Yesterday a new dangerous dogs type law was passed by the Scottish Parliament, and at first glance it looks pretty good. It has already been christened “ASBO’s for dogs”.
Control of Dogs Act (Scotland)
For once, it is a dog law that addresses the issues of dog behaviour inside the home as well as out. MSP Christine Grahame quipped “Postmen and post-women of Scotland, rejoice!” when she announced the unanimous passing of her Control of Dogs Act through the Scottish parliament. The problem of poorly trained or out of control dogs in the home has long been one that has needed to be dealt with in law. One of the many flaws in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is that it does not apply inside the home. This has left anyone who during the course of their employment is required to enter homes in a position where the law did not protect them. At least now this flaw in the Dangerous Dogs Act has been corrected in Scotland.
Breed Specific Legislation is Wrong
Breed specific legislation is clearly the wrong path to take as it criminalises those that have done no wrong, but law makers often ignore this fact in the quest for a quick fix. Another piece of good news about this Scottish law is that the Control of Dogs Act (Scotland) is based upon deed and not breed, thus avoiding adding to the controversy surrounding breed specific legislation. This truly is a great piece of news for responsible pet owners that have put hours of effort into training well behaved and reliable dogs. The Scottish law now stands in sharp contrast to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (UK) which punishes all owners of a specific breed or type of dog based upon ownership of that breed, despite the fact that the animal has done nothing wrong other than being born.
It was nice to see publicly recognised experts applauding this new law too. “This a fantastic step forward in our campaign against breed-specific legislation and we are grateful to Christine Grahame and Patricia Ferguson for enshrining the important principle of ‘deed not breed’ ” said Bill Reilly, who is the President of the British Veterinary Society.
He went on to say “The key message is that any dog can show aggression, particularly if it is not handled and trained properly, so legislation that targets irresponsible ownership before it becomes a problem is very welcome.”
I really couldn’t agree more.
My only reservation about this new law is with regard to householders protecting their properties and the fact that when questioned about why the bill should cover dogs inside an owners residence Christine Grahame replied “The horror reports of children and infants savaged to death have more often than not occurred in a private dwelling where the dog was permitted to be – a relative’s house for example.” So yet again a bill has arrived in parliament, driven by a media agenda rather than data on what is actually happening in the real world.
My respect for the good lady would have been greatly increased if she has said something like “It is necessary to prevent attacks on postal workers and other persons who have legitimate reasons to enter a property. We also wish to prevent attacks upon children by out of control dogs, following recent recorded increases in attacks upon them. The law will not apply in cases where the person so attacked was committing a crime, such as burglary.” (In fact, recent NHS dog attack statistics show that attacks on very young children [0-9 years] have actually declined, although attacks on children overall have increased. You can read more about this in my last post about UK Dog Injury Statistics)
The reasons that I take this stance about the law are as follows:
- Persons with a legitimate reason to enter a property need to be protected. Here I am looking at delivery people such as milkmen and postmen, but also police officers and other emergency workers.
- People that enter a property illegally should never be allowed to claim against a property owner if an animal attacks them. I am hesitant to say it in this current climate of political correctness gone wrong, but if you enter a property illegally then you deserve all that you get. Householders should have an inalienable right to defend themselves and their properties from marauding thugs. If the defence that they choose to employ is a guard dog, then so be it.
- My final point is that law should ideally be founded on the facts of the matter and not on media hype. Dog attacks against children aged 0-9 have actually declined according to recent figures and so protecting children from “horror reports” seems a bit strange. Why wasn’t the law enacted when the attacks were increasing and not now when they seem to be dropping? Was the decision to act at all driven by the press or by the facts?
Despite all of this the new law must be applauded as a huge step forward. Hopefully the day is soon approaching where we will see the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 repealed and a sensible law to protect people from dog attacks in its place.
Original Proposal for the Bill: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/s3/bills/membersbills/documents/StatementofReasonsFINAL.pdf