Hundreds of “dangerous” dogs were killed this year after they were confiscated by police, new figures show – but concerns have been raised that many were “unnecessarily euthanized”.
An investigation by Sky News has found that more than 1,500 dogs have been destroyed after being incarcerated in the UK under the Dangerous Dogs Act since 2019.
However, the RSPCA warned that many dogs would be euthanized under the controversial law “with no concern about their behavior”.
Four breeds are prohibited under the Dangerous Dogs Act; the Pit Bull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro, but also other species can be confiscated if they get dangerously out of control.
Last month Jack Lis, 10, was beaten to death in Caerphilly, South Wales, by a dog identified as an American bully or XL bully – which is not one of the four breeds prohibited in Britain.
His death came after nine year old Frankie MacRitchie from Plymouth was killed in April 2019 from an American Bulldog / Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross, a breed that is also not forbidden.
A 55-year-old man died on Wednesday after being attacked by a dog in Angus, Scotland – but the breed has not been confirmed.
Dr. Sam Gain, a specialist in dog protection for the RSPCA, called on the government to revise the Dangerous Dogs Act, introduced in 1991, and end “breed-specific laws”.
She said dogs are confiscated and euthanized “on the basis of their appearance” and “the vast majority of them pose no public safety risk”.
Dr. Gain told Sky News, “We’ve had the legislation for 30 years and we still see dogs being put to sleep unnecessarily.
“These dogs end up being euthanized because they happen to have a certain appearance. They are not put to sleep because their behavior poses a public risk.
“There is no breed of dog that is naturally aggressive.
“Whether or not you see aggressive behavior in a dog depends on how it was bred, how it was raised and what it has been through in life.”
What does the data show?
According to 29 emergency services, at least 5,333 dogs have been confiscated by the police under the Dangerous Dogs Act since 2019.
A total of 1,525 “dangerous” dogs were destroyed in the same period – 425 of them between January and November of this year, as figures according to the Freedom of Information Act show.
The total number of “dangerous” dogs seized and destroyed is likely to be much higher as Britain’s largest force, the Metropolitan Police, refused to respond on grounds of cost, as did the Gwent police investigating Jack Lis’s death.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Police and the Northern Ireland Police Service (PSNI) announced that they have no data on the seizures of dangerous dogs.
Of the forces responding to Sky News, West Midlands Police seized the most “dangerous” dogs, 1,465 in the past three years, while 359 dogs were destroyed over the same period.
West Yorkshire Police said they had arrested 467 dogs and killed 128 since 2019, while Merseyside Police had seized 432 dogs and euthanized 95.
Overall, the numbers suggested that the number of dogs seized and destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act has decreased every year since 2019, which Dr. Gain “could well be an impact of the pandemic”.
“No vet wants to euthanize a healthy dog because of its appearance”
Dr. Gain said the RSPCA had been forced to euthanize 310 dogs since 2016 for being banned breeds.
She told Sky News that in many cases the dogs have been “victims of cruelty and neglect” and that they could have made “very good, friendly pets.”
“It’s very traumatic to our staff and our vets,” added Dr. Gain added.
“No vet wants to euthanize a healthy dog just because it happens to have a special appearance. It’s a huge emotional burden.
“It’s also really traumatic for owners who in many cases very innocently acquire a puppy at eight weeks … and then that dog grows into a dog that looks like a forbidden type.
“It’s deeply troubling.”
What do we know about the Dangerous Dogs Act?
- The law came into effect after six-year-old Rukhsana Khan was beaten by a pit bull in a Bradford park
- After 11 horrific attacks in 1991, then Interior Secretary Kenneth Baker promised “to rid the country of the threat posed by these attack dogs”.
- Law Banned Dogs “Belonging To Types Bred For Fighting”
- It became illegal to own four races; the Pit Bull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro
- It also constituted a criminal offense in allowing any dog (of any breed or species) to get dangerously out of control
- The law was changed in 2013 to cover dogs that are dangerously out of control in private property
- Critics say there are no breeds prone to violence, and the law doesn’t emphasize the role of irresponsible behavior in dog attack
- According to the British Veterinary Association, research has not found any reduction in incidents of aggressive behavior and dog biting since the law was first introduced
Demand for dog handlers and compulsory training
Dr. Gain said the RSPCA has asked pet owners to require a license to own a dog with a small annual fee to improve safety.
A government-commissioned report earlier this month found that owners, not breeds, were responsible for dog attacks.
The Middlesex University study indicated that Jack Russell terriers, Labradors, and German Shepherds were involved in biting incidents and recommended that owners undergo compulsory training as a condition of purchasing a dog.
It comes after a parliamentary committee warned in 2018 that some legal dog breeds can pose the same public safety risk as illegal dog breeds.
Then the Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs called for a review of UK dangerous dog laws which it said did not protect the public.
What is the government saying?
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of the Environment, Food and Rural Areas told Sky News: “Dog attacks can have dire consequences, which is why it is a criminal offense to let any dog - not just prohibited breeds – get dangerously out of control.
“We welcome the results of the Middlesex University report and will work with police and stakeholders to further review the recommendations.”