Dog owners whose pets accidentally injure someone could face up to five years in jail under new Government proposals for tougher sentences, the RSPCA fears.
Britain’s biggest animal welfare charity welcomed this week’s proposals in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill to increase the maximum sentence for those irresponsible owners who fail to control their dogs in a way that puts the public and other animals in danger.
However, the charity is calling on the Defra minister in the House of Lords, Lord de Mauley, to provide the responsible majority with a reasonable defence if their animals are involved in a genuinely accidental incident.
The RSPCA is encouraging all dog owners and members of the public to contact Lord de Mauley and echo that call, ahead of 12 November when the Bill will again be discussed in the House of Lords.
David Bowles, the RSPCA’s head of public affairs, said: “We are supportive that irresponsible owners who allow or encourage their dogs to attack people or animals should face tougher consequences. However, we are concerned that with the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill as it is currently drafted, this increase coupled with the extension of the law to cover private property could inadvertently have a serious impact on responsible owners and dog welfare.
“Under the proposals the owner of a dog who causes injury to a person could be facing a maximum prison sentence of five years. Even the most well behaved and well trained dog could fall foul of this legislation if they cause an injury to someone who despite being told by the owner not to interact with the dog, chooses to do otherwise.”
David said that the RSPCA was worried that, under current proposals, some dogs could be unnecessarily seized whilst others may not be allowed to interact with people or other dogs for fear, by their owner, of prosecution.
The RSPCA also fears that the impact of these proposals could see some owners relinquish their dogs or potential owners put off adopting a dog for fear of keeping a dog being too difficult.
“We urge that the Government puts forward an amendment for a defence to be made available for such cases to protect responsible dog owners should an incident occur. As part of this amendment, courts should be required to consider all the circumstances of any dog related incident.
Equally there is an urgent need to educate the public about safety around dogs which is something the RSPCA is fully committed to.
“Without this, the Government’s proposals could be seen as penalising responsible dog owners so we need a much more balanced approach. We fully support targeting the irresponsible few but not at the expense of the majority of dog owners,” he added.