Last week ministers announced the long awaited changes to the much criticised Dangerous Dogs Act. For campaigning charities such as Blue Cross it was something of an anti-climax.
Blue Cross is one of many animal welfare organisations welcoming the introduction of compulsory microchipping for dogs - a compulsory scheme has many benefits for both dogs and communities. However, what this policy won't do is stop dog attacks before they happen. There is real disappointment at the failure to properly address the issue at the heart of problem - the lack of effective preventative measures. Authorities desperately need the ability to step in at the first signs of a potentially dangerous dog, and before an attack has taken place.
After 20 years of waiting, this is a missed opportunity. It not only leaves the public at risk, but also means the reputation of some dog owners, and of the breeds of dogs they choose to own, will continue to suffer.
Blue Cross operates three animal hospitals in London, which support a wide range of pet owners, many of which are young dog owners with 'status' or bull breed type dogs. The majority of our clients are responsible dog owners, so we know only too well that dog ownership is a good thing - regardless of the breed - when people are properly informed and supported.
Without the introduction of an early preventative strategy, little will be done to reduce dog related incidents or improve dog owners' knowledge of their responsibilities. Having the ability to compel dog owners to take early preventative action such as muzzling or training would be useful for enforcers, helping to tackle the issue of 'problem' dogs before they are given up to charities like Blue Cross, or even worse pose a risk to the public.
Blue Cross has made some steps towards filling the gap left by the government with the launch of its RespectaBull project. The project has so far reached over 2,500 young people in schools, youth groups, probation centres and prisons in some of the UK's major urban areas. The free RespectaBull workshops stimulate debate and discussion around the issues of responsible dog ownership, antisocial behaviour and aim to help dog owners and keep bull breeds healthy and happy.
For too long dangerous dog legislation has focussed on dealing with owners and dogs after attacks have taken place, leaving it to charities like Blue Cross to try and prevent them in the first place. The key to improving the situation is to better inform and support owners, whilst ensuing that authorities have the necessary tools in their armoury to force those who deliberately put the public at risk to act responsibly.
If the government doesn't take this opportunity to introduce effective measures to address issues of anti-social behaviour involving dogs, then dangerous owners will continue to put the public at risk and a key opportunity to enforce the principles of responsible dog ownership will have been missed.