Hundreds of dogs are being euthanised, despite being suitable for rehoming, just because of the way they look, latest figures reveal.
It has been 25 years since the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) 1991 came into force, yet the number of hospital admissions from dog bites has risen in the past 10 years, data from the RSPCA shows.
The RSPCA said it was forced to put down 366 dogs in 2014 and 2015 because they looked like a prohibited breed.
Last year, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home had to put to sleep 91 dogs who were identified by the police as banned breeds.
Animal welfare groups argue that current legislation is ineffective as dog bites continue to rise.
Campaigners are calling for a greater emphasis to be placed on improving responsible dog ownership - a method which has worked in countries such as Canada.
But the government has defended the current legislation, saying the prohibition of “certain types of dog” is “crucial” to public safety.
Four breeds of dog are currently illegal to own, breed, sell or give away in the UK.
These are Pit Bull Terriers, Japanese Tosas, Dogo Argentinos (also known as the Argentine Mastiff) and Fila Brasileiros (also known as the Brazilian Mastiff).
Last month, a campaign to save the life of a one-year-old dog called Hank attracted more than 298,000 supporters.
Hank was taken from his home while his owners were out of the house. He was seized by Belfast City Council to determine whether he was a banned pit bull-type dog.
Fortunately for his owners, Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows, Hank returned home last week, but the case is just the latest in a series of high profile incidents of breed specific legislation (BSL).
Dr Samantha Gaines, RSPCA dog welfare expert, said: “The police, the RSPCA and other animal rescue organisations have to deal with the consequences of this flawed law by euthanising hundreds of dogs because legislation is forcing us to due to the way they look, despite being suitable for rehoming.
“Not only is this a huge ethical and welfare issue, it also places significant emotional strain on staff.
“It is the view of the RSPCA, and the public, that every animal’s life matters.
“We conclude that breed specific legislation has not achieved its objectives whilst causing unintended harms - a new approach is required.
“The RSPCA believes it is paramount for the Government to launch an inquiry into the effectiveness of BSL, assess other options to improve human safety and dog welfare, and ultimately repeal the breed specific part of the legislation.”
One case encountered by the RSPCA was that of five-month-old puppy, Fudge, who was put to sleep because he resembled a pit bull.
The puppy, who was a rescue dog owned by Carole Eden from Liverpool, was reported to the police by a neighbour.
Eden said: “BSL was something I knew nothing about until the police knocked at my door late one night.
“Now I no longer respect the law that judges innocent dogs on how they look, even though it’s filed under ‘legal’.
“I am left with a legacy of guilt for being naive and a fear of ever owning a bull breed again in case it happened again.
“The law is proven not to have worked and needs radical change.”
Eden describes BSL as the “cruellest of laws” which does not work, adding: “It destroys lives and kills for no other reason than looks and it needs to end now. 25 years of killing - yet we say we are a country of animal lovers.”
Another case saw 24 puppies being euthanised when they were less than six weeks old, along with their mothers Maisie and Annie.
Their owner Sarah Anderson, from East Sussex, said she had no idea Maisie and Annie, both 18-months-old, could possibly be identified among the list of banned breeds.
When Maisie was taken to the vets with a leg injury, staff at the surgery told her owner the young dog might be a prohibited breed.
Police later arrived at Anderson’s home and told her the puppies would need to be destroyed.
“I was devastated, haunted by the thought of those babies dying,” she says.
“I didn’t know the law so I took the pups to the vets, and my two friends and I cuddled them while the vet went around giving them the injection. I was sobbing.
“He proceeded to put to sleep 24 innocent babies only born because of my ignorance and stupidity. I live with that everyday and, no matter how much I suffer, I cannot stop punishing myself for it.”
The police returned to Anderson’s home at a later date and identified both Maisie and Annie as suspected prohibited types. Both dogs were euthanised.
“The pain of losing them is something I’ve never felt before or since. I relive it over and over again and the guilt eats me up inside.
“I don’t want anybody to suffer like I have, or for any innocent dog to be destroyed for no reason.”
Anderson said BSL “destroys the lives of dogs and their families” and describes the law as a “sham”.
She added: “Dogs aren’t born aggressive, they become a product of their environment and those that own them.”
Battersea has also shed light on the plight of dogs who are euthanised “based on their physical appearance, rather than what they have actually done”.
Francis was a stray who came into Battersea and was described as a “friendly” dog by the rehoming centre.
But because Francis is a banned pit bull breed, the centre had no other choice than to put him down.
Claire Horton, Battersea’s Chief Executive, said: “There are of course some dangerous dogs on our streets but for a quarter of a century this legislation has condemned too many innocent dogs to be put to sleep, whilst systematically failing to reduce dog attacks in our communities.
“Battersea is dismayed that this outdated, knee-jerk piece of legislation is still on the statute books. There is a clear need to replace it with a law that targets irresponsible owners.”
Dogs Trust agreed with the RSPCA and Battersea and said that “drastic changes” should be made to the “flawed” legislation in order to make it more effective and to better protect the public.
A Dogs Trust spokesman said: “If a dog has been typed a pit bull, it does not mean it is any more aggressive than any other breed; just as a dog which is not a banned breed, can automatically be considered non-aggressive.”
Dogs Trust said there is a need for clear, targeted legislation to identify and deal with owners who fail to take appropriate action to control their dogs.
A Defra spokesperson said: “Dog attacks can have horrific consequences for victims and families, so the prohibition of certain types of dog under the Dangerous Dogs Act is crucial to help us deal with the heightened risk they pose.
“Any dog can become dangerous if it is kept by irresponsible owners in the wrong environment which is why the act covers any type of dog that is dangerously out of control.
“The general prohibition is in place because the four types of dog have been identified as either types that have been bred for fighting or that share the characteristics of those dogs bred for fighting and therefore do not make ideal pets.
“However, the law does allow certain individual dogs to be exempt from the general prohibition if the court is satisfied that they are not in themselves a danger to others and that they are likely to be kept in accordance with certain controls.”
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