Are we going to the dogs?

NEWS that Princess Anne is set to appear in court today over a dog attack has highlighted the problem of dangerous dogs once more.With numerous attacks this year and more than a decade since the Dangerous Dogs Act, NICK RICHARDS investigates if the act has worked in changing the way we keep man's best friend.

By Nick Richards

NEWS that Princess Anne is set to appear in court today over a dog attack has highlighted the problem of dangerous dogs once more.

With numerous attacks this year and more than a decade since the Dangerous Dogs Act, NICK RICHARDS investigates if the act has worked in changing the way we keep man's best friend.

JUST over a week ago Jade Wardle was a happy two-year old with a new family pet.

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Her parents had purchased a labrador dog from a private advert in a magazine just three days earlier.

They had named him Hooch and on Saturday, as she put her arms around her new pet to give it a cuddle, the dog lunged at her face causing horrific facial injuries.

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Jade's mother needed to kick out at the dog so it would loosen its grip, but it had left injuries sufficient for Jade to undergo plastic surgery and required her to have a tear duct replaced.

This latest horrific attack comes after a number of similar incidents all involving young children.

In May, two girls, Nicki Hughes, 10 and Leah Preston, five, were attacked in separate incidents in Wolverhampton when they were attacked by a rottweiler and two bull-mastiff crossbreeds respectively.

But, the problem does not only extend to dogs attacking young children and as the parents of Jade Wardle, who lives in County Durham will testify, it doesn't always involve rottweilers and pit bulls.

Next Wednesday , the Princess Royal and her husband Commodore Tim Laurence will be summonsed before Slough magistrates, accused of failing to prevent one of their dogs attacking a couple.

They have been charged under the Dangerous Dogs Act with failing to keep the bull terrier under proper control.

The act came into force in 1991 and made owning a dangerous dog almost as difficult as owning a firearm – proof of age was needed and it became impossible to legally own a dangerous dog without getting the animal tattooed or microchipped.

Under this same act, Princess Anne could face a fine of up to £5,000 and up to six-months' imprisonment if convicted.

The incident involving the princess is common of many others in the last decade – it happened when the dog was off its lead. In Anne's case, the dog was off its lad in Windsor Great Park last July and it bit a man and woman.

This is usually the time the Dangerous Dogs Act comes into force – most of the cases the act applies to these days are simply dogs out of control in public places.

But, according to Mike Grimwood, service manager for animal welfare at Ipswich Borough Council, the act is need of a revamp.

Last year 3,400 people were hospitalised after dog attacks - a 25 per cent rise over the last five years.

"That's 3,400 too many" according to Mr Grimwood, although he said there haven't been any major incidents in the Ipswich area in the last few years.

"The 1991 Act was brought in quickly to address the problem of dogs under control by calling for breeds such as pit bull terriers and the Japanese tosa to be registered to owners.

"This was part one of the act but there was a second part which said that all dogs must be kept under proper control in a public place. This meant that if the dog was obedient it was OK for it to be off a lead, but it should always be kept under control."

Mr Grimwood explained that the current situation with taking responsibility over dangerous dogs is as follows:

"If the dog is not under control it's currently the joint responsibility of the local authority and the police to take action. If the dog is a stray, the local authority is involved.

"But, if the dog is involved in an incident and the owner is known, then it is the responsibility of the police to take action."

So has the 11-year-old act worked and is it still valid in the wake of these recent attacks? Mike Grimwood said it does need to be looked at again in order to bring in more consistency.

"Initially it did work by introducing a cut-off period for the specific breeds of dangerous dogs to be registered. After that any un-registered dogs could be destroyed with no questions asked. Now it is at the discretion of the court to decide if this action is taken.

"The second part of the act about all dogs being kept under control is something of a mixed bag. It's better than nothing but I think it needs reviewing. I think control should be given over to one agency on these matters as the police have enough to worry about.

"If one agency had control over the situation, I believe there would be a more consistent approach in dealing with the problem."

The current law decrees that any stray dog should be reported to the local dog warden –01473 433015 – but if you or your dog is attacked by a dog in a public place which is not under control it is a police matter.

The law does not cover the common situation of two dogs getting involved in a minor fracas, as long as both dogs are under proper control at the time.

Fast Facts Dangerous Dogs Act:

The Dangerous Dogs Act came into force on July 25 1991 following a spate of attacks by dogs in 1990 and 1991.

The main aim of the act is to prohibit people from possessing dogs bred for fighting and to impose restrictions in owning dogs, which present a serious danger to the public.

Breeding and selling dogs such as the Japanese tosa and put bull terrier was outlawed in the attack. Dangerous dogs must be kept muzzled in a public place.

It also states that ALL dogs must be kept under proper control. The act deemed that if a dog is dangerously out of control in a public place the owner or person in charge at the time is guilty of an offence. This applies also if injuries are caused to another person.

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