Dogs on death row

Thirty years, countless innocent dogs

August 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) in the UK. That's 30 years of dogs being judged as 'dangerous' based on how they look. That's thousands of innocent dogs sentenced to needless death.

BSL doesn't work

While it's a grim reality and injustice for animals, BSL also fails to protect public safety. Hospital admissions due to dog bites continue to rise year on year and tragic fatalities as a result of dog incidents have continued.

In fact, in the past 20 years (1999-2019), the number of hospital admissions for the treatment of dog bites has increased by 154%, despite the prohibition of certain types of dogs*.

Although introduced as a knee-jerk solution to a number of high profile dog bites, the legislation has not achieved what it set out to do. Simply put, BSL is not working.

While some people assume that "dangerous types" are assessed by genetics, behaviour or parentage, it's sadly their appearance that puts these dogs on death row.

Call for an end to BSL

Despite an enquiry in 2018, the UK Government has not committed to EFRA's recommendation to review whether the four types of dogs pose a more significant risk to human safety than any other type of dog.

We want change and we're not alone. We've aligned forces with Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Dogs Trust, Blue Cross, the British Veterinary Association and The Kennel Club to make our voices stronger and louder than ever before.

Together, we can demand change for dogs that deserve better. In just a few clicks, you can stand up for dogs on death row. Email your MP to end BSL.

What is Breed Specific Legislation?
Muzzled dog Mason because of Breed Specific Legislation © RSPCA

In the UK, BSL bans the ownership of four different types of dogs traditionally bred for fighting: pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero. Breed Specific Legislation was introduced 30 years ago as part of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to restrict the ownership of certain types of dogs deemed to be dangerous to people.

Dogs suspected of being a banned type are typically seized by the police who unfortunately have no choice but to implement the law. These dogs can spend significant time in kennels away from their owners during which they are assessed to determine whether or not the dog is a banned type. Whilst some dogs will return home to be kept under strict conditions, sadly, some have to be euthanised - because of the way they look.

Dogs taken into rehoming organisations and found to be of prohibited type cannot legally be rehomed to members of the general public and so the only option is euthanasia. Since 2016, the RSPCA has had to euthanase 310 dogs because of how they look and despite many having the potential to make great family pets.

There's no research to demonstrate that these breeds or types are any more aggressive than other dogs.

 

Whether or not a dog is aggressive can be influenced by factors such as how they are bred and reared and experiences throughout their life. Breed is not a good predictor of risk of aggression. And, despite the legislation, dog bites in the UK continue to increase.

Breed specific legislation not only fails to protect public safety, but has also resulted in the suffering and destruction of hundreds of dogs, that are deemed 'dangerous' simply because of how they look.

Our report, Breed Specific Legislation: A Dog's Dinner outlines our proposed solutions and recommendations.

We want to see Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act repealed and policy changed. Our petition gained huge public support with over 95,000 signatures, which led to the enquiry into BSL. There's still a long way to go before we achieve this, but we're committed to continuing our campaign until policy is changed.


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Why BSL doesn't work

Statistics show an increase in dog related incidents since the introduction of BSL.

Studies show that BSL has not reduced dog bite incidents in Ireland, Spain, Italy, Netherlands or Belgium.

Between 1989 and 2017, 48 people died in dog-related incidents. Of the 62 dogs involved, 53 were dog breeds not on the prohibited list.

Despite the prohibition of certain types of dogs, in the past 20 years (1999 to 2019), bites have increased by 154% from 3454-8775.

There is no specific research to demonstrate that dogs bred for fighting are naturally aggressive towards people or that they are unique in the way they can bite.

A better approach than BSL

What we think the right approach is and how other countries have tackled BSL.

We believe that a three-pronged approach is needed to better protect public safety:

  • Effective legislation and enforcement to tackle dog-related issues regardless of breed or type and based on their behaviour
  • Education particularly targeted at children, who are most vulnerable from dog bites
  • A better understanding of why dogs bite

Ways to effectively protect public safety have been explored in other countries and it is clear that much of the focus is on encouraging responsible dog ownership and education.

BSL has been reviewed in many countries worldwide and the trend is to repeal this type of legislation. This has been achieved in the Netherlands, Italy and Lower Saxony, Germany as well as many US administrations.

While Section 1 exists, the RSPCA wants to see a raft of measures to improve the welfare of affected dogs including a consistent application of the Interim Exemption Scheme, speeding up the review of cases, allowing the rehoming of prohibited types of dog by rescues and improving the welfare of seized dogs through the application of the RSPCA's guide on this issue.

Find out more about our proposed solutions and recommendations in our detailed report: Breed Specific Legislation: A dog's dinner.

What about exempted dogs?

Exempt dogs are forced to live a very restricted life despite no danger to the public.

In 1997, the law was amended to allow exemptions from euthanasia for any dog that had been identified as type.

So, following these amendments, the courts are now permitted to allow for the exemption of such a dog which has been identified as type, if, in their opinion, he/she does not pose a danger to public safety.

This is done through the use of a Contingent Destruction Order which sets out the following conditions:

  • the dog must be neutered
  • the dog must be permanently identified with a tattoo  and microchip
  • the owner must take out (and renew annually) third party insurance for their dog
  • the dog is muzzled and kept on a lead when in a public place
  • the dog cannot be taken out in public by anyone under 16 years of age
  • the dog must be kept securely at home (i.e ensure gardens are secure)
  • the dog must be registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs and a certificate issued to the owner.

This means that despite a court ruling that the dog is no threat to public safety, that its freedom is only conditional. A dog under exemption may not be put to sleep, but it will have to live by strict rules as if it were a dangerous dog, despite being proven not to be.

There are also very severe restrictions on changing keepership. This is only possible if the current owner dies or is seriously ill which means that many owners are faced with euthanasing their pet if their circumstances change e.g. they have to spend a period of time away for work.

 

*In the past 20 years, from 1999 to 2019, bites have increased by 154% from 3454-8775. (Source: Hospital Episode Statistics (HES), Health and Social Care Information Centre)

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