We should have responded to 999 call about Leeds dog attack, police admit

A Yorkshire veterinary surgeon has called for the introduction of a 24-hour service dealing with stray and dangerous dogs after her own pet was attacked by an out-of-control animal on the streets of Leeds.

Vet Saskia Klauck with her dog Maya. Picture by Tony Johnson

Saskia Klauck, of Oakwood, Leeds, a partner at a practice in Pudsey, says the number of dog attacks is on the increase but that incidents happening outside office hours are not being dealt with properly as no local agency will take responsibility.

The 40-year-old spoke out after her dog Maya was attacked by a stray bull-breed dog in “an immensely terrifying” incident as she walked the border terrier home on a Sunday morning earlier this month.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

After calling police to report the incident, she was told stray dogs were the responsibility of the local council and that no officer would be sent to the scene. West Yorkshire Police has since admitted it should have responded better to the call.

According to Dr Klauck, the dog that attacked her had been “rustling about under a tree on the pavement” with a length of metal chain dragging behind from its collar and was showing “very aggressive body language”.

She said: “We went to the other side of the road to avoid the dog, but even though we were some distance from it, it came charging towards us, growling, bit my leg, and then went for my dog.

“The only reason I was unharmed was for the fact that I was wearing sturdy leather boots and that this dog let go of me and attacked Maya instead, who was barking at the other dog in a vain attempt to protect me.”

Dr Klauck picked Maya up and managed to extricate her by kicking the attacking animal, but said her dog suffered puncture wounds and extensive bruising. She said: “Had I not picked her up she would have in all likelihood not survived.”

She said she called West Yorkshire Police immediately for help only to be told that stray dogs were the responsibility of the council dog warden, who only worked Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm.

She said: “Even on my insistence that this was an out-of-control and dangerous dog, and my emphasis that this dog was a danger for the public and may well go on and attack someone else who might be unfortunate enough to pass by, the police refused to accept responsibility and help.

“This left me feeling extremely angry and helpless. Not only was I standing there, with my bleeding dog in my arms and the aggressive dog still in sight, but in the knowledge that the police don’t care. Surely it is the responsibility of the police to keep the public safe?”

Dr Klauck, who is originally from Berlin, is now calling for a 24-hour service to be introduced, either by police or council officials, to deal with stray and dangerous dogs, to make sure they are taken away and that the animals and the public are protected.

She said her experiences working at Vets4Pets in Pudsey showed her that number of dogs attacks are on the rise. She said: “I have heard often quite devastating accounts, and have seen the effect that attacks have had on my clients and their pets, both physical, because I have to repair the frequently terrible injuries, and psychologically.”

Tom Donohoe, West Yorkshire Police’s Customer Contact Centre Manager, said: “The seizure of stray dogs became the responsibility of local authorities following a change to the law in 2008.

“In this instance, however, the caller explained that she thought the dog was dangerous and that it had tried to bite her. In such a situation police should have therefore responded.

“We take an average of 1,000 calls to the 999 number every day and the vast majority of them are dealt with appropriately - unfortunately on this occasion we fell below the extremely high standards we set ourselves.

“The call handler will receive extra training to ensure we learn from our mistakes.”

Since 2008 local councils, rather than the police, have had a legal duty to deal with stray dogs in their area. But in 2013 animal welfare charities who carry out dog rehoming warned that the handling of stray dogs has become a “postcode lottery”.

They warned that cuts to local authority budgets meant services being “curtailed or cut”, with charities left to “pick up the pieces”.

A Leeds City Council spokeswoman said: “Dealing with dangerous dogs remains the responsibility of the police. If reported to us, we do respond to reports of out of control dogs to support our police colleagues during our operating hours.

“Outside our working hours, dangerous dogs should be reported to the police. We focus on working with owners to ensure dogs don’t become strays in the first place. The number of strays we deal with has reduced since we introduced dog control orders designed to help us and owners keep track of their pets.

“While resources don’t allow dog wardens to work around the clock, we’ve put in place arrangements so that the public can report or take stray dogs to a kennel, as we are required to by law.”

The Yorkshire Post reported last month that West Yorkshire Police had installed new kennels in response to rising numbers of dangerous dog incidents.

A senior facial surgeon from Leeds, Christopher Mannion, says education is the key to tackling the problem and that better data about dog bite injuries is needed.

Dr Klauck said bull-breed dogs like those which attacker her pet “can make really lovely pets” and that it was the behaviour of their owners that made them aggressive.

She said: “Most dogs won’t randomly attack but there are quite a lot of dogs out there that have been trained for this kind of thing. In my neighbourhood there are lots of them. The neighbours moved the dogs around their different houses so it is impossible to trace them.

“In Switzerland, if you get a puppy you have to do compulsory dog training for six months and then do a test. I would like to see something like that.

“In Germany, where I am from, you have a tag that goes on your dog’s collar. If you don’t have that, the authorities do check and you can be fined. Something like that would really help because then you could prove ownership.”

The Sentencing Council has drafted new guidance for courts on how to deal with people who breed dogs to be aggressive or used as weapons after maximum sentences were increased last year.

Changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which came into force last year, significantly increased maximum sentences and introduced a new offence to cover attacks on assistance dogs.

It also extended the law to cover offences on private property, which could include attacks on postal workers while delivering mail.

Dog owners will be required by law to have their pets microchipped from next year in a bid to cut the number of lost or abandoned dogs. From April next year, all dogs in England must be micro-chipped and registered to an approved database by the time they are eight weeks old.

The Yorkshire Post reported last month that the region’s largest police force, West Yorkshire Police, had installed new kennels in response to rising numbers of dangerous dog incidents.

But a senior facial surgeon from Leeds, Christopher Mannion, says education is the key to tackling the problem and that better data about dog bite injuries is needed.