Change Breed Specific Legislation to Focus More on responsible Dog Ownership - Not Breed
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Breed Specific Legislation, as part of the Dangerous Dogs Act, bans four breeds of dog from the UK. The issue here, is that despite being in place for over 25 years, the number of dog attacks is still rising. The reason for this is because the issue is not about the type of dog that is owned, but actually centres around responsible pet ownership.
I have worked with vets for the last six years, and over that time have seen countless innocent dogs destroyed - not because they had attacked anybody or posed a threat to the public - but simply because of the breed they were (or look like in appearance)
One personal experience that sticks in my mind, is when a dog warden had seized a pit bull type dog and brought it into the vets to be destroyed. This dog was only just a year old, still very much puppy like in nature. She had not been seized because she had attacked anybody, or because she posed a threat. The sole reason she had been seized was because she looked like a Pit bull.
This does not coincide with the purpose that this legislation was created for. It does not prevent dog attacks, as these are rising, and in actual fact a lot of dog attacks are committed by breeds of dog that are not banned.
In addition, the legislation does not even give stringent guidelines to determine if a dog is a "banned breed" or not. The dog can be seized based on nothing except it's appearance - if the police have the opinion that your dog is a banned breed, it can be seized and can be destroyed. Again I must emphasise, why are we basing any part of our laws only on somebody's opinion?
To make a law effective we need to base this in a balanced way on facts - such as the increase on dog attacks and hospital admissions related to dog attacks despite the ban being in place - proving that this law is ineffective as there are less of these banned breeds that are owned.
A puppy does not even have to be born as a banned breed. The parents of a dog can be two labrador retrievers, and yet if one of their resulting puppies happens to bear some resemblance in appearance to a banned breed, it can and may very well be seized and destroyed.
This also means that owners who are otherwise very responsible with their dog ownership, are having their pets callously taken away from them and destroyed for no justifiable reason. I have seen the impact this has, and so many people have the same concerns with this legislation. People such as veterinary surgeons or dog wardens are often forced by the law to destroy dogs that do not pose a threat, only because of their breed, which is greatly upsetting when you have pledged to do everything in your power to uphold animal welfare.
I am very passionate that no innocent animal should be condemned simply because it has the misfortune to be born as a certain breed. We should not punish these animals where the blame does not lie with them. It is great we have the dangerous dogs act to help keep the public safe, but this must be based on responsible pet ownership in order to be effective.
Some banned breeds, such as the pit bull, are also naturally people oriented. They may have originally been bred for the purpose of dog fighting back in the 1970's and 80's, but they were also bred to be people friendly, to allow the handlers to be able to get near them and train them. There is no hard evidence to suggest that a dog is more likely to attack somebody because of it's breed - whether a dog attacks or relies on a whole number of different factors. These are just some of the faults and issues that greatly concern me with breed specific legislation.
A great number of attacks on children are the result of a child not being properly supervised. Dogs are still sentient animals and ANY breed of dog can be provoked to bite if the dog feels threatened or overwhelmed by a child gripping the dog's neck or smothering it. This is where education on basic dog behaviour and a dog's needs - as well as how to keep vulnerable people such as children safe, is invaluable and sorely needed.
The law should instead focus on educating owners on dog behaviour, and the responsibility of owning a dog. A lot has been done in this regard in terms of the microchipping law that is now in place, but more innocent dogs are still being destroyed. There is still more that has to be done so that no animal, not even one dog, is seized simply on the basis of it's breed alone.
We can change the law so that this focusses on promoting responsible ownership by ensuring that not only are dogs microchipped, but that they are kept on lead except in a secure area. Even having to have a license in order to own a dog may help to promote responsible ownership, or making it compulsory to neuter a dog by a certain age, (unless you are a registered breeder) - there are a whole number of ways we can change this law so that it focusses on promoting responsibility among owners rather than simply a breed of dog. The penalties should also be more owner focussed, imposing fines and sentences on owners that allow their dogs to be dangerously out of control or do not comply with other aspects of the law, irrespective of breed.
The bottom line, is that breed specific legislation is ineffective for the purpose it was created for - evident by the fact that so many innocent dogs are destroyed based on their appearance, where they would otherwise live long and happy lives without posing any threat to the public. If we construct and change this law in the right way, then the result will be an increase in awareness among the public, and an increase in owners taking responsibility for their animals, and a decrease in dogs who do not pose any threat from being destroyed. This, I believe, is the only way the number of dog attacks is going to be lessened in the UK, and is why breed specific legislation must be drastically changed or otherwise, ideally, abolished altogether.
We are known as a nation of animal lovers - so lets prove that by making our laws fair not only for the public and people, but also for our animals who have nobody else to speak up for them.
Picture by USPCA animal hospital
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