What is Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)?
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was rushed through Parliament in response to media and public pressure to act on dog control following a string of high profile dog attacks. Under the 1991 Act ‘Breed Specific Legislation’ (BSL) prohibits the ownership of certain ‘types’ of dogs, they are referred to as ‘types’ as the dogs listed are not a recognised ‘breed’ in the UK. The four types under this legislation are – Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero - dogs traditionally bred for fighting.
What is the RSPCA’s position on BSL?
Dogs can’t help who their owners are, yet the law unfairly places the onus of responsibility on them, rather than the irresponsible actions of the owner. BSL punishes certain types of dogs for the way they look and fails to consider a dog’s individual behaviour when determining whether or not they are dangerous. Within a type there will be a range of behaviour; some will be extremely aggressive and some will be extremely friendly. As a result, BSL unfairly brands a great number of dogs who pose no risk based on their behaviour as 'dangerous' just because of their appearance. Any dog, regardless of their breed or type can be dangerous... in the wrong hands. We believe BSL focuses the attention at the wrong end of the lead.
The RSPCA sees the impact of BSL first hand. Some dogs brought into our centres, as part of cruelty investigations, are later identified by the police as a prohibited type. Despite many of these dogs being friendly, well socialised and perfect candidates for rehoming to a responsible owner, the law does not allow prohibited types to be rehomed. This causes a huge amount of anguish for our kennel staff who form very strong bonds with these dogs, particularly as many of them have only ever known violence or neglect from their owners. It is devastating for staff to be told that a dog must be euthanased purely on the basis of looks.
Aggression is very complex. It is not simply a case of breed; whether or not a dog uses aggression is influenced by a range of factors including how they are bred, reared and experiences throughout their lifetime. The RSPCA want to see an end to breed specific legislation. There is no evidence to support the notion that some breeds or types of dog are, by their nature, more dangerous than others.
Does Breed Specific Legislation work?
In short, no. Breed specific legislation has not prevented attacks on people or animals or discouraged irresponsible ownership. Breed specific legislation has also failed in other countries where it has been evaluated, such as the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark.
The law was originally indended to phase out these types of dogs. However, experts in this area suggest there are probably more pit bull terriers in the UK now than in the late 1980s. It seems that, the introduction of breed specific legislation simply made the prospect of owning a banned ‘dangerous’ dog more desirable to the type of people who encourage their dog to be aggressive. The RSPCA believes that the law is unfair and unjustifiable and government should adopt an approach that recognises that any individual dog, irrespective of breed or type, can display aggression towards people, and that responsibility for this lies with the owners.
How does BSL impact on dog welfare?
The RSPCA also have concerns over the welfare of dogs seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Dogs that are suspected of being a prohibited type are seized by the police and can be kept in kennels for long periods of time while legal argument is had over whether they are ‘substantially of type’. Obviously this can impact on the dog’s welfare as many dogs do not cope in kennel environments.
A further concern includes the inability to rehome prohibited dogs, regardless of the individual dog’s temperament and we are calling for dogs in such cases to be able to be matched with appropriate owners.
What can I do to help?