Speaking with Radio 4 about prohibited dog law

The BBC recently requested data from UK police forces about the number of dogs seized on suspicion of being a prohibited type of dog. They’re also collecting data on the length of time these animals are detained for.

In light of this, Radio 4 kindly interviewed Sam Gaines, head of companion animals and dog welfare expert, to talk about what this data reveals.

Here’s Sam’s take on the figures, considering the cost incurred by dogs, owners and the public purse.

What happens to dogs suspected of being a prohibited type?

If a dog is suspected of being a banned type, they’re seized by police and taken to a kennelling facility - not disclosed to the owner - before being examined by a Police Dog Legislation Officer. They then determine whether or not they are in fact, a banned type. This process is based mostly on how the dog looks, ignoring genetics or parentage.

A pit bull terrier standing in an empty concrete pen © RSPCA

If the dog is identified as a banned type but deemed friendly and in the care of a fit and proper person, it’s possible for the dog to be lawfully kept and made exempt from the prohibition. In some cases, dogs will be returned to their owner using the Interim Exemption Scheme or ‘doggy bail’ reducing the time spent in kennels but sadly not all forces implement this and are not obliged to do so, leading to a postcode lottery for owners and dogs.

Owners can challenge the decision, resulting in a lengthy court case. Many dogs find the prolonged kennelling very difficult to cope with and it can result in undesirable changes in health and behaviour. As the identification process is mostly based on appearance, not behaviour, it does mean that many dogs are often unnecessarily seized.

What do the figures show?

Time spent in kennels can range greatly, from 26 days to over two years. Being separated for this length of time can be absolutely devastating for owners and their dog. Many dogs seized are family pets who would never ordinarily come into contact with the police or courts.

As well as this, the costs associated with kennelling, paid for by the public, can be significant. The Metropolitan Police Service reported a spend of £1.32 million on kennelling costs between 2016 and 2017. Some of the dogs suspected had been involved in bite-related incidents, although many had not, and so were being kennelled based on looks alone.

What do we want to see instead?

There are ways in which the impact of seizure and detention can be improved. We would like to see all Police Forces using doggy bail and for all Forces to use our guidance for the kennelling of seized dogs which helps meet their welfare needs.

Mason is classed as a pit bull type dog

Ultimately BSL needs to be repealed. In 2016 we launched a campaign calling for a parliamentary inquiry into BSL’s effectiveness and to assess other options to improve human safety and dog welfare.

We’ve already had tens of thousands of people support our call and we hope to see an inquiry being held this year. We were greatly heartened to recently hear Neil Parish MP state that he is hopeful for an inquiry into this issue.

You can help us bring an end to BSL today by signing our petition for a parliamentary inquiry into BSL’s effectiveness.

Take action for dogs affected by BSL

Listen to the segment with Dr Sam Gaines on BBC Radio 4's You & Yours, from 13m, 35s in.

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