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Dog attacks and poor dog welfare: Government inaction criticised

15 February 2013

The Government has failed to respond adequately to public concern over dog attacks and poor dog welfare, warns the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

The Government must ensure that the dog breeders do more to stop poor breeding practices, including of pedigree dogs. Legislation must be amended urgently to protect the public from dangerous dogs.

Launching the report of an inquiry into Dog Control and Welfare published today, Committee Chair Anne McIntosh MP said:

“Current laws have comprehensively failed to tackle irresponsible dog ownership. DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)’s belated proposals published last week are too limited.

"Since 2007 dogs have killed seven people, including five children, in private homes. The NHS also spends over £3 million annually treating dog attack injuries. Some eight assistance dogs a month, and thousands of livestock annually, are attacked by dogs.

"More than 100,000 strays are found each year; incidences of cruelty and neglect are rising and many dogs are out of control due to the irresponsible or deliberate actions of a minority of owners.

"The evidence we received from DEFRA and the Home Office did little to reassure us that either Department is giving sufficient priority to dog control and welfare issues.

"The Home Office approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is too simplistic; and fails to reflect the impact that poor breeding and training by irresponsible owners can have on a dog’s behaviour.

"DEFRA should introduce comprehensive legislation to consolidate the fragmented rules relating to dog control and welfare. New rules should give enforcement officers more effective powers, including Dog Control Notices, to prevent dog-related antisocial behaviour. Local authorities need to devote more resources to the effective management of stray dogs.”

Dangerous dogs

MPs endorse the Government’s proposed amendment to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 making attacks on private land the same as attacks on public land. However, the Committee warns that police and prosecutors must distinguish between intruders and those lawfully on a person’s property when enforcing the law.

“The Government’s assurances on this are too vague; clear guidance is needed to avoid unintended consequences,” says Anne McIntosh.

MPs stress that an attack on an assistance animal, such as a guide dog, has severe impacts on the owner’s mobility and daily life. They call on Ministers to amend legislation so that a dog attack on an assistance animal is treated as an aggravated attack, in the same manner as an attack on a person. The police must also become more consistent in prosecuting the owners of dogs that attack livestock.

The Committee is also concerned about the provision under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 that currently bans certain types of dog, regardless of temperament, but excludes other aggressive breeds.

MPs call for changes in the legislation to give the Secretary of State powers to extend the banned list to include other dogs with particularly aggressive characteristics. At the same time, MPs want the Government to give those tasked to enforce legislation the discretion to neuter rather than destroy a banned animal where there is clear evidence that a particular dog poses no threat.

Dog breeding and welfare

The Committee criticises Government for doing too little to tackle poor breeding practices. Reliance on voluntary action has not delivered sufficient reform and the Advisory Council on Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding should be given a formal regulatory role to enforce standards.

MPs are especially concerned about poor welfare of puppies and dogs due to common breeding practices amongst ‘puppy farmers’ and some pedigree breeders.

The report calls for any breeder producing more than two litters per year to be licensed and subject to welfare checks.

Committee Chair Anne McIntosh adds:

“Although the dog breeding community has taken steps to improve the health and welfare of pedigree dogs, progress has been too slow. Many dogs continue to suffer ill-health due to inbreeding and breeding for exaggerated characteristics.

"The Kennel Club exerts great influence over the pedigree dog community. It should stop registering puppies from breeders not compliant with its own Assured Breeder Scheme. It should also commission an independent annual review of Breed Standards led by vets to eliminate health problems linked to breeding for exaggerated characteristics.”

Lastly, MPs call on websites advertising pets to develop a voluntary Code of Practice under which they check sellers’ credentials, do more to educate potential buyers and give buyers of unhealthy puppies the chance of redress.

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