Despite the huge furore over dangerous dogs in the early 1990s, resulting the in much-criticised Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, recent times have shown that dogs, particularly where children are concerned, can still present a lethal danger. It seems that something still isn’t right.
The Chief Constable of Merseyside Police claims that the the present legislation is confused and needs to be overhauled. The Observer reports:
Bernard Hogan-Howe said he had reached the decision after talking to other chief constables. ‘In consultation with partners, other police forces and the Association of Chief Police Officers, we would now welcome a considered and thoughtful review of the current legislation,’ he said. His intervention is likely to be interpreted as providing tacit backing for new rules that would target the owners of dangerous dogs rather than the animals themselves… Hogan-Howe is understood to back moves that would allow owners to apply for their dogs to be exempted from the banned dogs list without the need for police or court involvement.
This is of particular interest to The Ranger and no doubt his colleagues managing public spaces across the country. Although many of the more horrific incidents in the news seem to have occurred in private places, such as homes or gardens, there is no doubt that for most non-dog owners the places where they are most often obliged to face up to strange dogs is in a park or when walking in the countryside. It is this interface which causes many distressing, but less celebrated incidents such as scratches, falls, jumping up, taking food and other undesirable interactions, not to mention the equally upsetting attacks by one dog on another. A particular issue here on the Isle of Wight is that of dogs on beaches, not only because of dog fouling but simply the natural tendency of dogs to run around in an excited way – not a good combination with family picnics and young children. This year some new restrictions will be in force on the Island to exclude dogs from more beach areas in the summer season. These low-level problems often seem to be something that the law cannot help with. Although the statute is clear enough, as the issues are so minor it’s rarely sensible to launch a prosecution. Maybe there needs to be a canine ‘Highway Code’, an advisory code of practice for dogs and those around them, both owners and others. The Ranger agrees with the Chief Constable that the existing law is not working. It’s for wiser heads to work out the solution – perhaps this time we will take a bit of time to discuss and think about the best way forward rather than just making a law in a reactive manner. But whatever is decided it will be stronger and – crucially – more enforceable if it has considered the entire spectrum of dog-related issues, from the point of view of not only the ‘victim’ but also the dog owner.