Chance to tighten law on danger dog attacks missed say charities

Police dog handlers removing a pit bull during a raid.
Police dog handlers removing a pit bull during a raid.
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Government plans to crack down on attacks by dangerous dogs have been condemned by animal welfare charities who say the new measures are a “wasted opportunity”.

Under the new plans, breeders will be forced to microchip puppies before they are sold and close a “loophole” to allow dog owners to face prosecution if their pet attacks someone who is lawfully on their property.

But many charities criticised the failure to bring in measures to prevent attacks, such as “dog control orders” which would force owners to keep dogs identified as potential problem animals on a lead or muzzled in public.

And news the plans were subject to a further consultation was met with dismay by campaigners and the postal workers’ union, who have been pushing for changes to the law for years.

Environment Department (Defra) Minister Jim Paice said the measures would allow the police to protect “legitimate visitors to private property” and to take action before an attack.

He 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.”

But Communication Workers’ Union general secretary Billy Hayes called for immediate action, rather than a consultation.

He said that during the period of talks 12 postal workers would be attacked every day, with many having no protection in law as 70 per cent of attacks took place on private property.

“It’s about time the law bit back to protect innocent dog attack victims,“ he said. “Thousands of postal workers and telecom engineers – along with other workers who go on to private property and parents of small children – desperately need the private property loophole closing so that they have some protection.”

The Dogs’ Trust welcomed the extension of dangerous dog laws to ensure prosecution of owners whose animals attack people on private property, and said that while microchipping would not prevent attacks it would effectively link dogs to owners and make them responsible for their pets’ behaviour.

However, the Trust also called for ways to deal with attacks before they occur, for example by issuing dog control notices to owners of dogs which are out of control or aggressive, ensuring they are muzzled or on a lead in public.

Clarissa Baldwin, Dogs’ Trust chief executive, said: “Government must tackle this problem head on with completely new legislation, rather than just tinkering round the edges.

“We’re extremely disillusioned that there is nothing in the consultation on measures that will actually help to prevent dog attacks, which is surely what the aim of these proposals should be.”

Battersea Dogs & Cats’ Home described the measures as a “wasted opportunity” to address irresponsible owners and welfare issues.

The charity’s chief executive, Claire Horton, said: “If only puppies were to be microchipped it could take many years for this to affect all dogs, and with scant detail from the Government on how this scheme will be enforced, will it make any difference?

“How in real life will this tackle the thousands of irresponsible owners who will continue to unscrupulously breed and sell puppies, or abandon dogs with little thought for animal welfare?”

According to Defra, five people – four of them under four – were killed following a dog attack in the home between 2007 and 2010.

And the number of dog-related admissions to hospital is on the rise, up from 2,915 in 1997 to 6,118 in 2010, costing the NHS £3.3m in 2009 alone.