Thank you for contacting me about the RSPCA’s calls for the UK Government to end Breed Specific legislation.
As a dog lover myself, I understand the strength of feeling on all sides when discussing this legislation. As I understand it, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 implemented a broad range of new offences in relation to fighting dogs, as well as dog attacks on people and other animals. As it stands, the law prohibits the ownership of four types of fighting dog to ensure public safety. Speaking with my colleagues from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ministers and I feel compelled to agree with the advice of the police, that the ban on the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero should remain in place.
While this legislation may misrepresent the behaviours and attitudes of individual dogs and their owners, and that other dog breeds are just as capable of causing harm, the available evidence strongly shows that prohibited type dogs, such as the pit bull terrier, are involved in a disproportionately high number of attacks on people, including fatalities.
It is also important to note that not all banned dogs in the UK are euthanised. I know that if a court decides that the owner is a fit and proper person and the dog presents no danger to public safety, the dog can be kept under strict conditions, for example, it may be required to wear a muzzle and remain on a lead in public places. Once these conditions have been met, it is also placed on an index of exempted dogs. I believe this is an appropriate approach when determining whether a dog can be safely exempted. I have been told that there are currently around 3,700 dogs where a court has granted an exemption and allowed them to stay with their owner.
As you have alluded to in your email, I too agree that dogs should not spend long periods of time in kennels while any court case takes place, but this must be balanced with the threat to public safety posed by the dog. Where the relevant Chief Officer of Police is satisfied about the dog’s temperament, and the suitability of the owner, a seized dog suspected of being a prohibited breed can be released back to the owner while the court case is waiting to be heard.
In 2018, a Parliamentary Committee conducted a review into controlling dangerous dogs. The report made a series of recommendations to improve dog ownership and help reduce the likelihood of further dog attacks, I am delighted that the Government has responded positively to these suggestions. Ministers have now commissioned research by Middlesex University into dog attacks which will consider different approaches and the effectiveness of current dog control measures. It will also examine the factors and situations that may cause dog attacks. The report is currently being peer reviewed, and I understand that the intention is to publish the final report later this year.
Of course, no dog should be found guilty by association or appearance, the behaviour of any dog depends on several factors, including the training, the actions of the owner and the environment in which it lives, and my ministerial colleagues recognise that they have to balance the views of people who wish to repeal breed-specific legislation with their responsibility to ensure that the public are properly protected from dog attacks. That is why I support the Government’s efforts to promote responsible dog ownership. That is why I welcome measures such as compulsory microchipping and increasing the maximum penalty for those held responsible for a dog attack to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.