Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Government suggests 'dog tax' and compulsory microchipping

From The Times:
Dog owners face a new pet “tax” in a government initiative to tackle the menace of dangerous dogs.
Compulsory microchipping of every dog — which would cost owners an average £30 — is included in a consultation report published today.
It also suggests that the six million dog owners in Britain should be covered by third-party insurance to cover injuries to victims of dog attacks.
In an attempt to give greater protection from “weapon” or status dogs, owners of unruly dogs would be subject to new antisocial behaviour orders, already dubbed “Dogbos”. These dog control orders would make it unlawful for a dog to be out of control in any place, public or private.
According to the report from Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, and Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, police or council wardens would have powers to issue these orders, similar to fixed-penalty notices. They may require a dog to be fenced in, neutered, muzzled or kept on a lead, and for an owner to attend a dog handling course. Any breaches could lead to prosecution, a fine, or even prison if animal cruelty were involved. The worst owners would be banned for life from keeping a dog and unruly animals would be destroyed.
Ministers have decided that recent incidents, including the death in November of four-year-old John Paul Massey, from Liverpool, who was savaged by the family’s pitbull terrier, and a 12-fold increase in dog-fighting reported by the RSPCA, has necessitated a review of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
There is also alarm at figures showing that an average of 100 people a week need hospital treatment for dog attacks. The number in 1997-98 was 3,079, compared with 5,221 last year.
Reform is supported by the Conservatives Liberal Democratics and new powers are expected within a year.
At present the law bans ownership, sale, trade and advertising of the pitbull terrier, Japanese tosa, Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasiliero, but does not apply to dogs in private homes and gardens. The aim is to tackle any dog behaving in a dangerous or threatening way in a public or private place.
The extension to private homes and premises has delighted the Communication Workers’ Union, which has been campaigning for years to highlight the number of postmen bitten by dogs, some 92 a week at present.
Most pet insurance includes third party cover. Petplan, Britain’s biggest pet insurer with 40 per cent of the market, said typical monthly prices were £25.23 for a Japanese akito, £24.75 for a Staffordshire bull terrier, £24.75 for a labrador, £22.85 for a chihuahua and £16.73 for a Jack Russell. This includes basic annual cover of £4,000 for vet’s bills and up to £1 million in third party liability and legal fees.
The cause has particular resonance for Mr Johnson, a former postman, who was bitten twice on his rounds and saved from a third attack by a pregnant woman who rushed to his rescue.
Discussions about new powers included animal welfare groups, police and local government. There is concern that owners who already microchip and insure their pets may be hit by red tape or higher bills while irresponsible owners would ignore the law.
The RSPCA, Kennel Club and Dogs’ Trust favour repeal of the ban on certain breeds and for legislation to concentrate on “the deed not the breed”.
But some local authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers believe that the proscribed list of dogs should be extended to include all bull breed types, including Staffordshire bull terriers and the Japanese akita.
Mr Johnson said: “People have a fundamental right to feel safe. The vast majority of dog owners are responsible, but some people keep dogs for the sole purpose of intimidating others. It is this sort of behaviour that we are determined to stop.”

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