and guidelines used are also concerning, for example a Labrador was used as an example. The Labrador scored highly via measurements used to determine a ‘type’ and technically could be determined a ‘type’ by the guidelines. The dog’s behaviour has no effect on the outcome of the identification of the dog. Taking physical measurements of the dog is also not a legal requirement and the majority of puppies and dogs in rehoming centres are simply glanced at for a split second. There is also no age limit when a dog can be ‘typed’ and from personal experience we have seen puppies that have been typed at just a few weeks old. Unfortunately owning a dog that looks like a PBT is what is illegal, therefore owning for example a Labrador cross staffie may resemble a PBT, therefore would be illegal.
Many large animal welfare organisations, believe that the DDA S1 has completely failed to adequately protect the public. In the last five years, the number of dog bite incidents has actually risen by 79% in London and 43% nationally. The current law has failed to eradicate the Pit Bull Tterrier in the UK and has, in fact, created a status symbol out of dogs of these types and their lookalikes. All dogs have the potential to be dangerous or wonderful, well-behaved pets and it is people, not the dogs themselves, which make dogs dangerous, however accidents can and do happen with even the most friendliest of dogs.
In November 2010 a public consultation by Defra revealed that 88% of respondents believed breed specific legislation in its current form was not effective in protecting the public from dangerous dogs.
BSL punishes certain types of dogs for the way they look and fails to consider a dog’s individual behavior when determining whether or not they are dangerous. As a result, dogs whose behavior poses no risk are branded 'dangerous' just because of their appearance. Dogs can’t help who their owners are, yet the law unfairly places the onus of responsibility on them, rather than the irresponsible actions of the owner.
The RSPCA and many other rescue centers see the impact of BSL first hand. Some dogs brought into the centers, as part of cruelty investigations or unclaimed strays, are later identified by the police as a prohibited type. Despite many of these dogs being friendly, well socialised and perfect candidates for rehoming to responsible owners, the law doesn’t allow them to be rehomed. You may have seen some high profiles cases in the news such as Missy and Lucky in 2016-2017. This causes much heartbreak for staff involved who form very strong bonds with these dogs, particularly as many of them have only ever known violence or neglect from their owners.(RSPCA 2016)
The reason behind BSL
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (DDA) was introduced in the UK after a number of high profile dog bites on children, some fatal. It was also one of the first countries in the world to introduce Section 1-Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). BSL was introduced specifically with the aim of:
Simple Review of original aims
Reducing the number of ‘types’ of prohibited dogs:There are currently over 3,000 dogs classed as Pit Bull Type dogs on the Index of Exempted Dogs (IOED). The large number of prohibited dogs on the IOED shows that there has not been a reduction of prohibited dogs. Entering dogs onto the IOED is not actively preventing dog bites.
Reducing hospital admissions from DBI and improving public safety:Rates of admissions due to bites and strikes both for dogs and other mammals have increased more rapidly than the overall rate of admissions for the ten-year period March 2005 to February 2015. In that time the number of admissions due to dog bites increased 76% from 4,110 to 7,227; admissions due to bites/strikes by other mammals increased 76% from 1,899 to 3,347; but total admissions increased 25%. This evidence itself highlights that there has been no improvement or reduction in DBI since the enactment of BSL therefore no increase in public safety and no reduction in hospital admissions.
It is perfectly legal for police officers to seize your dog purely based on its conformation and appearance, there does not need to be a complaint made.
Do be aware that your dog does not need to be a pure Pit Bull type of dog to be seized, we believe all bull breed type dogs are at risk.
It is possible to get your dog back, however we do recommend a SECOND INDEPENDENT EXPERT ASSESSMENT (we recomend vets as they are experts in anatomy) Studies show that visual identification is flawed, therefore should be challenged by an expert. This offense can leave you with a criminal record and a dog that will be restricted for life, challenging this accusation can be very beneficial to yourself and your dog long term.
If your dog is returned to you in poor condition please seek veterinary attention within 24 hours to ensure information can be gathered. Photos should be taken, please contact us for any advice.
If your dog has been returned and was neutered you should have been given pain killer tablets or liquid, if you do not have these please seek veterinary attention and alert us.
We are happy to take confidential/anonymous reports also.
There is a current assumption and supposed link between Pit Bull type dogs and those involved in dog fighting, however this is frequently unfounded. Mark Randall worked for Sussex Police as a Law Enforcement Manager specialising in intelligence and covert operations, was head of operations for the League Against Cruel Sports and now is heavily involved in investigating illegal dog fighting. He states: ‘The structure of fighting is immensely difficult to define. Academically there are 3 or 4 levels, although in reality these are affected by cultural and geographic variances in the UK and Europe, producing many more than 3 or 4 'levels'. Each one though is intrinsically linked to Breed Specific Legislation which, in my opinion, actually feeds the activity rather than prevents it. BSL adds unhelpful status to certain types of dog, fueling the street level fighting scene. Hobbyist fighters use the rigidity of the Dangerous Dogs Act to try to create dogs that will fight but not be classified as dangerous. This creates an underground puppy breeding network that produces large muscly crossbreeds common in the UK inner city areas, also presumably producing dogs that need to be disposed of as waste product. The professional fighter still uses dogs more in common with the original definition of a pit bull. However, very few of these show any levels of violence towards humans for they would not be able to fulfill their task as fighting dogs if they did. Therefore any typing of fighting dogs does not reduce chance of human injury, rather further victimises a dog that is already a victim. To a dog fighter, the animal is a commodity and any seizure is treated the same way as large shops see shoplifting, as collateral damage. It is akin to killing a victim as a crime prevention technique. As a former officer, I am aware that the usual role of the police is to collect facts and then present the evidence in an objective manner. 'Typing' under BSL radically changes that role in that a DLO seeks to gather subjective evidence to support a hypothesis. A DLO doesn't seek to identify what breed a dog is, but how many characteristics a certain dog has that makes it that banned breed.’
The purpose of the police and local authorities is to deal with incidents brought to their attention involving dangerous dogs and allegations of people owning or breeding dogs prohibited under section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
A Dog Legislation Officer (DLO) is required to: · Establish good working relationships with local authority officers, the RSPCA and local animal welfare organisations · Be able to identify dogs that are alleged to be of a prohibited breed/type, oversee case management and ensure that proceedings are brought expeditiously where dogs are held in kennels · Attend court as ‘experts’ for the prosecution regarding DDA A recent FOI from 2015 to the Metropolitan Police states that DLO training incorporated an input on behaviour on the national syllabus, however are not qualified behaviourists. They are able to give evidence to the same standard as a lay person. However, in court they often refer to themselves or referred by others as experts in a courtroom in DDA cases.
From an FOI in 2013 it was found that over 440 dogs were seized based on their appearance, just 4.5% of those dogs had committed a Section 3 offense.
A scheme known as L.E.A.D (Local Environmental Awareness on Dogs) is a police-led, initiative founded in the London Borough of Sutton in South West London, to encourage responsible dog ownership of all breeds of dog. It seeks to provide advice to the public on dog issues, improve dog safety and dog welfare and deal with anti-social and inconsiderate behaviour by individuals with dogs in a way that protects and reassures the public. L.E.A.D is aimed at all dog owners in Sutton whether in private or rented accommodation, they are actively working in the community and intervene with the approach that prevention is better than cure.
However due to the current legislation the LEAD also has to take action with suspected prohibited dogs. LEAD do support owners through this process and ensure that dogs are given back if appropriate. This method of early intervention is certainly a great step in the right direction and with great data collection, we believe that this should be rolled out among all police forces.