A total of 4,757 dogs were seized in the past three years by police in England and Wales under suspicion of being banned breeds, according to figures released to BBC South East following a series of Freedom of Information requests.
A spokesman from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), said, “While any dog can become dangerous if it is kept by irresponsible owners in the wrong environment, the prohibition of certain types of dog under the Dangerous Dogs Act is crucial to help us deal with the heightened risk they pose.”
Under the current Dangerous Dogs Act, four breeds are banned in the UK – Pitbull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Fila Braziliero and Dogo Argentino. However, a dog doesn’t even need to belong to any of these breeds in order to be seized and potentially destroyed: it all depends on what the dog looks like, rather than its breed. This can result in absurd situations in which some pups from the same litter are destroyed and their siblings spared.
According to campaign group DDA watch, set up to challenge the legislation and help the owners of seized dog, there is no evidence that the seizing of dogs based solely on their looks has done anything to bring down the number of dog attacks in the 25 years it’s been in effect.
“Killing healthy animals that have done nothing wrong is inhumane. Dogs should be treated on a case-by-case basis and not have its fate sealed at birth because of its breed,” a spokesperson said.
Once a dog is seized, it befalls the owner to prove their dog is not a banned ‘type’; it is a matter of ‘guilty until proved innocent’ rather than the opposite and, when your dog’s life depends on details such as the width of the head or how ‘square’ his figure is, saving him can prove quite challenging. Dogs who are found to be of banned types can be spared if deemed to pose no danger to the public once assessed. These dogs are put on the Index of Exempted Dogs (IED) – meaning that they will need to be microchipped, neutered, kept on lead and muzzled at all times when in public, while the owner needs to take out insurance against the dog injuring other people.
Among the dogs seized these years were the 22 seized by Merseyside Police in March 2014. All of them were on the IED, but their owners’ third party insurances had lapsed. All dogs were seized and killed within hours, giving their owners no time to rectify the mistake, in a police operation that was later deemed unlawful as there was no valid court order permitting the destruction of the dogs.
At the time, Merseyside’s assistant chief constable Andrew Ward had said that the police had acted in “good faith”, believing that “the dogs in breach of the ongoing requirements of exemption represented a danger to the public safety”.
It is hard to imagine what logic would lead anyone to believe a dog already assessed and proven not to be dangerous would turn into a threat the moment their owner’s third-party insurance lapses. Then again, it is difficult to see much logic in legislation that allows the destruction of dogs based on their looks alone.
Images by DDA Watch.