Today the Government has announced a number of proposals for sentencing owners of dangerous dogs that kill or injure someone. I wanted to write this post ahead of another dog attack taking place, ahead of the knee jerk reactions that invariably follow. It's supposed to protect us - dogs, owners and victims of attacks - but dangerous dog legislation is only enforced when the worst has already happened. And these proposals are another example of exactly that, once the deed has been done.
This week I've been helping a client who witnessed an awful attack on a dog on London Fields, a park in Hackney, east London. His dog was set upon by three others (I'm not discussing breeds as I don't feel it is relevant here). The owner of the dogs is known in the area: his dogs have attacked previously, and he is also known for beating them in public when they don't obey him.
My client rang me for advice and I told him to call the dog warden, the RSPCA and the Police. He reported back that all of them tried to shift the responsibility to each other, which is strange. Considering all of them should be actively 'doing' something about these kinds of owners and their dogs.
So, on behalf of my client who rang me back, and very confused myself, I emailed the police officer involved and stated the three exact sections of the law that the owner could be prosecuted under: animal cruelty, duty of care, and dangerous dogs 1871, section 2. I even took advice from the brilliant Trevor Cooper at Dog Law to check I was correct.
It turns out the police don't want to do anything.
They can, but they won't. Which then lead me to write another email saying that when that owner either gets attacked and killed by his dogs, when they finally have had enough of being beaten within an inch of their lives, or when that owner loses control of his dogs once more but this time they set upon a dog walking alongside a mother and toddler and the owners are injured, on their heads be it. I was angry.
This example sums up the main issue with dangerous dog legislation: there is no early intervention, and it is only enforced when the worst has already happened. From what I see and witness in my professional and personal life is that everyone likes to pretend that something is being done, but it isn't. Hackney is listed as one of the third worst boroughs for dangerous dogs in the UK, so one would assume that the relevant people to turn to were poised and ready to take action.
When you read of incidents involving dogs attacking humans, adults or children in the newspaper or hear of it on the radio, that attack did not 'just happen'. Things lead to that exact moment in time where that dog took life into its own control. If you look at any of the dogs who have killed or attacked an adult or child and you were able to look at its lifespan, you would find numerous incidents and triggers. It may be cruelty, it may be welfare issues, it may be terrible breeding or it could be that the owner was reported various times to the authorities on differing counts but nothing was ever done. Eventually all of these incidents accumulate - and something awful happens. The media make it out as if it 'came out of nowhere' but this is just not true. There are always warning signs along the way but nobody listened and nobody actioned these reports until one day, the worst possible outcome took place.
What I do not know or understand is who the authorities are talking to about these issues, because it certainly isn't people like me - dog behaviourists and trainers who are working day-in-day-out with every single dog-owning demographic in this city. From Travellers to bankers, youth offenders to the famous, rich to poor, people in prisons, on estates and in penthouses, I see it all and I would happily sit down and explain just exactly what is going on with dogs in the UK.
Early intervention is key, but so is someone taking responsibility. What is the point of all these support organisations and individuals for the public to turn to if none of them want to take action? Please tell me. Because honestly, I am at my wits end working and trying to teach, educate and instill respect, kindness, discipline into people and their dogs with authorities hell bent on undermining this and not rewarding any of the responsible people in this country who own dogs.