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Breed Specific Legislation: The Missing Link

06/09/2016 15:21 | Updated 06 September 2016

Twenty-five years of the Dangerous Dogs Act should by now have convinced most sane, logical people that the legislation has failed to protect the public and sentenced thousands of innocent dogs and puppies to death because of their looks.

During those twenty-five years the numbers of recorded dog bites has continued to increase and the sad irony of this is that the overwhelming majority of these incidents can be attributed to dogs that are not banned breeds. Two utterly tragic and unthinkable dog bite incidents recently left a man and a toddler dead from dogs that were not banned breeds and yet DEFRA states it has no plans to review this most dangerously flawed piece of legislation that was written a quarter of a century ago as a knee-jerk Act to make Government look proactive on paper.

Thankfully at least some media have now stopped using library images of a dog foaming at the mouth in "attack mode" when they cover these stories. But frustratingly, a lot still do. And it is this type of reportage that has contributed to fuelling public hysteria - not public education - on this most complex subject.

Irresponsible media hype over the years has been responsible for so many innocent, loving dogs being dumped on the streets and in rescues by ignorant, callous dog owners who didn't want the hassle of dealing with bull-breed prejudice. This also accounts for the mind-numbing quantity of beautiful, loving bull breeds languishing in kennels and rescues right now.

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Slowly but surely though, attention is rightfully turning to the owners of dogs that bite. Even if you don't have a banned breed you can still be charged with having a dog that's dangerously out of control. But again, the dog will pay the ultimate price with its life because he or she was allowed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, left unsupervised around children and so on. And as easy and convenient as it would be to leave the blame game focussed on irresponsible owners, let's not take the easy way out.

We're hearing that the law is flawed and owners of dogs with a predisposition to be dangerous are not being responsible. But why are we not also hearing about the source of these dogs in the first place. The breeders. Why are they not being held to account by the media or the law?

Remember we are talking about an increase in recorded dog bites over the last twenty-five years and of the majority being attributed to non-banned breeds.

So let's do the math(s). More dogs that have originated from puppy farms have been brought into UK family homes over that same twenty-five-year period, than at any other time in history. The increase in these factory farmed puppies being sold to a duped public accounts for eye-watering statistics. And let's not forget, puppy farming was created in the 1980s as an industry with one express purpose. To provide a viable form of farming diversification for farmers because of milk quotas. It was never, I repeat never, an industry created to breed healthy, well-adjusted dogs responsibly by people who were required to be experienced and knowledgeable about the canine species. Absolutely not. It was only ever about making money and still is. Sadly, this 'anyone can breed dogs for money' Government-instilled mentality left the field wide open to abuse by opportunists. And to this day, we have never managed to shake it off.

Of course what we have learned through science and research about canine psychology has lifted some of us out of the dark ages of the 1980s. There is now indisputable evidence that shows the relationship between poorly bred and poorly socialised puppies and behavioural issues. In the golden period, the few weeks of life where puppies are imprinted for life by their first experiences, especially those of their mothers, the dog of future is formed. So if mum isn't a healthy, well-adjusted, well socialised and contented dog, the same will likely be true of her puppies. It is also scientifically proven that puppies brought up in these undesirable conditions are notoriously difficult to train and are predisposed to behavioural problems such as fear aggression and biting.

So we have a population of around 8 million dogs, of which in the last twenty -five years a disturbingly high proportion will have originated from puppy farms or unscrupulous back street breeders. That's two and a half decades of hundreds of thousands of poorly bred puppies entering the domestic pet market every year. And during that same time-frame we've seen increased statistics of recorded dog bites from non-banned breeds. Go figure.

This is not a coincidence. It has become a self-perpetuating cycle that could have been stopped a long time ago had the will to do so existed. So many of the problems we see with dogs today whether disease or behaviour related can be attributed to the health and temperament of the parents and a puppy's initial experiences in their formative weeks of life. If that wasn't concerning enough you also need to take into account the further damage to the vulnerable puppies that are sold on, sometimes changing hands several times through puppy dealers, before being purchased by potentially naïve, inexperienced or irresponsible dog owners. But before that happens we combine animal welfare neglect and public protection failure and make it freely accessible in one gigantic unregulated arena - the internet.

Breed Specific Legislation is a misnomer. It fails on every count. But perhaps the reluctance of Government to accept this, is because it would mean they would also have to accept responsibility for the root cause of the problem ... the gratuitous use of dogs as breeding machines and money makers.

The SaveABulls is a veterinary led campaign founded by Shakira Free Miles RVN BSc, Veterinary Nurse of the Year in the CEVA Animal welfare awards 2016. She said: "I see fearful dogs on a daily basis, I always ask the simple question "where did you get this one from?" The reply more often than not is a pet shop or from an internet advert with the well known fact that mum was not present. The UK legislation is set up to fail dogs by the very government that should be protecting them and us."

We are running out of time to put right all these wrongs. And so are the dogs. The question is whether we have people in positions of influence and authority who are prepared to step up and do the right thing. And the right thing is to put the best interests of dogs at the centre of their strategy because only by doing this will everything else, including public protection, follow.

Important campaigns to follow that were founded by veterinary professionals: @SaveABulls #endBSL and @pupaid #wheresmum

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