DEFRA’s Enforcement Guidelines on Dangerous Dogs Not so Sweet

Defra’s Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…In a most delightful way: Dangerous Dogs Law Guidance for Enforcers issued by DEFRA in April 2009 is a riveting read; at long last, with all the reports and meetings for dangerous dogs, dog attack reports, status dogs and yobs with dogs apparently lurking on every corner, Defra has the answer. The breed ban that hasn’t managed to rid our country of dangerous dogs over the past 18 years will work – it just needs improved enforcement.

The purpose of the guidance is to assist police and local authorities in dealing with dangerous dog incidents and allegations concerning dogs prohibited under the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) – mainly pit bull terrier ‘types’. The focus is on the dog, an animal that is not too good at speaking out for himself as he’s not actually the real problem and can’t speak the lingo anyway. The owners and breeders who simply don’t give a damn get little mention for it is far easier to dish out advice telling authorities to get tough and crackdown on dogs they can after all be seized and put to death within a system where they are demonised as ‘dangerous dogs’ or the popular term ‘status dogs’, offered little sympathy and generally be the political scapegoat when the time is right.

Following ‘consultation’ Defra has in its infinite wisdom decided to focus on the breed specific elements of the DDA and crackdown on those so called dangerous dogs with the help of its long awaited guidance which has been produced by the leading brains at Defra (who are as about useful as a one legged man in an butt kicking competition) in association with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), local authority representatives and the RSPCA who kindly donated the use of a photo for the front cover.

Considering the guidance covers the issue of ‘dangerous dogs’ including all breeds covered under the law e.g. Dogs Act 1871, why on earth the RSPCA allowed a photo of a ‘pit bull terrier’ lunging at the lead with bared teeth is anyone’s guess. Not exactly going with the theme of deed not breed was it? Maybe they weren’t having a deed not breed week what with all the talk of status dogs rushing through the swanky offices at Horsham. But it should at least help keep that devil dog image running fresh for a while longer and for that little gem-thank you RSPCA HQ for not allowing us to stray from the righteous path and reminding us how pit bull terriers and any dog which vaguely physically resembles an ‘unrecognised’ breed, really are very dangerous. Unlike this paragraph, you have done so without a hint of sarcasm. Amazing for an organisation who at the same time say no breed or type of dog is inherently dangerous. No wonder the public are confused!

The guidance overviews the main dog related legislation currently in force and suggests the route to take when dealing with ‘dangerous dog’ incidents by way of a handy flow chart, it’s an “essential part of Defra’s strategy” to promote the better enforcement of the law.

Recent DDA experiences have exposed some minor hiccups such as:

Huge shed loads of public cash being swallowed up in costs involved in the detainment of seized dogs coupled with a large number of dogs dying in kennels month in and month out, outbreaks of highly contagious diseases and serious welfare issues such as dents to the top of doggie head self inflicted from smacking head into the kennel wall.

The pile up of corpses and disappearing funds fiasco has resulted in the issue of new guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and Defra which has been delivered down to all police forces and local authorities-it is a guide, to be interpreted by each individual police force and coming to your area soon.

Police officers and local authorities are left to enforce draconian and unworkable legislation that no one seems to back apart from barking mad lost his marbles Baker. Some people are sick of being expected to miraculously implement daft law (at great cost emotionally, physically and financially to both humans and dogs) while the core problem of irresponsible owners and breeders goes largely ignored. No larger organisation (apart from the National Dog Wardens Association) or politicians have the bottle to stand out and shout loud and hard for a change to the unworkable law. This would run the risk of them being left slated with the image that they want to “make pit bull terriers, the killing machines”, legal.

That’s the bottom line.

If you follow through on the ‘deed not breed’ theory, you ultimately lead to the scrapping of Breed Specific Law – DDA s1 and this results in the American Pit Bull Terrier, indeed all descriptions of dogs, being made legal once again, legal to own, import, breed etc.

I’ll say that again, firstly sit down and take a deep breath to help numb the shock – anti-bsl, deed not breed, repeal s1 = American Pit Bull Terrier will be legal to own. Okay, now you may have got a horror lunging on lead, teeth bared picture stuck in your head and you can see that’s the sticky point.

No one wants to argue that pit bull terriers should be legalised, it’s not pc, you will not pick up any brownie points and the big guns feel that stepping too far in that direction can cause damage especially when all the focus is on pit bull types being used as weapons and other criminal activity as we’re led to believe.

Charity, organisation or politician-you don’t want to go looking like you’ve gone chicken oriental asking for fighting dogs, with locking jaws and high pain thresholds to be made legal and set loose on the public. It is, as one Scottish MP explained, political suicide. Better to be caught spending public cash on your food shopping, bath plugs or cleaning out your country estate moat.

With all the news and meetings on the new status dog breed (breed standard awaited) and reports of dogs being used as weapons sweeping the country Government has to be seen as taking action. There’s to be no U- turn, it’s going to stick with a deeply flawed law and concentrate on reducing the numbers of illegal crossbreeds on the streets. Of course everyone knows it can’t and will not ever work, but the same old boring lines will be uttered from Defra.

‘We’ve consulted with the police.’ ‘The law is working it just needs enforcing.’ ‘Pit bulls don’t make pets.’ ‘Two breeds can be crossed and make a pit bull.’ ‘Who am I? How did I get here? Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall.’

With those pearls of wisdom, aimed to inspire I’d guess, come new guidelines screaming enforce BSL! Priority number one- cut down on costs (while suggesting every police force gets a DLO trained in pit bull type identification ready for enforcement). Priority number two – Increase numbers seized and destroyed, increase the number of dogs added to the Index of Exempted Dogs (IED) – they’ll reduce a year later anyway.

Don’t need to tell people the lower dog registration figures are because the dogs we screwed up in kennels got destroyed as they can’t handle life anymore. They may think we create dangerous dogs and we can’t be having that! Gotta make it look like something is working. Can’t admit we got it wrong after so many years, people may even sue us for the thousands of dogs that we’ve slaughtered. Must keep the pressure off to make change, shift the spotlight onto the councils and police forces-let them sort it out. That has an added bonus as a great let out if we get asked any awkward questions in Freedom of Information requests “I didn’t do it, No one saw me do it (cos it’s in secret kennels) you can’t prove it. Eat my shorts! Do the Bart man!”

So what happens when pit bull type is removed under section one from idiot owners by the Police? Seizure figures rise, a dog gets signed over and that dog’s life is ended automatically. The owner is highly unlikely to go to court as the dog has been signed over. Nothing to see here…move along people. Meanwhile idiot is back with new dog a week later, can see how the law is really working now reducing the numbers of bull breeds. What progress is being made here, amazing stuff this, no wonder we don’t want to follow the likes of the Netherlands and repeal the whole sorry mess.

The Defra advice for police includes that every service within the UK has a policy for dealing with ‘dangerous dogs’. This must include secure kennels (as opposed to the unsecured naff ones?) that can be contracted for dogs seized prior to any prosecution. The Met police have so many hundreds of dogs held you’ll be lucky to get yours in a kennels this summer during your holidays. As the costs involved have from experience shown to be high (no shit Sherlock) the guide recommends that procedures should be in place to monitor cases due to the costs escalating. I repeat…”due to costs escalating”.

If we are to believe DEFRA in all they say regarding pit bull terriers, if Defra believe they are vicious dangerous killing machines here to prey on us humans, and only owned by drug dealing scum as “status dogs”, probably into dog fighting too, surely “costs escalating” would not be of any concern as public safety would outweigh this? But no – Defra have weighed it up and decided that they can refrain from excessive use of graspers to drag dogs screaming in fear into kennels for months on end – this is overkill (excuse the pun). They don’t need to do that cos, ya know…it’s expensive. Yep. It’s a Defra-ism at its best.

The welfare of any seized dog is also mentioned as a factor which needs to be considered, which was rather big of them to mention it as a factor to be considered; the police being advised to take note of their duty to ensure the welfare of animals in their care in reference to the Animal Welfare Act 2006-s9 as it seems they too need to abide by this law.

As for any bull breed being abused out there, in areas such as London where they are flooding into rescues, maybe the RSPCA HQ prosecutions department might decide to get off their fat backside and prosecute someone under the AWA and whilst your on a roll perhaps you could help out some of the thousands of dogs confined to live miserable lives inside puppy farms, here’s a clue to help get you started – Carmarthenshire.

Defra advises that every police service has a trained police DLO – Dog Legislation Officer or access to one.

If they don’t have one, they are advised to have a procedure in place where one can be accessed. DLO’s are police officers trained in dog legislation and the identification of pit bull terrier ‘types’, they are usually dog handlers within the police force. At present two Police services run courses for the training of DLO’s; the Metropolitan Police (London) and the Merseyside Police. DLO’s can act as a guide in investigations involving dogs and Defra lists the main responsibilities for DLO’s which include the identification of suspected pit bull terrier types. The RSPCA are not to be involved in any DDA Section One prosecutions where welfare is not an issue, they had their fingers well and truly burnt over that one last time round, tis a learning curve the DDA. Some of us are sick of hearing about status dogs and dogs used as weapons, forget about what type of dog it is, the threat is the two legged idiot not four legged dog and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Further on in the guidance examples of multi-agency approach schemes are given; there is BARK-Borough Action for Responsible K9s which was launched in September 2007 covering the north London borough of Brent. The group consists of Brent Council, the Met Police, Mayhew Animal Home and the RSPCA. Also there is the Wandsworth Council Action Place which came about also in 2007. Wandsworth is a London borough and has the largest local authority dog control service in the country, with six full time and six part-time staff. Coming outside of the central hub for all dog legislation ideas-London, there is South Northampton District Council who is said to have taken a proactive role in dealing with dogs that may be dangerous.

Maybe if less funding and manpower was needed to chase around smooth coated muscular shaped dogs with wedge shaped heads as the law demands, then there would be increased funding available for those other little issues, you know, responsible dog ownership for all, back yard breeding, education, still never mind, we mustn’t take the focus off the scary pit bull types now eighteen years down the road to a better place, or else all the improvements, the reductions in dog attacks, the lower numbers arriving in shelters, the raised standards in responsible dog ownership, the increase in public safety, the decrease in puppy peddlers, it would all be lost.

Annex 1 lays out the main Acts and what they can be used for.

Annex 2 provides information for identifying Pit Bull Terrier type dogs-not an exhaustive list but a ‘starting point’. The breed standard used to identify the dangerous dog is one issued by the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) in 1977-dogs requiring a substantial number of characteristics to fit the description, but of course not all! The physical characteristics which make a dog ‘dangerous’ include;

A short bristled coat (very dodgy), square profile viewed from the side, wedge shaped head from the side and round from the front view, broad hip, shoulders wider than rib cage at 8th rib, athletic appearance and a pump handled tail blah blah blah, you may have heard it all before or as a pet owner you may have just stumbled on the guide and are currently starring at your dog trying to work out if its shoulders really are wider than its rib cage-remember that’s at the 8th rib not the 7th, that could make all the difference on whether your dog is dangerous.

In the real world, you might just find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, out walking your dog and minding your own business, your dog is targeted as a prohibited type. Never mind about fitting the “substantial number of characteristics” as laid down in a 30 year old breed standard the government do not have permission from the ADBA to even be using in the first place. If a character doesn’t fit it is covered with the faithful parrot phrase:

“Does not conform 100% as is not the ‘perfect’ specimen but is a pit bull all the same.” (Height and weight being irrelevant.)

A Poodle doesn’t conform 100% to the standard for a Great Dane but they generally also have four legs, a tail, a fur covered body, mouth, teeth, ears and they both bark so let’s call all Poodles Great Danes! Or do we call Great Danes Poodles? What the heck! It’s all semantics. Let’s just get em all!

If you work with stray and rescue dogs you might by now, as the law is picking up speed, dread those days when the dogs in the kennels are breed identified as type and you get left with the soul destroying job of holding down a sweet natured dog, wagging its tail and looking to you for help as the life is drained away following a lethal injection. Defra officials don’t have to do their own dirty work do they? Maybe they would like to explain how this is making a difference and spend some time with the people who have been left at the sharp end demoralised and angry at the situations they have been put in. People whose whole ethos is to never put a healthy dog down. They are killing friendly happy dogs because a suit in an office says it must be so.

Some owners find themselves on the end of a section three offence prosecution, over a thousand people did in 2007, and these will all differ in severity. A much loved London pet was seized for an alleged offence two months earlier involving a neighbour. The case never made it to court as the dog died suddenly after 18 days in police appointed kennels and his body was accidentally cremated without the owner’s permission when it was by mistake placed into the wrongly coloured disposal bag leaving his family devastated. Any description of dog can be seized under sec 3 and is likely to be for an aggravated offence i.e. causing injury. Someone else on first base is no doubt monitoring the numbers held, how any system is coping and making suggestions regarding the welfare and ‘best policy’ for detained section three dogs, aren’t they?

The good part of the ACPO guidelines must be of course ‘the stay at home policy’ previously general policy was to seize dog, then owner waits for a court date, goes via section 4b or section 1 and on it goes from here.

Now, under the new policy guidelines, if owner signs an undertaking and it is ‘straightforward’ on the risk assessment, for example you’re middle aged and don’t have no short hair and tattoos-we know they make bad owners, the dog can stay at home – until the day of court and then be seized, so a pet can spend less time in prison. Dog owner has to sign an ‘undertaking’ as enforcers can’t just leave a dog at home and not lay down some rules, they don’t want it to go pear shaped as that could lead to a slating, but what’s the down side then, surely although the law hasn’t changed this is all good news long awaited and a cause for much celebration, a step in the right direction? All you need do is pass the police risk assessment, grow your hair, get your tats removed and not fit any stereotype being pushed at the time.

If you’re unfortunate enough to have the nasty breed ban thrown in your face, in order to go the civil route of 4b you must first accept that your dog is an illegal type and you have therefore been breaking the law, if you do not, then the flow chart points you to go via s1-the criminal route.

If you genuinely believe that your dog is say an American Bulldog, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier or a crossbreed not known as a pit bull terrier, what are your options under the law and guidelines? According to the guidelines you must state dog is a pit bull terrier to avoid criminal prosecution or you stick to what you believe is right in which case the full weight of the law can be thrown at you in order to have your day in court.

If you want to dispute that your dog is an illegal type your dog will be seized-it’s highly unlikely to stay at home pending a date for the court hearing. For many, the priority is that their dog is not forcible removed from them for obvious reasons and that for owners outweighs any disagreement over breed type.

As a pet owner, well your options are nil. You’re going to grab that undertaking like a Holy Grail of goodness and sign that undertaking if it is offered. With your signature you will be admitting that your dog is a banned type as the alternative according to the new handy flow chart is a criminal prosecution for you possibly culminating in 6 months in prison, a £5000 fine and a criminal record. As for your dog, well that may be seized if you don’t admit type, as you’re clearly not playing the “game” you may after all try and leg it if they leave your dog at home. So they will probably take your dog and then your pet may spend months in doggie jail and be lucky and come out relatively normal or may catch a dose of parvo or just go plain mental with the whole set up, it’s a lottery few wish to dabble in.

If you do not agree with the undertaking or are not able to abide by it, which could be possible depending on how it has been individually interpreted in your area, then you may get thrown towards s1. If you don’t pass on the risk assessment again you may not pass go and dog may go to jail. That’s the choice given to the humble civilians in this wonderful country that allows you the right to defend yourself against accusations of a criminal nature. It’s a written version of good cop bad cop. Play by the rules you got no say in and all will run smoothly but don’t and the wrath of the legal system will come down on you full force.

The undertaking according to the ACPO also asks dog owners to seek out 3rd party liability insurance cover as soon as possible-well you can understand the police wanting a dog to be covered whilst it is left at home waiting for a court date. The problem is, you can’t get insurance for a pit bull (you signed the undertaking saying it is), not at least until a court orders it registered and you are processed through the Index of Exempted Dogs by which point your dog will have been seized (yes dogs still do get taken and held in kennels from the day of court). So, don’t waste days pulling your hair out looking for it, thinking your dog might be taken or suffer because you can’t find a company to insure your illegal dog whilst waiting on a court hearing. It’s just in the undertaking cos…well cos it is and we all know once it’s done, they don’t change it. Even if it makes as much sense and is as much use as chocolate teapot.

You may also notice when you read the undertaking, that a ‘recognised behaviourist’ aka dog shrink needs to view your dog, that’s down to the interpretation of each area, so who that will be and what they look for isn’t known, but the ACPO guidelines state you must implement any reasonable conditions and undertake any reasonable training recommended by them. What defines reasonable training? It may turn out to be simple and straightforward policy evenly rolled out across the country, then you might just be the unlucky sod, you get the “recognised behaviourist” who doesn’t like the bull breeds, doesn’t like you or questions why your dog doesn’t like being held down in an alpha role. Maybe a dominance reduction programme is recommended or maybe the behaviourist decides to test out your dog’s interest on a child’s doll to see if it is suitable to live with children. Then again you might not be unlucky at all, but you’ve signed the undertaking and a behavioural examination of some sorts on your dog is NOW, if following the guidelines, part of avoiding criminal prosecution under s1.

When you sign the undertaking you agree to have your dog neutered within a month (you’ve been given a month to enable you time to afford it) sounds straightforward unless you have an old dog with a weak heart, or a sick one, but your dog is going to have to undergo neutering regardless of your dogs physical condition, 4 months or 14yrs there is no exception to get on the register. Do it and die or don’t do it and die, those options are likely to apply to some owners but Defra don’t worry about that. After all they aren’t the ones doing it are they? They don’t even notice.

BTW, the undertaking you sign in order to be processed via 4b, it’s not the police actually going to court applying for a registration order. That can’t be done under this law. All that can be done is an application to the Magistrates Court for an Order for Destruction of the dog pursuant to sec 4B of the Act. The owner can then seek to persuade the court not to make such an order, no legal aid available and so no legal representation for many, just hope Judge dishes out a registration order rather that a destruction order, no pressure then eh?

According to the police risk assessment, semi detached houses are okay, middle aged people too, if you’ve six foot high waney lap fence panels and concrete posts you’re less of a risk. Flat dwellers, young males, you might be a bit knackered. But chin up eh? All for the Greater Good.

Thinking about seized dogs, Defra fails to mention any consideration for the seizure and kennelling of puppies. Is there a minimum age for identification and assessment as ‘dangerous’ and how that will fit in with the flow chart? The kennelling of a puppy during its critical developmental periods…. what periods you ask?

In a nutshell much worldwide scientific study has been undertaken with puppies and much has been learnt about them and how they develop, it’s something the canine behaviourists know all about and a topic of much debate and interest. You see during specific times they go through these special stage stages at set times where socialisation with humans, environment, positive & negative experiences lay the foundations for future life. Problem is, if you’re a puppy banged up you’re going to miss out on an awful lot. Socialisation may well and truly be right out the window for you and a nasty experience may well stay with you forever. Still all that science must be for tree huggers eh? Or else puppies seized and deprived of exhibiting normal behaviour even for just one week would be unthinkable, it would be breaking the law wouldn’t it and Defra wouldn’t be allowing that would they?

At least Defra has considered those poor dogs who have been abandoned and received terrible abuse, arriving daily in at least one RSPCA clinic, beaten, broken, burnt, tortured, fought, kicked, punched, bred until their bodies can’t take no more. If their Injuries are not too extensive they can be saved and with a lot of tlc from the caring ground troops, coupled with veterinary medication, nursed back to health. Problem is, if you’re an abused pit bull terrier type it doesn’t matter what torture you have survived clinging onto life and whether you still love people and lick faces whilst your wounds are cleaned out. For you there will be no chance of a loving home and a future as our great law demands you must die as you’re a threat to public safety, yes dog, system states you’re the threat not the sicko who abused you.

Whilst hoping for a repeal of BSL which we are constantly told will take years (probably as hardly anyone is asking for it), Defra were asked about re-opening the Index of Exempted Dogs for owner led registration. They replied they will not open the Index as they believe this will lead to dog fighters and owners who have acquired their dogs for criminal purposes to go and register their dog. No, you didn’t hear that wrongly. Dog fighters-criminals already deliberately operating outside of the law, will neuter, tattoo and chip their fighting scarred up dog. Anti social people, who have brought dogs to intimidate other people, for lunging out and attacking, for protection, they will do the same. Obviously none of these people want to break any laws with their weapon and will want their dogs muzzled and leashed in public while being unable to be bred from. And, Defra don’t want the names and addresses of all these undesirables on a central register. Just how easily could you check up on the real scum? Much better to keep mass hysteria going while shoving millions of pounds down the drain. You couldn’t make it up could you? If I supported the DDA/BSL I would be pretty disappointed in that for a reply. Maybe they are just past coming up with any kind of statement anyone in their right mind can understand? Maybe they drew answers out of a hat for a joke one boring afternoon down at Defra HQ and accidentally posted it up as an official response Doh. At least Defra is good for a laugh.

But all is not lost, Lord Resedale’s Bill for dog control will repeal section 1 of the DDA, it says it will, therefore it must. It’s not like that bit is going to get cut out at a later date is it? If he could just drag himself away from the mass killing of grey squirrels long enough to remove the crayons off the 10 year old that wrote it and have a bit of a tinker with the wording. What with it being a parliamentary Bill and all, we wouldn’t want to go getting stuck with a daft law would we? Should we just be relying on the big guns to get it right this time round? Look it’s a long way off so don’t bother go raising any questions, it’s not like laws can suddenly get rushed though or anything…..

When society falls ill from mass-hysteria-itis by way of negative press on canine, it needs to take its medicine. Now some have put forward new well thought out ideas to tackle the issues but Defra doesn’t want to change the meds as the old tablet must have worked rather than created a placebo effect. So instead Defra and its advisors have added some sugar coating to that big old DDA tablet, now you dog owners, canine groups, dog wardens, police and rescue workers please open wide and swallow as a spoonful of DEFRA sugar helps the medicine go down in a most delightful way, there you go-was that so hard? All is well, the law will work better now, breed bans are needed, stop complaining, round them up, process, register, eliminate, dogs staying at home a bit longer, go away now please ZZZzzzzz

Brought to you by two anti-stupid dog law campaigners.

Source: – the K9 Magazine blog

DEFRA’s Enforcement Guidelines on Dangerous Dogs Not so Sweet

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