Monday, 6 April 2009

Dangerous Dogs?

In recent months many of my conversations with both dog owners and non owners alike have centred on the rise of dangerous dogs in our neighbourhood. After a spate of recent attacks by 'pit-bull' types people are becoming increasingly concerned. Many of us are aware of the Dangerous Dogs Act  - but what does the act actually say? One of the main problems with the act is that it is held to apply to "...any dog of the type known as the pit bull terrier."

Simple you would think, but sadly no. Despite what many people say here in the UK we do not recognise such a breed. The term 'pit bull' was coined in the US to describe a certain type of dog, largely Staffordshire Bull Terriers and their American counterparts which were bred to fight bulls and bears. The result is that you will often hear people describe their dog as a pit bull - yet technically we in the UK wouldn't recognise it as such.

The Dangerous Dogs Amendment Act of 1997 attempted to clarify matters, but as the extract below shows the situation remains far from simple: 

"It is important to note that, in the UK, dangerous dogs are classified by "type", not by breed label. This means that whether a dog is considered dangerous, and therefore prohibited, will depend on a judgment about its physical characteristics and whether they match the description of a prohibited 'type'."

An explanatory guide accompanying the amended act goes on to confuse the matter even further by telling us that what the law considers a pit bull type can be called by all manner of different names:

"Not all Pit Bull terriers will be described as a Pit Bull Terrier by their owner. Some owners may deliberately misrepresent the breed of their dog using terms such as American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bulldogs and the Presa Canaria. Other names used to describe the Pit Bull Terrier types may be Irish Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Old Fashioned Staffords of Traditional Staffords."

Confused? I know I am. 

I can't count the number of people I've met who have proudly described their dogs as pit bulls, American Bulldogs or Irish Staffs - yet almost invariably these dogs are to be seen off the lead and unmuzzled. The end result seems to be that while other countries have clearly defined what is meant by a 'pit bull' and banned or restricted ownership accordingly, here in the UK (and particularly in London), there remain all too many potentially dangerous dogs on the street. 

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