Dangerous dogs and the people who fail to control them face a new clampdown in order to protect the public, Defra Minister of State Jim Paice revealed today.
Approximately 210,000 people a year are attacked by dogs in England alone, including 4,000 postal workers trying to deliver mail.
There have been five fatal dog attacks in homes since 2007 - four of them on children - and hospital admissions for serious dog bites have more than doubled over the past decade.
The Government is therefore extending existing dangerous dogs laws to any private property, closing a loophole in the current criminal law which only covers public land.
There will also be a short consultation on how to introduce more comprehensive micro-chipping of dogs, as called for by major animal charities and many members of the public. In addition there will be more support for the police, councils and charities dealing with irresponsible owners and dangerous dogs.
Jim Paice said:
“We are known as a nation of animal lovers who take proper care of our pets. But there are a minority of irresponsible dog owners who don’t. These people allow their dogs to menace or even attack innocent members of the public. This has to stop.
“We’ve all heard the stories of snarling dogs not being properly kept under control or heard from health workers, postal workers or social workers who are at risk of serious injury from out of control dogs while just doing their job, attending to people in their homes.
“Today we are announcing a comprehensive package of measures that tackle the problem head on, which will better protect legitimate visitors to private property and will enable the police to take action before someone is hurt or killed.”
The plans also put forward proposals to allow the police, when dealing with any dogs which are subject to proceedings under the Dangerous Dogs Act, to take a common sense decision as to whether the dog really needs to be kept away from their owners until the outcome of proceedings.
Jim Paice added:
“Our plans must strike the right balance between protecting the public from dangerous dogs and ensuring that safe and properly looked after pets don’t need to be wrenched from their home unnecessarily.
“We’re giving the police more discretion to take common-sense decisions where dogs are clearly not a threat by ending the requirement that they be seized and kennelled, at great cost to the taxpayer and distress to the owner involved, while a decision is taken on whether to exempt the dog from being destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act.”
Defra’s proposals are:
- Extending dangerous dog laws to all private property - without penalising the owners of animals that defend them against trespassers;
- Consulting on whether to micro-chip all dogs to help tackle the problem of irresponsible owners and ease the overwhelming number of strays that are put down as the owner cannot be identified;
- Giving the police more discretion to take common sense decisions by ending an anomaly requiring dogs be seized and kennelled, at great cost to the taxpayer and distress to the owner and dog involved, while a decision is taken on whether to exempt the dog from being destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act;
- Providing £50,000 for local and community projects involving animal welfare organisations, the police, local authorities and community groups to promote more responsible dog ownership in estates, youth clubs and schools;
- Providing £20,000 for the training of expert police dog legislation officers in each force;
- Issuing new guidance to help the courts deal more effectively with seized dogs.
In addition, in order to improve consistency of sentencing the Sentencing Council, has been consulting on the sentences available to courts for owners of dangerous dogs, especially those who allow their animals to attack, and the Home Office has been examining measures to tackle anti-social behaviour.
Notes to Editors
Details of the consultation can be found here: www.defra.gov.uk/consult/2012/04/23/dangerous-dogs-1204/.
The Dangerous Dogs Act allows owners of dogs that attack people to be prosecuted, with the maximum penalty a £5,000 fine or two years imprisonment. The Government is extending this to cover attacks which happen on any private property.
NHS hospital admissions for dog bites more than doubled from 2,915 in 1997/98 to 6,118 in 2010, costing the NHS £3.3million.
The number of dogs seized by the Metropolitan Police rose by half from 719 in 2008/09 to 1,100 in 2009/10.
84% of respondees to a public consultation in 2010 wanted to see micro-chipping of dogs made compulsory. 58% of dog owners have already had their dogs micro-chipped voluntarily.
Many animal charities offer to micro-chip dogs for free or at reduced rates for those on low incomes. Private veterinary practices will charge around £20. This compares to £70 for the cost of vaccinating a puppy and £18 for a worming treatment.
Current Dangerous Dogs legislation bans four dog types - Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro.
The Metropolitan Police alone spend £2.75m each year on kennelling dangerous dogs, both these banned types and any dogs dangerously out of control.
The Sentencing Council recently consulted on proposals about how the owners of dangerous dogs should be sentenced by the courts. The Sentencing Guidelines are due to be released in mid-May 2012 due to come into force 3 months later in August 2012.