RSPCA calls for urgent changes to ‘flawed’ Dangerous Dogs Act

American Pitbull terriers are among the breeds banned under the 1991 Act. Credit: Shutterstock

American Pitbull terriers are among the breeds banned under the 1991 Act. Credit: Shutterstock

Sussex based RSPCA has today released a damning report on the “ineffective” Dangerous Dogs Act and called on urgent reform to a law which indiscriminately targets family pets.

Breed Specific Legislation: A Dog’s Dinner is comprehensive study on the controversial act which was introduced 25 years ago this week.

The animal charity wants a public inquiry into the act, which was introduced in the hope of cracking down on dog attacks.

However, the number of dog bites continues to increase and of the 30 people killed by the pets, 21 were breeds not banned under the act.

The RSPCA, based near Horsham, has dubbed it a “flawed law” and called for a new approach.

It claims on top of the ethical and welfare issues, there is the added emotional strain placed on the charity staff who are forced by law to put certain animals to sleep because of the way they look.

Under Section 1 of the act, there are four breeds banned - Japanese Tosa, Fila Brasileiro, Dogo Argentino and Pitbull Terrier - as well as crossbreeds which have Pitbull-type features.

Over the past two years, the RSPCA has been forced to put 366 dogs to sleep. Battersea Dogs Home, which has been equally critical of the law, has put 91 dogs down in the past 12 months.

Today’s report illustrates the weaknesses in breed specific legislation, which has failed to meet its goals of improving public safety by reducing the number of dog bites and eliminating dogs that are prohibited, according to the RSPCA.

The charity found more dog bites are reported now than ever before and the numbers of prohibited dogs continue to rise.

In Canada, there has been a decrease in dog bites by focussing on improving responsible dog ownership.

The report concludes the DDA is a failed law which has had “unintended negative consequences for dog welfare”.

The charity wants Section 1 repealed with resources diverted to Section 3, which targets owners who have a dog which is “dangerously out of control” and the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing.

It has called for a new, three-pronged approach - educating children, effective legislation for problem owners and a more research to provide a better understanding of why dogs bite.

Dr Samantha Gaines, RSPCA dog welfare expert, said: “The police, the RSPCA and other animal rescue organisations have to deal with the consequences of this flawed law by euthanising hundreds of dogs because legislation is forcing us to due to the way they look, despite being suitable for rehoming.

“Not only is this a huge ethical and welfare issue, it also places significant emotional strain on staff.

“It is the view of the RSPCA, and the public, that every animal’s life matters.

“We conclude that breed-specific legislation has not achieved its objectives whilst causing unintended harms - a new approach is required.

“The RSPCA believes it is paramount for the Government to launch an inquiry into the effectiveness of BSL, assess other options to improve human safety and dog welfare, and ultimately repeal the breed specific part of the legislation.”

CASE STUDY

Sarah Anderson, from East Sussex, had to watch vets put to sleep her 24 puppies and two dogs because of the Dangerous Dogs Act.

She had taken on two dogs from the same litter as her other dog, believing they were Staffie cross American bulldogs.

Both the dogs - Annie and Maisie - later gave birth to 26 puppies with 24 surviving.

However, when Sarah took Maisie to the vets with a leg injury, the police were contacted on suspicion of her being a banned breed.

The 18-month old animals were both put to sleep under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act - as were all of the puppies who less than six-weeks old.

Sarah said: “I blame myself for the death of my girls but I refuse to let them die for nothing.

“Back in 2008 I was ignorant as to how many dogs ended up in rescues and was one of the selfish people who decided to let my bitches have a litter before getting them neutered.

“I was devastated, haunted by the thought of those babies dying. I didn’t know the law so I took the pups to the vets, and my two friends and I cuddled them while the vet went around giving them the injection. I was sobbing.

“He proceeded to put to sleep 24 innocent babies only born because of my ignorance and stupidity.

“I live with that everyday and, no matter how much I suffer, I cannot stop punishing myself.

“My head was reeling and I was begging them not to take my dogs but to allow them to live. My world was falling apart.

“I remember sitting in the waiting room at the vets with them - who do you choose to die first?

“I took Annie in, she was scared of her leg being shaved, but showed no aggression. I remember holding her limp lifeless body and screaming, my heart was being ripped out, she’d done nothing wrong. I left with just her lead and collar.

“Then I went back in with Maisie. I sat, cuddling her and she died wagging her tail. The pain of losing them is something I’ve never felt before or since. I relive it over and over again and the guilt eats me up inside.

“I don’t want anybody to suffer like I have, or for any innocent dog to be destroyed for no reason.

“BSL [breed-specific legislation] destroys the lives of dogs and their families. Dogs aren’t born aggressive, they become a product of their environment and those that own them.

“I would like, more than anything, to see BSL changed or totally abolished.”

Jack the pitbull type has no teeth due to the stress he suffered after being seized for being a banned breed.

The RSPCA say the friendly animal had been kept in kennels by authorities for two years - leading him to over groom his front legs which resulted in sore patches.

During this period, Jack’s previous owners don’t believe he was walked and he constantly chewed the bars of the kennel - breaking all of his teeth.

But the seven-year-old dog was saved from a death sentence by Allie Green, who is part of the Draconian Dogs Act group.

Mrs Green applied to be Jack’s keeper and showed she could look after him. He now lives with her family in Horsham.

Allie said: “He still has to be muzzled, by law, but he couldn’t bite even if he wanted to.

“Even a game of fetch, which he loves, is a challenge as he cannot hold the ball.”

“It breaks my heart to muzzle him. He doesn’t like it at all. Jack doesn’t enjoy going out. Despite intensive work, going out with the muzzle on is a massive issue.”

“BSL has failed to protect anyone. It has resulted in the deaths of thousands of dogs, cost millions in taxpayers’ money, and will never achieve its aim.

“It needs to be repealed and replaced with legislation that ensure the right dog is in the right environment with the right owner.”