You might already know that some types of dogs are illegal in the UK. But did you know that the law hasn’t been effective in reducing the number of injuries to people caused by dog bites? What’s more, according to leading animal welfare experts and charities, the RSPCA included, these laws pose a threat to dog welfare and owner happiness.
We spoke to the RSPCA to find out more about why Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is bad for dogs and doesn’t help humans, either.
Why was Breed Specific Legislation introduced?
The Dangerous Dogs Act was passed in 1991 and covers the whole UK (England Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). The most infamous part of this law is that it’s illegal to own four dog types; Pit Bull Terriers, Japanese Tosa, Fila Braziliero and Dogo Argentino.
Since the law was introduced it has received a couple of important amendments, including the significant change in 1997 permitting courts to allow a dog to be kept if, in their opinion, they don’t pose danger to public safety. Previously the dog would have had to be euthanased. But under this amendment, owners of the dogs must meet certain conditions, most notably, their dog must be muzzled at all times while in public.
So far, this piece of UK law seems pretty straightforward. But, unfortunately, it’s not only resulted in the seizure and euthanasia of thousands of innocent dogs, but it’s failed to reduce the number of people who’ve been injured by dogs.
What are the problems with Breed Specific Legislation?
There are many problems with the Dangerous Dog’s Act so we don’t have space here to detail all the issues. For a longer read, go to the RSPCA’s website and read the full report. We’ve summarised a few of the key problems with Breed Specific Legislation here:
- Dogs are classed as dangerous based predominantly on their appearance: genetic heritage of the dog is not taken into account. If a dog closely matches the appearance of a banned type, that dog is at risk of being euthanised regardless of its behaviour.
- Seized dogs are assessed in a kennel environment: prosecution can take more than 180 days on average and granting an exemption can take more than 60 days! That’s a huge amount of time for the dog to endure such an environment. Many dogs find it hard to cope being away from their family and a home environment, which can lead to dogs showing signs of fear or frustration which could be mistaken for aggressive behaviour.
- BSL isn’t based on evidence: the laws were introduced in the midst of several high profile cases of incidents involving children and dogs. BSL targeted dogs traditionally selected for dog fighting. However there is no specific research to show that dogs bred for fighting are more aggressive towards people than other dogs.
- The current law is misleading. As it stands, the law suggests to the general public that all other dog breeds are always safe. In fact, 27 of the 36 (75%) deaths that have been due to dog-related incidents since the Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in 1991 weren’t caused by prohibited dogs.
The bottom line is that Breed Specific Legislation doesn’t protect public safety, and has a negative effect on the welfare of dogs and the happiness of their owners.
There are plenty of very sad stories in the RSPCA report. Including Carol and Fudge’s story. Fudge was only a five month old puppy when a neighbour reported that the dog looked like a Pit Bull. Fudge’s owner Carol, was sadly not aware of BSL or the advice and help available to her and lives with the regret of Fudge’s loss. Unfortunately, Carol is just one of many thousands of dog owners who’ve suffered the heartbreaking loss of their dog due to this ineffective and ill-considered piece of law.
Help end Breed Specific Legislation
The RSPCA is campaigning to end BSL and are petitioning the UK government to review the current law. The petition currently has already received over 55,000 signatures but to help guarantee this gets the attention this issue deserve the RSPCA have set their sights on gathering 100,000 signatures. The DogBuddy pack have already added their names and if you want to see a fairer, more well thought out law that not only protects people against being injured by dogs, but also has dog welfare at heart – please consider signing the petition, too.
Here’s what the RSPCA is proposing instead of the current law:
- 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.
Have something to say about Breed Specific Legislation? Perhaps you have a story of your own to share or an important point to add? Join the discussion and leave a comment below.