UK

Tougher Sentencing For Dangerous Dog Owners 'Will Not Stop Deaths'

20/08/2012 12:58 BST

Harsher prison sentences for dangerous dog owners is "tinkering with bad legislation" and will do nothing to stop dogs killing children, experts have said.

Owners of dangerous dogs that attack people in public will, from Monday, face up to 18 months in prison, as the government seeks to clamp down on irresponsible animal owners.

Courts will also be encouraged to ban irresponsible owners who put the public at risk from keeping dogs, order dangerous dogs to be put down and arrange compensation for victims under the rules brought in by the Sentencing Council.

fila brasileiro

Dogs like the Fila Brasileiro are classified by the act as as dangerous

Anyone using an animal as a weapon to attack someone would still be sentenced for assault, but the new guidelines cover both dogs which were dangerously out of control and the possession of banned dogs.

Dog trainer and K9 magazine editor, Ryan O'Meara, told The Huffington Post UK: "This is just fiddling with a terrible law. Tougher sentencing will not make any deaths from dog attacks less likely.

"Most of the fatal dog attacks in recent years have been a grandchild killed by a grandparent's dog when its own was not in the room.

"Would six months extra in jail have prevented the dog attack? I don't think it would have made a blind bit of difference because they didn't see it coming and they will already have to suffer for years for having lost that family member.

"From my experience as a dog trainer, I can see when a dog which is running around the park off a leash, jumping up around children, and you can see its a potential dangerous dog and its owners have no idea.

"The bottom line is, no matter how safe your dog is, don't leave it alone with small children.

O'Meara, a Rottweiler owner, added: "The new rules also perpetrate the myth that their are an army of people, breeding dangerous dogs, solely to set them on people."

He suggested the government "needs to be braver" in tackling dog attacks.

"We could consider a dog ownership test, like they have in Sweden, where dog owners must sit a test equivalent to the highway code.

"Breeders also need to be more regulated. Anyone can breed dogs and sell them down the pub for cash. That causes a huge problem."

The new guidelines will mean tougher penalties for incidents where a dangerously out of control dog has caused serious injury during a sustained attack, injured a child, or where the owner has failed to respond to previous warnings or concerns.

Any deliberate goading of the dog by its owner would also be seen as an aggravating factor by judges.

The council also issued guidelines for judges sentencing those involved in the possession of prohibited dogs, including the pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro.

The maximum sentence, it said, should be six months in custody. However, all but the most serious of cases would attract fines or be discharged.

A Sentencing Council spokesman said: "With increasing numbers of convictions for offences involving dangerous dogs in recent years, the new guideline will help ensure courts use their full powers when dealing with offenders.

Steve Goody, director of external affairs at animal welfare charity Blue Cross, warned that tougher sentencing alone was not enough to prevent dog attacks.

"The campaign to reform the current Dangerous Dogs Act has been dragging on for some 20 years now," he said.

"We feel that there is an urgent need for preventative action, or dog attacks will continue to increase.

"We believe the introduction of useful, practical measures could be used specifically to target irresponsible dog owners before an attack happens."

Som dog owners are also worried that a crackdown on illegal breeds could mean dogs which have never bitten or attacked being targeted for destruction.

Last month, campaigners waged a two-year battle to stop Belfast Council destroying Lennox, an American bull dog Labrador cross.

Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, and Victoria Stilwell, host of 'It's Me Or The Dog' , offered to pay the expenses to relocate Lennox from Northern Ireland and bring him to the US to a sanctuary and freedom.

The dog was eventually put down. "The Council’s expert described the dog as one of the most unpredictable and dangerous dogs he had come across," a statement said.

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