11:30 am - March 2nd 2010
Calls for changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act are becoming strident and oh-so-political (step forward Kit Malthouse). I’ve been working with the Dogs Trust and other groups on this article about the act and perceptions of dangerous dogs:
I’ve owned dogs all my life: labradors, retrievers, yorkies and a large, lovable, hairy number whose father could have been anything. “Wow,” people would say when she walked past. “What’s that?” I have a pit breed dog, see. I wanted to give a good home to a dog that might otherwise not have found one.
It’s been nearly 20 years since the dangerous dogs act made it into law – and to the top of our (rather competitive) rankings for misguided legislation. Neither people, nor dogs have come out in front with the DDA: those who know and care for dogs and people are – well, baying for change.
The number of dog-on-human attacks has not altered for the better in 20 years. Some argue the numbers are worse, and others say they’re the same. Nobody says they’ve dropped. The world of dog attack statistics is a maelstrom of politics, misinterpretation, inaccuracy and hysteria: we’ll try to unpick the numbers as we go on.
The act has been no picnic for dogs, either: with its emphasis on banning breeds (the pitbull type terrier, the Japanese Tosa, and the rarely-seen-here-anyway Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro) the DDA has succeeded mainly in contributing to the global destruction of the reputation of dogs that had – particularly in the pit-type dog’s case – a great history as favoured companions and champions. They were never bred for conflict with people, as we’ll see.
By virtue of their illegality, they’ve become attractive to a small number of dog owners who like the thought of a canine fiend.
They’re thrown into pits for illegal dogfights (I know three rescue dogs, Ace, Tazz and Channa, who were rescued from owners who used them as pit bait. Their new owners walk them in Greenwich park, where we walk our dog).
Another irony of breed specific legislation like the DDA is that it is difficult to be specific about the breeds it aims to ban.
There’s no breed standard for the animal the DDA describes as the “type known as the pit bull terrier”. There is just a bunch of dogs that might look the part, and have pit-type DNA.
There is, in other words, good reason why it’s a waste of time trying to decide a dog’s personality on the basis of its face, but that is what BSL wants to do.
None of which is to say that pit type dogs haven’t killed and injured in the last 30 years, because they have. It’s just that their type is the least of it. They don’t come out of the box as uberkillers with special fangs and an innate inclination to go batshit.
Bloodhounds (used to track and kill slaves and convicts), German Shepherds and Dobermanns (associated with Nazis), Rottweilers, St Bernards, huskies and labradors (starving, ill treated sled dogs) have all been accused of the same over the years.
* * * * * * * * * *
As Malcolm Gladwell put it in his seminal New Yorker article on the dangers of generalisation, ‘a pit bull is dangerous to people, then, not to the extent that it expresses its essential pit bullness but to the extent that it deviates from it.’
So it is that the Dogs Trust is lobbying all three political parties to shift the DDA’s emphasis. They wants all dogs microchipped at point of exchange, so that dogs can be traced to original breeders – the trust is working with local authorities on a UK wide chipping campaign.
They also want doggie Asbos – the early identification of dogs and owners that have begun to cause trouble, and compulsory obedience training, neutering, and leads and muzzles for problem dogs.
The Communication Workers Union, which represents postal workers (6,000 of whom are attacked by dogs each year) and keeps numbers on dog attacks, is of like mind. ‘We’re very much of the ‘it’s the deed, not the breed’ point of view,’ says spokesman Karl Stewart. ‘And we’d agree that the DDA’s emphasis on breeds has missed the point somewhat.’
The CWU wants the DDA changed to allow prosecution of owners whose dogs attack on private property. At the moment, the law only targets people with dogs ‘that are dangerously out of control in a public place,’ which isn’t terribly helpful for posties, who by law must deliver mail to all addresses.
A longer version of this article, featuring interviews, is over at Kate’s blog.
Kate Belgrave is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a New Zealander who moved to the UK eight years ago. She was a columnist and journalist at the New Zealand Herald and is now a web editor. She writes on issues like public sector cuts, workplace disputes and related topics. She is also interested in abortion rights, and finding fault with religion. Also at: Hangbitching.com and @hangbitch
· Other posts by Kate Belgrave
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- Liberal Conspiracy
Time to re-think the Dangerous Dogs Act http://bit.ly/9GsJsf
- Kate B
@DaveHill Hey there Dave, Kate here from Lib Con. Have done a piece on dangerous dogs act/ Kit Malthouse – can we talk? http://bit.ly/9GsJsf
Liberal Conspiracy » Time to re-think the Dangerous Dogs Act: About the author: Kate Belgrave is a regular contrib… http://bit.ly/d9n2TG
Dogs Aren't Dangerous, Chavvy Fuckwit Owners Are Dangerous http://bit.ly/a8k0O9 (on @libcon)
- Davey Hill
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Liberal Conspiracy » Time to re-think the Dangerous Dogs Act: Is this because you believe that their 'dangerous' n… http://bit.ly/b7z6TY
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