The failures of the Dangerous Dogs Act were highlighted by British rap artist ‘Professor Green’ in his latest documentary produced for BBC Three, with assistance from organisations such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.
From the start of the programme, the rapper was keen to emphasise that records of dog bites are currently at an all time high, despite the presence of breed specific legislation introduced in the early nineties. Himself an owner of an Aylestone Old Tyme English Bulldog called Arthur, Green noted that Bully breed owners are often tarred with the same brush and are used to being judged by other members of the public. Despite Arthur’s impressive size, it’s clear that he poses no threat – and the affection between the two of them is also obvious.
Viewers were introduced to ‘Reece’, who is involved in the breeding and sale of illegal Pit Bull types despite receiving a ban from owning dogs. The notion that countless litters are being produced by individuals with an ownership ban is stomach-churning and makes the criminalisation of genuine family pet owners all the more frustrating. One such owner is Louisa, who has to attend court in order to save her dog Charlie from euthanasia. Charlie had never bitten anyone, yet was unlucky enough to match a significant number of characteristics in order to be deemed ‘type’. As Green points out, even a matter of millimetres can make the difference between life or death for innocent dogs. Fortunately for Charlie, the courts granted exemption. Yet Charlie is just one of 5000 dogs seized in the last three years across the country, costing taxpayers millions.
It is estimated that there are currently as many Pit Bull types in the UK as there were at the time of the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act. The programme claims that breed specific legislation has only increased the popularity of Pit Bull types amongst those who take pleasure in knowing that their dog is an illegal breed. In addition to this, by focusing on specific types as opposed to the welfare and treatment of dogs, the Dangerous Dogs Act does nothing to prevent attacks from legal breeds, such as those which fatally mauled Jade Anderson in 2013. The documentary features a short interview with Jade’s parents, who express anger at the fact that the owner of the dogs, which were underfed and rarely walked, did not receive a custodial sentence. The couple state that they do not believe that any particular breed of dog should be banned in the UK.
Towards the end of the programme, Green comes to the conclusion that the decision to ban the Pit Bull type was not only due to the high profile dog attack cases circulating throughout the media in 1991, but was also linked to the associations that the breed has with the “underclass”. Green believes that the ‘devil dog’ label and the widespread stereotype of criminal owners is an attempt to make the seizure of Pit Bull types appear justifiable, and does little to encourage any feelings of compassion towards either dog or owner. It is said that initial plans for Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act (breed specific legislation) included breeds such as the German Shepherd. In this sense, with the strong link between German Shepherds and the police, perhaps it is no wonder that it was the Pit Bull type that was banned instead.
“We thought that someone would come to their senses at some point” – Shaun Opperman, Director of Veterinary Services at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, on the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991
In addition to the documentary, a short video was also made available on YouTube, entitled ‘Dogs on Death Row’. In the clip, Green visits the main Battersea site, where last year 91 Pit Bull types were destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act (dogs deemed to be of illegal type can not be rehomed). A dog suspected to be of Pit Bull type is brought in to the centre during filming. The dog, named Caramel by the staff, is clearly a friendly and well mannered dog, despite being found on the streets. It is a tense moment when the measurements taken by the Dog Legislation Officer are announced – seeing this lovely dog being put to sleep would be heartbreaking – yet thankfully this time it is a happy outcome. Green also talks to Shaun Opperman, the head vet at Battersea, who has no choice other than to put down healthy dogs if they match a significant number of Pit Bull type characteristics. Opperman expresses his disdain for the Dangerous Dogs Act and says that it is “nonsensical” to euthanise dogs of sound temperament, adding that when the law originally came into effect he did not believe that it would still be here, 25 years on.
The reintroduction of dog licences is one suggestion put forward in the documentary as an alternative to breed specific legislation, with stricter penalties for those who own larger breeds. However, Green believes that no politician will “put their neck on the line” to challenge the Pit Bull ban, since they would potentially face a huge backlash should an attack happen following their decriminalisation. Yet it has already been established that there has not been a reduction in Pit Bull numbers since 1991. The ‘wrong’ type of owner who would potentially create a ‘dangerous dog’ is not waiting for the Pit Bull type to be made legal – they already have one. Surely those in favour of focusing on four particular breeds of dog, three of which hardly ever seen in the UK, should be the ones to face any sort of backlash when a child is attacked by a ‘legal’ breed.
Breed specific legislation is not preventing dog bites. Everyone can see this, from the British Veterinary Association and the Kennel Club to victims of dog attacks and now even Professor Green.
So why can’t our Government?
‘Professor Green: Dangerous Dogs’ is available now on BBC Three.
A book containing the innermost thoughts of a poo-rolling, Kindle-eating, fish-hiding, seafaring rescue Lurcher may not exactly be at the top of your ‘must read’ list. But it should be.
Worzel, or ‘Worzel Wooface’ to give him his full title, was adopted from Hounds First Sighthound Rescue by author Catherine Pickles. After starting a Facebook page to provide updates on his progress, Catherine soon found that Worzel – and his unique ‘voice’ – was a hit, and ‘The Quite Very Actual Adventures of Worzel Wooface’ was born: the book Catherine says she never meant to write, about the dog she never meant to have.
The book is 140 pages long and is presented in a diary-entry style, starting from the day that Worzel first arrived. Worzel’s hilarious narrative, often echoing the exasperated expressions from the ‘hoomans’ around him, consists entirely of his own take on English (“I is covered in mud and fox poo, HAND cow poo, and I is being quite actual cross with hanyone who finks they is going to change this state of affairs”). Far from causing difficulties in ‘actual understandings’ of the book, this somewhat peculiar writing style provides many of the laugh out loud moments – such as Worzel referring to ‘being tense’ as “tents” and my personal favourite “in The Nile” for ‘in denial’. He also thinks that the computer is named “Uff”, from the noise Worzel’s ‘dad’ makes when he sits down to play computer games and says “Uff, I’m knackered”.
There is a variety of other canine pals featured in the book, including foster dog Pandora, a Wolfhound cross Bullmastiff who is so huge even at four months old that she earned the nickname ‘Pandora the Fridge’. The fiery personalities of the family cats ensure that there is never a dull moment for Worzel, or indeed for Worzel’s mum who sometimes has to deal with “Distressed Mouses in Hawkward Circumstances” and a certain incident involving a dead squirrel and the kettle. But Worzel is undoubtedly the star of the show. The various vet trips which he has to endure are both amusing and painfully familiar for anyone who has ever had to struggle with an anxious dog on the examination table. When given some ear drops, he comments that “Sally-the-Vet did give the rest of the bottle to Mum, so I fink Mum must have gunk in her ears as well”. Worzel’s antics at home are just as hysterical, from leaving his rather too realistic-looking toy rat in the bathroom to burying half-eaten pieces of mackerel in his bed.
Yet hidden amongst all the giggles is the serious side of the story. Worzel is a rescue dog and is not without issues, taking 11 months to be able to play with Catherine, and refusing to engage in ‘normal’ dog behaviour such as eating food that has been dropped on the floor – something which the family think he was punished for doing in the past. In this sense, the book is a tribute to other rescue animals who may have not necessarily had the best start in life, but are now living life to the full thanks to the patience and efforts of their new families.
I for one think that Worzel truly is a “luffly boykin”, and can’t wait to read his next book.
‘The Quite Very Actual Adventures of Worzel Wooface’ (Hubble & Hattie, March 2016) can be purchased here.
You can follow his latest adventures at Worzel’s Facebook page or on Twitter @Worzel_Wooface
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’.
Take the generic ‘which is better’ canine vs feline debate, add a dose of the likeable Chris Packham and animal loving co-presenter Liz Bonnin, throw in a bunch of impressive Attenborough-esque camera shots and what do you get? Ground breaking scientific excitement or just your average run of the mill pet programme?
Well, if tonight’s Part 1 is anything to go by, it seems like the answer is a bit of both. The documentary, shown on BBC Two, had a relatively weak start, including Packham grabbing an unsuspecting Labrador by the face and staring directly, albeit lovingly, into its eyes. A few clips of the presenter with a bunch of tame wolves made for delightful viewing – who could not be impressed by the beauty of these animals? Yet I couldn’t help but feel that the wolves, beautiful as they are, were wasted on this. No ground breaking facts here – just the idea that fluffy poodles descended from them. Oh, and that wolves work together as a pack to bring down prey larger than themselves. Err…
In all fairness, though, the wolves weren’t completely irrelevant to the programme. They were shown following the first ‘Cats v Dogs’ experiment, in which the numerical abilities of both animals were tested by asking them to select the screen with the highest number of dots. Luna the Husky seemed to find the whole thing relatively easy, scoring 60% even when the test was made more difficult. It was noted that, despite what it may seem like, dogs can not count – Luna was simply aware of the visual difference. This is said to have a conflict avoidance function in the case of wolves, with individuals able to note the size of rival packs and therefore not pick fights with a pack bigger than their own. Wise.
How did the cat get on with its own version of the ‘counting’ test? Despite having a successful start, it became clear that felines are averse to commands, and once the numbers increased the cat lost interest and it was game over. After all, as noted by one of the experimenters, when does a cat need to count to ten? When you’re testing its patience, I guess. The Arabian wild cat, said to be the ancestor of all domestic moggies, was then shown, and again relatively obvious points were made about pet cats still harbouring the desire to hunt. It is here that perhaps a breakdown of the physical and behavioural similarities between the wild and domestic cat could have been included, or even a brief mention of whether it is the domestic feline or canine that shares the most similarities with their natural counterparts (Just how different are wolves and huskies, and are Maine Coons as big as the Arabian wild cat?)
However, from here onwards the programme seemed to pick up speed. Interesting facts about the sizes of the animals’ brains (cat-sized dogs have a roughly 20% bigger brain than cats) and later on, noses (dogs have many more scent receptors and a larger brain area dedicated to smell), at last provided us with some of the scientific evidence promised. Even more impressive was the clip of Packham being tracked through a bustling city by sniffer dog Boris, who took a mere ten minutes to locate the presenter despite Packham’s best efforts to send him off the trail. Unsurprisingly there was no cat equivalent for this part, although in the following experiments the feline came out on top with its superior hearing and high jump skills.
Towards the end of show, viewers were treated to some fast-paced (and loud) Canicross (also referred to as Cani-X), itself an exciting demonstration of the endurance ability of dogs, and also an adorable long-haired Chihuahua, a tiny training partner who loved nothing more than racing through the forest alongside her owner who proclaimed that his pet was “the Mo Farah of dogs”. ‘Where is the Usain Bolt of cats?’ feline lovers across the country (probably) exclaimed.
Overall, Cats v Dogs was a fun, light-hearted take on the argument that has forever divided the nation’s animal lovers. Did it really provide us with any answers as to which species is ‘the best’? Of course not. The truth is, there is no best. Both cats and dogs are brilliant creatures in their own unique ways. Although, I think it’s pretty safe to say I’m #TeamDog.
‘Cats v Dogs’ is available on iPlayer. Part 2 will be shown on BBC Two next week (Thursday 11th).
As summer officially begins, dog lovers spread the important message ‘Dogs Die in Hot Cars’. It is one of the few campaigns that is supported by both the Countryside Alliance and the RSPCA, and every welfare organisation and animal charity in between. Police issue warnings and posters can be seen in shop windows across town. But there is another danger to dogs that becomes even more widespread during summer and is one that is not widely discussed or often prioritised; extendable leads.
We’ve all seen it. A dog so far in front of its owner that from a distance it appears to be walking freely, yet on closer inspection the thin cable attached to a plastic handle becomes visible. In an open field or park location this is not usually a problem, unless of course the dog in question is being kept ‘under control’ for reasons such as aggression (how can you possibly control a reactive dog if it is miles in front of you?). If the dog is on an extendable lead simply because it has an unreliable recall and the owner is concerned that their pet would disappear into the undergrowth if it was running free, then there is no real issue with the use of an extendable lead. What is definitely an issue, however, is the use of these devices when walking on footpaths, particularly those adjacent to busy main roads. This is a surprisingly common sight. About a week ago I witnessed what was nearly a horrific accident when a Staffie on an extendable lead strolled out, cool as you like, straight out into the path of an oncoming car. Its owner didn’t react quickly enough to press the ‘stop’ button function on the lead, and if the driver of the vehicle had been distracted for whatever reason, she wouldn’t have been able to react quickly enough either. Thankfully her eyes were on the road and she managed to brake in time. Worryingly the owner didn’t seem at all bothered that his pet had almost become roadkill and he continued on his walk without so much as a pat of his dog. This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen first hand the dangers that extendable leads present; I was once a passenger in a car when a Labrador decided it fancied a change from the footpath and walked out into the road, its owner helplessly clutching the extendable lead to which it was attached. Again the driver, my mum, managed to avoid hitting the dog, but only by a fraction. The incident left us both quite shaken and certainly angry. Most people wouldn’t think twice about having their dog off the lead next to a main road, so why is it acceptable to have them on an extendable lead, which offers such little control?
It isn’t always a happy ending. Earlier this month reports of the death of a Jack Russell, which ran into the road when the ‘lock’ mechanism failed on her lead, were included in local papers in Hampshire. Yet this is a message that needs to reach the public on a national scale. There have been instances of whiplash and broken bones linked to the use of extendable leads. Owner injuries have also been documented, including burns and sliced fingers from the cable. From my own, admittedly little, experience with these leads (we have never used one with our own dogs), it appears impossible that, should the need arise, you would be able to regain complete control over your dog. Our own reactions are just not quick enough, and once the dog is in a potentially dangerous situation, it is too late.
So here’s another doggy safety message for this summer – If you’re going to use an extendable lead, make sure it’s in a safe, open area, and always keep your dog under close control at the side of a road. Just like not leaving a dog in a hot car, it’s common sense, yet worryingly this is not always applied.
Do you agree? Have you had a similar experience with extendable leads? Comment below!
When news of a serious or fatal dog attack surfaces on the websites and pages of the daily papers, the image used alongside the story is often one of the main features of the article. As the reader’s focus is shifted from the details of the incident to the large colour photograph of the dog, the nature of the report is changed from an informative news story to one that strives to evoke feelings of unease and incite hatred towards the breed as a whole. Often the breed is misidentified in the caption, and it is all too easy for journalists to make a mistake with regards to the dog shown, as highlighted in the coverage of the Lexi Branson case when many national and local papers printed photographs of Lexi with a Dogue De Bordeaux, a dog which was not present at the time of the attack. Although it takes seconds to tarnish a breed’s reputation, the media faces no consequences when publishing false information about dogs.
If a photograph of the dog involved in the attack is not available, tabloids will typically use a stock photo of a similar breed in an aggressive stance with its hackles raised and lip curled back into a snarl. It is not understood quite how the inclusion of an image showing a ‘random’ dog can be justified; it can not be for demonstrating the signs of aggression since we all know what an angry dog looks like. If the media really wanted to prevent further occurrences of bites through the use of photography, a simple ‘do’s and don’ts’ when interacting with dogs would be of much better use than a picture of a supposedly vicious beast. In the case of the photographs used in these articles, the camera can indeed lie; it is easy to make a dog appear to be on the verge of launching an attack despite it being of good temperament. The photograph below is commonly used alongside Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Pit Bull type attack stories, yet it is believed that the dog pictured is a family pet and is actually sneezing.
The real reason that so many papers do publish such images is simply to fill space and to echo the message within the story itself: these types of dog are dangerous. Compare any generic ‘dog mauls child’ article to one of a wild animal attack and the contrast, in both language and accompanying photographs, is obvious. A tiger killing a zoo keeper is an example of a tragic and terrifying incident but is one in which the animal involved is not likened to Satan, as in the case of the child-mauling ‘devil dog’. The reason for describing dogs that attack as such is simply because, unlike tigers, we live alongside dogs, and have done for thousands of years. They help the disabled amongst us, they assist with catching dangerous criminals, they are able to find missing persons, and most of all they are a valued companion. When the dog-human relationship goes wrong, and on the rare occasion a person is seriously hurt as a result, there is an element of shock and an uncomfortable feeling that the cuddly pooch we share our sofa with has the potential to cause life-threatening injuries. It is this response that the media utilises when including images of a snarling Staffie.
Dogs can be trained to show aggression on command, and although this is usually restricted to those in police and security work, can also be used in films. Some examples of training wolf-like dogs to show aggression for ‘acting roles’ can be seen in the video clips here and here. It is also possible to make a dog appear to be dangerous without any training; a photograph capturing a split second of a bark (or even a sneeze) can be misleading when accompanied by a sensationalist headline. In the photograph below, taken from this blog post by Mymegaedog, a friendly German Shepherd is barking in anticipation of its owner throwing a ball. The image underneath it shows the same dog just a few seconds later.
It would be overwhelmingly simple for the media to use a similar photograph of a barking dog and include the caption ‘Danger dog terrorises children in park’. Taking the image out of context portrays a different dog altogether to the playful Shepherd waiting to engage in a game of fetch.
Photographs, and indeed theatrical stories on dog attacks as a whole, do not contribute to stamping out irresponsible dog ownership. Instead they play on the ‘vicious weapon’ look, making Staffordshire Bull Terriers and similar breeds the ideal choice for those in search of a ‘status dog’ and diminishing the chances of a responsible family adopting one. The image is a shock tactic that the media relies on to support the content of their story in the majority of dog attack reports, which somewhat undermines the eyewitness accounts that are surely harrowing enough and do not require a stock photo to demonstrate the severity of an incident. It is unfortunate that such dubious and often inaccurate images are favoured over any photograph showing a friendly-natured example of the breed, which would weaken the story, but also show the dog that the reader is more likely to meet.
Cardiff Dogs Home found themselves at the centre of controversy last week following the news that three healthy puppies in their care had been put to sleep. It is understood that the puppies, named Samson, Daisy and Coco, were identified by a Dog Legislation Officer (DLO) as being ‘Pit Bull type’, and, since they had been found straying, had no owner to make an appeal and were immediately seized.
It is thought that the puppies were only 12 weeks old, making them too young to be ‘typed’ since the guidelines used in the identification of Pit Bull types are entirely based upon physical characteristics of an adult dog. With descriptions such as “height to weight ratio should be in proportion” and “the head should be around 2/3 width of shoulders” (Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales & Northern Ireland, 2009), it seems impossible that the DLO involved at Cardiff Dogs Home was able to make an accurate assessment;
“Dogs that are classed as dangerous due to type only and are too young to be accurately assessed must be subject to a DLO examination to determine whether they should remain with the owner until such a time that they can be accurately assessed (usually 9 months of age).” (Kent Police, 2013).
An informal statement was issued on December 13 and can be seen on the Cardiff Council website;
“We are aware of the negative publicity regarding the 3 pups that have been put to sleep at Cardiff’s Dogs Home. They have been positively classed as pit bull type by a qualified Dog Liaison Officer. This breed is unable to be re-homed by the Local Authority under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1990. The Dog’s Home has to adhere by the law and we are sending a very strong message out to indiscriminate breeders to stop what they are doing, the law is in place for a very good reason and it is with deep regret that we have to carry out such acts.”
Do indiscriminate breeders really care about the ‘message’ conveyed by putting puppies to sleep? Those breeding illegal dogs for financial or personal gain have little interest in the welfare of the puppies produced, especially since many are destined for the cruel world of dog fighting. It is unrealistic, and rather naive, to suggest that ending the lives of three healthy puppies will stop anyone involved in illegal activity to “stop what they are doing”. Since the euthanasia of the dogs did not make headlines, their deaths went unnoticed by the majority of the public, including those who produced them. The only people affected by this outcome are the staff and volunteers at Cardiff Dogs Home who had no choice but to hand over the puppies, who they had looked after since their arrival, knowing that their fate had been sealed. It is a shame that the spokesperson decided to add that “the law is in place for a very good reason”, despite not being able to correctly refer to the law as the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
It has already been established that the dogs were too young to be assessed. It is likely that many young puppies are rehomed each year as ‘Staffordshire Bull Terriers’ yet grow into a dog with a number of characteristics matching those of a Pit Bull type; it is simply impossible to tell exactly how a dog will look when fully grown if their genetic background is unknown. It is equally impossible to determine how many characteristics a 12 week old puppy has that match the description of an adult Pit Bull type.
The deaths of three puppies, who may have made excellent family pets, is a very sad occurrence and one which will continue until breed specific legislation is removed. Until then, rescue centres throughout the country will continue to dread the arrival of the Dog Legislation Officer.
Pit Bull type identification information taken from: Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales & Northern Ireland (2009) Guidance on Dealing with Dangerous Dogs.
Kent Police quote from here.
For details on how to become involved in the campaign against ‘BSL’, visit the DDA Watch website.
Results from the PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report 2013 have revealed worrying statistics regarding pet ownership within the UK. The report, which has been conducted annually by the PDSA and YouGov since its launch in 2011, highlights issues within the ownership of the three most popular pets, and has led the charity to create a digital ‘pet check’ that owners can use to receive advice regarding the five welfare needs outlined in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. These ‘needs’ are the minimum legal requirements that must be provided for animals kept in England and Wales; a suitable environment, a suitable diet, freedom to express natural behaviours, to be housed with or apart from other animals and to be protected from injury, pain, suffering and disease.
According to the report, 2.7 million dogs in the UK are not receiving adequate daily exercise, with 25% of dogs regularly being left alone for more than five hours each day. Being cooped up in a house for such long periods must be completely alien to a species designed for social contact and, in the case of many breeds, with the stamina to run for miles. Unexpended energy is often channelled through destructive or aggressive behaviours, and it is worth noting that at least one of the dogs involved in the fatal attack on Jade Anderson in March was not being given daily exercise and was often confined to a small crate. Dogs were not the only animals found to be suffering; one in four cats in the UK are overweight and around 2.3 million are not being vaccinated against fatal diseases such as Feline Influenza. Rabbits, often referred to as the most neglected species, are also not having their basic needs met, with a staggering 650,000 of them being kept in ‘solitary confinement’ and a further 180,000 being deprived of daily exercise.
Whilst the fact that millions of the nation’s pets are being denied the ‘five freedoms’ necessary for a healthy life is a major cause for concern in itself, another statistic could also spell trouble for people. According to the report, around 4.5 million dogs in the UK had not received formal obedience training by the age of six months. This means that more than half of the UK’s dog population are potentially unsocialised, a major cause for fearful aggression. Missing out on obedience classes also means a lack of general training knowledge on the part of the owner, meaning that any behavioural problems that may arise could be dealt with inappropriately, which is likely to have a negative impact on the dog and any future interactions with people. 88.8 percent of dogs that bite have never been given any obedience training, according to author Stanley Coren. Indeed, the average ‘status dog’ that bites and the dog found straying that killed Lexi Branson both have a lack of general training in common. Perhaps the reason for the lack of training is due to owners having insufficient funds available for training their dog, which begs the question of why they chose to own one (and how they afford to pay for their Sky television).
Unfortunately it is all too easy for owners to bypass obedience classes, which provide a lot more than ‘sit and stay’, just as it is all too easy to fall victim to an attack from an unsocialised, fearful and ‘stir crazy’ dog. With the PDSA report demonstrating a significant increase in irresponsible ownership in comparison to 2012, it is a sad fact that there are likely to be many more victims, both canine and human, in the near future.
Full details of the PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report can be found here.
Further information on how the Animal Welfare Act 2006 applies to dog ownership can be found on this DEFRA publication.
To find a dog trainer in your area registered with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, click this link.
Researchers from the University of Lincoln have recently published a paper entitled ‘Acculturation — Perceptions of breed differences in behavior of the dog (Canis familiaris)‘, which exposes the fundamental flaws in breed specific legislation and why, as part of the Dangerous Dogs Act, it does little to protect the public.
Their findings, which have been published in the American journal Human Animal Interaction Bulletin, demonstrate that those who receive little interaction with dogs are more likely to adopt a prejudiced view, comparable to racial stereotyping, than their dog-loving neighbours. According to the paper, more than half of those surveyed who identified as ‘experienced or knowledgeable’ about dogs oppose the stereotyping of specific breeds or types of dog, compared to only 15% of those who have had little or no experience with dogs. Less than one in 10 of respondents who had not owned a dog disagreed with the statement that breed specific legislation is necessary for protecting the public, with many holding the view that if a dog appears to be dangerous, it is more likely to show aggressive tendencies than its small and fluffy counterparts.
The research is a confirmation of what many of us dog lovers already know; that media and the Government play a major part in shaping the views of those who have little prior knowledge of dogs and what influences their behaviour. The research team concluded that breed specific legislation creates a false sense of security amongst the public, who may believe that dogs not deemed ‘dangerous’ by law and of a different shape to banned types are ‘safe’ and always good-natured. Breed specific legislation teaches the public that a dog’s temperament can be predicted based on its appearance, which of course is not possible. To quote the Kennel Club, “this is why dogs placed on the Index of Exempted Dogs have never been proven to be dangerous and why dogs of a breed or type other than those expressly prohibited have been involved in dog attacks.”
Myths such as the ‘lock jaw’ phenomenon also support the researchers’ opinion that breed specific legislation leads to negative stereotypes, forming an image of a vicious, crazed animal with locking jaws in the minds of the public. Whist it is true that Pit Bull Terriers do indeed have a strong bite capacity, the structure of their jaw is no different to that of any other dog breed. An experiment shown on National Geographic channel demonstrated that the Pit Bull Terrier has an average bite force of 235 pounds, compared to 238 pounds from a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler’s 328 pounds. A YouTube clip of this experiment can be seen here.
A ‘false sense of security’ has recently been talked about with regards to the popular term ‘nanny dog’, widely used amongst Staffie owners with good intentions of dispelling myths and forming positive opinions about the breed. It has been suggested that by telling everyone about the loving nature of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, owners and breed enthusiasts are inadvertently sending out the message that it is perfectly safe to leave a dog alone with a child. Whilst I’m sure that this was not the message that owners had in mind, a lack of knowledge together with misunderstandings fuelled by such messages is potentially an accident waiting to happen, through no fault of the dog. No dog, regardless of breed, size, age or temperament, should ever be left alone with a child – even a ‘nanny dog’.
The presence of breed specific legislation lays the foundation for the myths and negative stereotypes surrounding bull-breeds, which encourages the ‘wrong’ type of person to own a bull-breed, increasing the likelihood of dog attack incidents through the concept of ‘status dogs’, which, together with a general lack of knowledge and public misunderstanding, in turn supports the argument for breed specific legislation. It is a vicious circle that can only be broken with an overhaul of legislation and introduction of laws that place the blame solely on those responsible for their dog’s actions.
Read the University of Lincoln’s article here.
For more information on the Kennel Club’s views on dangerous dog legislation, see their campaign briefing here.
The phrase “Innocent until proven guilty” is clearly lost on the British press. For as the news broke on Wednesday 6th November that four year old Lexi Branson had been killed by a dog, the photographs accompanying articles in both national and local publications were that of a Dogue De Bordeaux, otherwise known as a French Mastiff.
Despite not having a confirmation of the breed, the Daily Mail included a small collection of ‘frightening’ facts about French Mastiffs, under the subtitle “Fearsome Cattle Guards”. Readers were unable to overlook the huge photograph of Lexi and the dog, which is now believed to belong to a friend of Lexi’s mother, Jodi Branson. Towards the end of the article, the reporter mentions that police officers had said that the dog was not thought to be listed under the Dangerous Dogs Act. If Leicestershire Police had not yet confirmed the breed, how did the Daily Mail know it was a French Mastiff? The truth was, they didn’t. Neither did many other papers, yet this did not stop them publishing different photographs of Lexi with the dog.
A day later and photographs of a different dog altogether replace those of the French Mastiff. This time it is the dog responsible for the attack. The dog, described as a “Bulldog”, was adopted by Jodi Branson from a rescue centre a few weeks earlier. It is thought that the centre had made it clear that the dog was unsuitable for rehoming with children; confusion over why Branson wanted a dog described as such, and why the centre allowed her to take the dog, appears to have been overshadowed by the original identification hiccup and the continued speculation around the dog’s breed. Other factors, such as that of the flat where the dog was kept being owned by a housing association which prohibits dogs, do indeed point to the rescue centre being at fault. It appears that the dog was rehomed without any initial checks to ensure the suitability of Branson’s home. It may be that Branson gave false details, which would also explain why the centre allowed her to take the dog despite the presence of a young child in the house. In any case, the incompetence of either the rescue centre or Lexi’s mother is of far greater importance than the dog’s breed.
When a tragic event such as this happens, it could be argued that the breed of dog involved is irrelevant; a little girl has died. With this in mind, it is even more frustrating that the media focus on the dog itself rather than the bigger picture surrounding the incident. If the rescue centre is giving out animals to anyone who walks through their doors, it doesn’t bear thinking about how many dogs have been unwittingly rehomed to an environment in breach of the Animal Welfare Act, or even ended up in the hands of dog fighters. It also raises the question of how many other centres nationwide operate in a similar manner, and how many other children are at risk, at no fault of the dog, which may have been abused.
The Kennel Club were quick to issue a statement regarding both the English Bulldog and the French Mastiff breeds, stating that both have a loving nature and that “no dog should ever be portrayed as being representative of an entire breed”. Unfortunately the French Mastiff, which presumably was not even on the premises at the time of the attack, has been tainted with ‘rumours’ which should never have been published. The English Bulldog is now also under the glaring eye of the public, despite the dog involved clearly not being a purebred example. With Sky News publishing a gallery of dog breeds involved in recent attacks, debate has once again arisen over whether more breeds of dog should be included in Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act. Thankfully the Government have confirmed that they have no plans to ban more breeds, however it is worrying to consider that these types of breed-blaming news articles were what originally influenced the introduction of breed specific legislation in 1991.
It seems that there are no signs of the media ceasing to publish such inaccurate and damaging articles, despite it being in the interest of everyone, both human and canine.
Read the Kennel Club’s statement here: http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/press-releases/2013/november/statement-following-the-death-of-lexi-branson/