Since its inception in 1991 the Dangerous Dogs Act has attracted controversy. Many people hold the opinion that it was a flawed piece of legislation, rushed through parliament with little or no consultation, in order to appease a public mood at the time that was largely media driven. The British people have been known for generations as having a soft spot for dogs and pets in general. No sane or sensible person would want to see dogs needlessly destroyed but this is exactly what the Dangerous Dogs Act achieved. So the question must be: How is it possible for a nation of dog lovers to allow a law to stand that punishes and destroys a dog for nothing other than its breed?
While genetics and breeding play a large role in determining behaviour they are not the whole story. Even though Collies are bred to herd sheep and have been for generations there are many Collies that are still rejected by trainers as being temperamentally unsuitable for herding. Similarly the police train German Shepherds for crowd control and other duties, yet the police reject hundreds of dogs throughout the year as being unsuitable for police training. These dogs are rejected despite the fact that the police employ their own dog breeding program. If genetics is the whole story then why should we see so many “failed” dogs in the specialist area that they were bred for?
What if the dog in question was bred to fight other dogs? Would you expect the results to be any different than those previously described? Would you expect every single dog of a given breed to be a vicious, dangerous dog that needed to be euthanized at the earliest opportunity in order to protect the public from its salivating, drool covered, jaws? Clearly I am exaggerating for dramatic effect, I admit it. Unfortunately when the media does the same thing they are not so candid.
Dangerous Dog Attacks in the Media
The media is in the business of creating interest. At its most fundamental this is a marketing job. Anything, literally anything, that you didn’t know before is “news” to you. A dog attack is a dramatic event. This can help explain why, in the absence of a real story the media will hype up even a minor event into a larger story. If enough people seem interested, then of course there will be more of the same and to be honest, even if they aren’t interested…sometimes.
The public has a natural desire to protect children. If, as human beings, we did not have this urge we would have died out already. As birth rates are so low in the UK children have become increasingly scarce and so the urge to protect them has become heightened. This explains part of the reason why there is such a moral panic about paedophiles, overweight children and of course…dangerous dogs.
The people that prey on children are hard to spot and so we tend to treat anyone and everyone as a criminal in a paranoid effort to protect the children. Please note that I am not saying the children should not be protected, rather I am saying that the efforts to protect them are overblown and out of proportion to the size of the actual problem. Shielding our children to such an extent may actually be stunting their emotional growth, but that is a topic that I will not be exploring here.
Instead, I want to ask a few questions: Where does our fear come from? How many paedophiles do you know personally? How many children or adults do you know personally that have ever been affected by one?
Similarly we are constantly told to be in fear that our children are becoming ever more obese. If we keep them indoors to keep them away from predatory adults then how can we expect them to get the normal exercise that a child would get from being outdoors? Exercise that they could easily get by playing with their pet dog in the local park…if only dogs were not so, well, dangerous.
Of course if we really believe all that we hear in the media then we would not allow our children to ever be alone with a dog, let alone out in a public place walking one. If there is a public report of a dog attack we are understandably concerned. We know rationally that dogs have teeth that can severely injure or kill. We fear for ourselves and our family. These fears are normal.
What is unhealthy is our estimation of the scale of the risks involved. Our estimation of these risks is largely formed by the media reports we expose ourselves too. The reason I asked the questions before about how many people do you know personally that have experienced “X” was that for the majority of the population the answer will be “none” or possibly one person. Our knowledge of risks in the modern world is largely media driven and so if they are inaccurate in their reporting we are inaccurate in our risk assessments.
Dog Attack Reports are Often Biased
To give you an idea of the scale of the media exaggeration, in the USA the chances you will die from a dog attack and the chances you will die by being struck by lightning are about the same. Assuming my memory serves me well about the relative risks, you would expect that the media would be full of stories trying to save people’s lives from the evil thunder God!
I admit that I forget the exact actuarial statistical chance of dying from a dog attack, but in 2007 there were 33 fatalities involving dog bites in the USA (according to the CDC). 33 dog bite fatalities, in a country of over 300 million people and 75 million dogs! This is a chance of death per annum of roughly 1 chance in nine million. The chances of being killed by a fatal dog bite are roughly the same in the UK too, that is to say they are miniscule.
If the media really wanted to save lives it could do so by brainwashing educating people none-stop about the dangers of roads and car travel. Thousands die and tens of thousands die on Britain’s roads every year and yet we have one of the best road safety records in Europe.
So why the silence?
Why does the media demonise dogs and not car drivers? Well, auto manufacturers pay huge amounts to advertise their products and these advertising budgets pay salaries. Would you pay to advertise on a TV channel that was telling people how a product you sell was killing people on a daily basis? No, and neither would any executive from an auto company.
The profitability of a television channel can quickly evaporate with the loss of just a few key advertising clients. If you were the producer on a news program would you run almost daily reports on how many people cars had killed or injured today? If you would, then most likely you would be looking for a new job shortly thereafter.
But, I hear you saying, dog food manufacturers have advertising budgets too! Don’t they affect the media too? Well, let’s look at this for a minute. If a dog breed is banned as a “dangerous dog” and destroyed you have lost a customer, right? Well, only sort of. Most likely the innocent dog owner that had his dog destroyed as it was a “dangerous dog”, despite it never having actually attacked anyone, will most likely get another dog to replace their loss.
So what is the loss to the pet company in the long term? Effectively zero.
The issue of lack of political power amongst dog owners makes them an easy target for unscrupulous journalists looking to make err I mean report a good story. The dogs themselves cannot speak of their good character. The owners individually rising to their pets defence can be written off as “overly emotional” or “tree huggers” or some other buzz word used to stop rational thought.
Similarly, the media has no interest in accusing dog owners of being irresponsible, cruel, idiots – even if they are and it is relatively easy to find that out from eye witnesses. The problem here is that if you make assertions against an individual that cast them in a negative light they might sue. The cost of defending these claims against people who cannot actually repay your defence costs should they lose is more than many media companies will risk. Fighting a court battle with a celebrity is good business, as even if you lose you sell more copy. Fighting a similar court battle against some drug dealing bum, who beat his dog daily in order to turn it into a vicious dog is simply not profitable.
Therefore the media often reports vicious dog owners as blameless. The increase in dog attacks must therefore be due to the dogs breed and not the owners irresponsibility, even though dog DNA hasn’t changed at all in the last few decades. No one asks the obvious questions.
We ban dog breeds because they are considered to be dangerous dogs, but dog DNA has hardly changed at all. Something else is contributing to any increase in dog attacks. The elephant in the room that no one is talking about is simply that the contributory factor is people themselves. Any law aimed at protecting the citizenry must first of all deal with the owners, not these *ahem* vicious dogs. I would laugh if it wasn’t so sad.
The Dangerous Dogs Act can be Repealed Through Political Action
The only way pet owners will ever be able to stop their pets being merely a political plaything is if they organise and make their voice heard. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 came into existence in obedience to the call of the UK press for political action. If pet owners had been politically organised then most likely the press would not have made that call and almost definitely the government would not have acted so hastily and without public consultation if they had a real fear of a political backlash.
In 1991 owners of pitbulls numbered very few indeed, the same was true of Japanese Tosa owners, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro etc. As there were relatively few owners and they were politically disorganised it held relatively little political risk to issue a banning order against these breeds.
Many people recognise that perhaps the real reason Staffordshire Bull Terriers (SBT’s) were not included on the dangerous dogs banned breeds list was that there are well over ten million Staffies in the UK and the political fallout would have been unacceptably high. I also need to point out that the Dangerous Dogs Act included “dogs bred for fighting” in the ban, but did not include Staffies as a named breed. Why was that?
Anyone who knows anything at all about Staffordshire Bull Terriers will tell you that they were originally bred for dog fighting sports that have long since been outlawed in the UK. So, as Staffordshires were originally “bred for fighting” and this is covered by the act; why are they still on our streets and not euthanized like the rest?
Perhaps the government realised that taking dogs off thugs is different than taking them off ordinary members of society. When the police arrive at the homes of several million law abiding dog owners homes to seize and destroy a beloved family pet, it is likely to have negative implications for the next election.
Despite this the battle to save SBT’s is not over. The Dangerous Dogs Act has a provision within it that allows for the list of banned dogs to be added to at any time. The Home Secretary can choose to add to the list without discussion, debate or a vote in the House of Commons. In short, the Act allows for a Home Secretary to curry favour with the press and ban any and all dog breeds as suits political expediency. I am certain that many dog owners are unaware of this fact.
As the thugs move to the latest macho breed of dog and the media gets a hold of the stories of another “brutal dog attack”, then another breed can be added dangerous dogs ban list at any time. Will it be Staffordshire Bull Terriers or another breed? Only time will tell.
If you don’t want your breed to be the next one banned and destroyed through no fault of yours, or that of your dog, you need to organise and make your voice heard in opposition to this absurd piece of legislation. Force the government to deal with the irresponsible idiots that think of a dog only as a weapon and repeal breed specific legislation for the racist rubbish it is. Write to your MP, as it is currently election time they might even listen.
Consider this quote from RSPCA chief veterinary surgeon Mark Evans:
“Staffies have had a terrible press, but this is not of their own making, in fact they are wonderful dogs. If people think that Staffies have problems, they are looking at the wrong end of the dog lead! When well cared for and properly trained they can make brilliant companions. Our experience suggests that problems occur when bad owners exploit the Staffie’s desire to please by training them to show aggression.”
This quote clearly identifies the root problem in dog attacks and banning so called dangerous dog breeds is not going to help it.
The problem of dangerous dogs remains with the irresponsible dog owners and not the dogs themselves, but will the law ever reflect this fact? Together we can make it happen.
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