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You Look Like a Monster

Monster or Friend?

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, enacted on 12th August 1991, bans five types of dog in the UK. It is illegal to ‘own, sell, breed, give away or abandon’:

  • Pitbull terrier

  • Dogo Argentino

  • Fila Brasilerio

  • Japanese Tosa

  • American XL bully 

The act can be considered ‘breed-specific’ legislation, and this approach can be considered controversial as many people argue that it does not consider the key contributing elements to dog attacks, primarily ‘irresponsible dog owners who train their dogs to be aggressive.’

If a person owns a ‘dangerous dog’ then they can be faced with a prison sentence and/or ‘a ban on keeping dogs.’ Alongside this, they can face fines and will likely have to pay compensation and costs if their dog causes an injury to a person. Maximum jail sentences for dog attacks ‘significantly increased in 2014’ with owners facing 14-years maximum if their dog kills a person and 5 years for an injury. In such cases, if the owner is unable to convince the court that their animal is not a danger to the public, the dog ‘is likely to be put down.’ If the owner is successful in convincing the court that their dog is not a danger, then they will be added to the ‘Index of exempted Dogs.’ The dogs will be allowed to return home, but this is only ‘under certain conditions’: they must be neutered, and ‘kept on a lead and muzzled in a public place’, including when travelling in a car. 

Although there are strong criticisms of this law, mainly focused on the lack of acknowledgement or consideration of the key factors contributing to a dog attack, there are many who welcome this. Lawrence Newport of the Campaign from Evidence Based Regulation of Dangerous Dogs (CEBRDD) stated that ‘Retrievers retrieve, pointers point. Fighting dogs fight. We have found this to our great cost.’ He continued that the importation of the American bully, had ‘led to skyrocketing deaths and attacks’ and the ban will ‘allow the government and police to act, before another child or pet is ripped apart.’

Criticisms highlight that when deciding on whether a dog is ‘dangerous’, there is no consideration given to a ‘dog’s parents’ breed, DNA testing OR behaviour’ and therefore the dogs are classed as illegal based on looks alone. Previous to the Act, there were many cases where based on looks alone, the dog was killed. The criticisms are not only spoken or simply believed by many, but there are actually statistics that prove that the Act needs closely looked at and potentially amended or reformed. There are figures which ‘show that 550 dogs seized under section 1 of the DDA last year were eventually deemed safe and returned to their owners’, however, many of those dogs ‘were kept away from their owners in kennels for the duration of a costly court case.’ This can be deeply upsetting for both the owners and dogs who have to experience this.

The most significant criticism, however, is that the Act is not achieving the goal which is the basis of its existence – it is not ‘limiting the number of dog attacks on humans.’ This is evidenced by reports such as an RSPCA report which found that since the introduction of the Act, twenty-one of thirty people killed in 2016 were ‘caused by non-banned breeds.’ However, this could simply also be due to the fact that there are now ‘less banned breeds’ living in the UK. On the other hand, the RSPCA ‘also found that since the DDA’, ‘admissions to hospital for injuries inflicted by dogs have risen.’ 

Another significant issue which arises in this discussion is the evaluation of human treatment of dogs. Although numbers of non-banned breeds attacking people have risen, animal cruelty has unfortunately also risen. Although in 2017, there was a ‘supposed ‘panic’ regarding the relatively small number of deaths caused by dogs’, there were ‘over one million calls made to the RSPCA emergency helpline’ with around 141,000 cases being further investigated. Animals that are mistreated cannot be expected to behave as though they live in comfortable and supportive environments. Dogs that are scared, hurt and abused are obviously more likely to act aggressively and possibly attack a human, as to the animal, they are simply defending themselves. Therefore, the current approach of deciding whether a dog should be banned based simply on ‘looks’ completely dismisses these salient issues. 

When truly exploring this topic, many sensitive arguments, questions and ideas arise, for example, should a dog be automatically killed if they injure/kill a person? Is one attack simply enough for us to decide to end a dog’s life? If so, are they not equal to humans? If they are, then why do humans not face consequences when hurting animals? If they aren’t, then why is this? In every second that passes, there are more animals suffering at the hands of humans than there are humans being attacked by any animal, even more so any breed of dog - should this be considered?

Regardless of whether or not any of the aforementioned questions should be considered when discussing and deciding on such legislation, it is glaringly obvious that there needs to be more questions asked than what currently is when looking at this legislation. 

It is true that there are dog breeds that were bred to enhance their fighting ability, and with the attacks that have taken place in the past and still currently take place, it is more than necessary to consider some kind of legislation to control this. However, it is also arguably unfair to decide a dog’s future based on its appearance alone. The lack of research into the dog’s DNA, its parents’ behaviour and upbringing is unimpressive, and in a world where so many people are constantly trying to prove how far humans have come, and how we care more for the environment and animals than ever previously – reforming this should come more naturally.  


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