Deemed to be “too dangerous” to walk, seized Pit Bull type Stella has allegedly been confined to a kennel without any form of exercise for two years. Dog lovers were furious as details of her confinement emerged at the beginning of the week, following the dog being featured on the BBC programme Inside Out. A petition to save Stella from destruction rapidly gained thousands of signatures and her story has since made headlines throughout the UK. It has even been reported that a Pit Bull rescue centre from across the pond have expressed interest in flying her out to the USA.
From the huge amount of media attention that the case has received, it would seem that this sort of treatment is rare. And yet Stella is just one of thousands of dogs seized by the police over the last five years. Despite ‘good practice’ guidelines from the RSPCA regarding a minimum of 30 minutes exercise for each dog per day, to suggest that all of these dogs receive adequate stimulation for their age or breed would be extremely naïve. Some of these dogs have been involved in attacks on humans or other animals, but a large proportion of dogs in ‘police custody’ are occupying kennel space due to Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 – breed specific legislation. From reports, it appears that Stella is one of these dogs, “considered potentially dangerous because of her breed”.
Thanks to poorly-worded headlines which placed the entirety of the blame on the shoulders of Devon & Cornwall police force, the officers involved were the main target for much of the outrage expressed on both social media sites and the comments section of many online articles. “Fire the policemen that did this” proclaimed one angry dog lover. Others blamed Stella’s owner for prolonging her ‘sentence’ by attempting to appeal the case. Yet the blame for Stella’s confinement does not lie with her owner, nor the police. Indeed, it recently emerged that it costs the police forces around the country approximately £5 million to house seized dogs – hardly something that would be done by choice. The only person who should face any sort of backlash for Stella’s ordeal, and indeed the ordeals of the many dogs seized due to their appearance, is Kenneth Baker.
Kenneth Baker introduced the Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991. In this Guardian article from 2007, he states that there is no place for Pit Bull types in the UK, and even suggests that Rottweilers, German Shepherds and “all types of Bull terriers” should be muzzled in public. It is the legislation which demands that Stella is assessed based on her behaviour displayed while being housed at the kennels. How would you act if you had been taken to a strange environment and deprived of any real social interaction for two years? Even someone who has never owned a dog would be able to guess that an animal is likely to behave a little differently in such circumstances. So is it possible that by seizing dogs in this way, animals which demonstrated little or no signs of aggression initially are being turned into true ‘dangerous dogs’? Some people seem to think so. Remember the case of Jade Anderson, the 14 year old girl killed by ‘Bullmastiff type’ dogs in 2013? The owner of the dogs was later charged with animal cruelty – for keeping one of the dogs in a crate and depriving it of exercise prior to the attack on Jade.
While it remains to be seen whether or not Stella will be released from kennels and returned to her owner as an exempted dog, one thing is certain: ‘doggy prison’ can not continue. It costs far too much money, causes too much upset for owners (and indeed the kennel staff who care for the animals), and undoubtedly has a negative effect on the welfare of dogs. If a dog, regardless of its ‘type’, genuinely presents a threat to the public due to its behaviour, it should be humanely euthanised – straight away. It is completely unfair to label a dog as dangerous months or years down the line following seizure. In terms of changes to the law, we can only hope that some good will result from this high-profile case, yet unfortunately this seems very unlikely. The case of ‘pit bull type’ Lennox back in 2012 attracted a huge amount of media attention, but the outcome remained the same – the family pet was put to sleep and the treatment of seized dogs once again retreated from the spotlight. And so while the Dangerous Dogs Act has long been referred to as a knee jerk reaction, as long as there are people who, like Kenneth Baker, genuinely believe that breed specific legislation is the answer to our dangerous dog issues, nothing is ever going to change – for Stella or any other dog accused of being a ‘Pit Bull’.