The RSPCA has released a new report which exposes the ineffectiveness, flaws and negative impact of the breed specific law.
This week marks 25 years since the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) 1991 which applies breed-specific legislation – BSL – via section 1. The RSPCA is now calling for a UK Government inquiry into its effectiveness.
This week they have released a report – Breed Specific Legislation: A Dog’s Dinner. This shows the weaknesses in breed specific legislation as it has failed to meet its goals of improving public safety by reducing the number of dog bites and eliminating dogs that are prohibited. Indeed more dog bites are reported now than ever before and the numbers of prohibited dogs continue to rise.
Many organisations agree that a breed specific approach is failing to protect public safety as dog bites continue to rise.
It also has a negative impact on dog welfare. Because of section 1 of the DDA, the RSPCA in England and Wales has been forced to put to sleep 366 dogs over the past two years.
RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines 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.”
The report raises concerns that there is a lack of evidence to support BSL and that there are also issues around the evidence required to designate a dog as being of prohibited type. There are also concerns over the potential to mislead the public that non-prohibited dogs are always safe, and our primary concern is BSL’s impact on dog welfare and owner suffering.
Despite many countries using BSL, there is a lack of evidence to show that it reduces dog bites. Several studies have shown that BSL has not reduced dog bites in countries abroad. In the UK, an assessment1 in 1996 – five years after the DDA was enacted – found there had been no significant reduction. In fact, the number of hospital admissions due to dog bites rose from 4,110 (March 2005) to 7,227 (February 2015)2 and continue to rise.
BSL is now being reviewed worldwide and has been reversed by three European governments and many US administrations following studies. A 2010 Defra consultation3 in England revealed that 88% of respondents felt BSL was not effective in protecting the public, and 71% felt it should be repealed.
Television personality and dog behaviour expert Victoria Stilwell agrees with the RSPCA that BSL is ineffective, outdated and flawed, saying: “BSL tears apart families while punishing innocent dogs and their guardians solely because of a dog’s appearance. Any dog can bite under the right circumstances, so legislation should focus on protecting the public through responsible pet guardianship rather than targeting a particular breed.”
The Dog’s Dinner report shows a number of cases from other countries, including Canada, where a reduction in dog bites has been achieved, not by BSL, but by focusing on improving responsible dog ownership. There are already mechanisms in the legislation to improve human safety.
These should be prioritised as well as a focused education campaign, particularly aimed at children.
As well as being ineffective at protecting public safety, BSL raises serious dog welfare concerns and causes trauma to owners who are affected.
“The process of seizing a dog suspected of being prohibited and the stress associated with a kennel environment can compromise the dog’s welfare,” Dr Gaines added.
“The impact on dog welfare and owner wellbeing has been very much hidden but it is clear that BSL comes at a significant cost to many who would not ordinarily come into contact with the police or courts.
“Until such time that BSL is repealed, there needs to be urgent action to protect the welfare of dogs affected by this law. In the absence of any evidence to show that BSL is effective in safeguarding public safety, it is the very least that we can do for man’s best friend.”
Wales Case Study: Oggi and Zack
Brian Roberts, from Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales, had never heard of breed specific legislation when his two dogs were seized under the legislation.
A friend had been looking after the younger dog, Oggi, as Zack recovered from a stroke. Police were called after Oggi and another dog were involved in an altercation (neither were injured) and Oggi was taken away suspected of being a prohibited type.
Oggi was identified as being of type and was kept in an undisclosed kennels for eight months, while the case slowly made it’s way through the complex courts system, with no contact with paraplegic Brian.
“My life was turned upside down,” Brian says. “I was very lonely - as I live by myself - and couldn’t sleep due to worry. I fell into depression as I’d lost my closest companion, my best friend and my helper - he gets me out and about and pulls my wheelchair.”
Two months after four-year-old Oggi was seized, his father – Zack (who died in March this year) was also taken by police.
“Officers came with a warrant,” Brian explains. “They had been the previous day and I’d hoped they would not take him due to his ill health.
“Zack was 16-years-old, struggling after a couple of strokes, was very weak on his back legs and was on daily medication. He was also deaf and partially blind.”
Zack was seized by officers and held for 12 hours before being deemed not to be of type. After a legal battle, Oggi was returned under the interim exemption scheme and the case against Brian was dropped.
But the experience has had a permanent impact on Oggi.
“His character has changed, he likes being by himself more since,” Brian says. “He lost eight months of his life being caged away. When my vet assessed him on release from the kennels he was found to be underweight with loss of muscle mass and was missing hair on his ears, tail and body due to the stress.”
What Brian thinks of BSL:
“I think BSL is a barbaric law that was rushed in without looking at the implications it has.
“How can a dog be deemed dangerous only by the way it looks?
“This law must change because, at the moment, innocent people get a criminal record and dogs gets murdered.”
All case studies are based on owners’ accounts and information provided by representative bodies e.g. solicitors and campaign/support groups.
Breed Specific Legislation within the Dangerous Dog Act 1991 (as amended) is not currently considered a devolved matter in Wales and therefore is the responsibility of the UK Government. All animal welfare matters excluding hunting and animal experimentation are devolved, but BSL is considered a public safety matter.
The RSPCA would like to thank everyone who contributed to and assisted with this report, especially those who have shared their experiences of BSL, explaining how this legislation has changed their lives and those of their dogs.
Klassen, B., Buckley, J.R., Esmail, A. (1996). Does the Dangerous Dogs Act protect against animal attacks: a prospective study of mammalian bites the Accident and Emergency department. Injury. 27, 89‐91. 2