Call on the government to repeal BSL by signing our petition
To: Lord Gardiner, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Defra
Twenty-seven years ago, four types of dog were outlawed on looks alone under section one of the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991).
Despite banning the pitbull terrier, Japanese tosa, dogo Argentino and fila Brasilerio types in 1991, the number of hospital admissions for injuries caused by dogs is at its highest for a decade according to national statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
Breed-specific legislation focusses on looks alone – not the breeding of an animal, nor their behaviour. While injuries rise, pet dogs are taken from their families and needlessly killed, or their families are forced through a long, complicated and emotionally-draining court system to have them returned.
Blue Cross believes that focussing on education and responsible dog ownership of all breeds and types is the only way to prevent injuries caused by dogs.
By signing this petition, I ask you to repeal section one of the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) and instead introduce legislation that will allow enforcers to take action before dog attacks happen, as well as sufficient resources and training to allow them to do so. Until such a time as a full repeal, I ask you to allow responsible rehoming organisations to find loving homes for stray banned types so that rehomable pets are not needlessly killed.
Sign our petition to end breed-specific legislation
This is why Blue Cross is today calling on the government to repeal breed specific legislation.
Today (11 June 2018), Blue Cross is calling on politicians to overturn a law that sentences to death some types of dog purely on the way they look.
Blue Cross will on Wednesday take up an invitation to give evidence at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) select committee’s inquiry into the impact of so-called breed specific legislation.
Section one of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 outlaws four types of dog based on their physical appearance, regardless of whether or not the dog has ever behaved dangerously.
This legislation has been ineffective at preventing dog attacks. In fact, between March 2005 and February 2015, hospital admissions for injuries caused by dogs increased by 76 per cent.
Steve Goody, Blue Cross Deputy Chief Executive, said: “The years following the implementation of the Dangerous Dogs Act have shown that vilifying certain breeds of dog does not serve to reduce the number of dog attacks.
“If we are to see any immediate progress we must focus our efforts on educating dog owners about their responsibilities and crack down on those who ignore this advice and use dog ownership for illegal and irresponsible purposes. Responsible dog owners understand the importance of careful breeding, early socialisation and training.”
Read more about why Blue Cross wants to see a repeal of breed-specific legislation below.
Why the law needs to change
We believe the law, which unfairly penalises well-behaved dogs, places too much focus on what a dog looks like and by doing so has torn much-loved pets away from their families and also failed to protect the public from irresponsible dog owners.
As an animal welfare charity with animal hospitals and rehoming centres around the country, Blue Cross often takes in stray dogs. When no owner comes forward, we find stray dogs loving new families – but banned types of dog are denied this happy ever after.
The law bans rescue organisations from rehoming the four banned types, even if they have the temperament and behaviour to become sociable pets who pose no danger to society. Today, rehomable dogs are euthanised simply because of the way they look.
Duncan was brought to us as an injured stray. Unfortunately the Status Dogs Unit (SDU) confirmed he was of type and would have to be euthanised after serving his stray days. Staff who dealt with Duncan described him as a gentle giant who was very well behaved. He knew basic commands and had he been another type of dog would had made a great companion to someone. The law meant Duncan was denied that chance.
Kane came into one of our hospitals and was signed over to us by his owner. The SDU were called and confirmed that Kane was of type and would need to be euthanized. Kane was described by staff as a big softy who behaved like an overgrown puppy; he loved being around people and also was very good with other dogs. Our hands were tied because of the law and Kane was put to sleep as we were not able to send him on to one of our rehoming centres.
Poor Dobby had been used as a breeding machine and once she was no longer any use, she was abandoned. Dobby stayed with us for her seven stray days and we made sure she got the veterinary treatment and care she needed. Throughout her week with us she learned to play, enjoy head rubs and put on weight. The SDU confirmed Dobby was an illegal type and her fate was sealed.
Each of these dogs had a life which they deserved to enjoy in a happy home with a loving family. Instead, they died simply because of the way they looked. This injustice must end.
Pet dogs that have an owner can be seized by authorities if they are suspected of being an illegal type. If this is confirmed by a dog legislation officer, the owner may be allowed to apply to the court for an exemption order, allowing their dog to live under certain restrictions. The court must find that the dog does not pose a danger to society and that the owner is ‘fit and proper’.
During the exemption process, many dogs must stay in kennels, where they have little or no interaction with people or other dogs. For dogs who are exempted, restrictions prevent them from being able to exercise off-lead in public. Both of these conditions can have a negative impact on the welfare, mental health and behaviour of some dogs, which can lead to devastating consequences for the dog and owner, as Jordan Ward experienced: “Keelo was a well-socialised dog before being seized and placed on the exemption list at two years old. She spent 17 weeks in kennels with little or no interaction with anyone and, due to the restrictions that the Dangerous Dogs Act places on exempt dogs, had to wear a muzzle and be on a lead at all times in public places when I got her back.
“When out on walks Keelo was uncomfortable with strangers in the street and would alarm bark and lunge as we walked past people. This soon progressed to strangers in the house, and eventually, even the neighbours’ presence in the garden would cause her to become extremely anxious. This anxiety led to her redirecting on to my other dog, causing a fight which caused both dogs serious injuries. After this incident, I had to make the most difficult decision of my life and I had Keelo euthanised.
“My loving, playful and extremely social dog was deemed to not be a danger to the public when seized by the police, however the restrictions placed on her turned her into a dangerous dog.”
Blue Cross Senior Animal Behaviourist Ryan Neile, explained: “Some dogs – regardless of breed or type – really struggle in a kennel environment and with a lack of human interaction. Sadly, the law requires many seized dogs to be kept in an environment which has a hugely negative impact on their welfare and can cause behaviour problems that didn’t exist before to emerge. The exemption process can be long, taking weeks, months or even years, and dogs’ behaviour can and does deteriorate during this time.
“Whilst some dogs can live happily under the restrictions placed on an exempted dog, others will really struggle with this new lifestyle and, as was unfortunately the case with Keelo, are sometimes put to sleep as a result. This is devastating, particularly when the dog has proved in court that they are no danger to the public.”
Impact on animal welfare professionals
The law asks veterinary surgeons to put to sleep healthy animals that have never caused anyone any harm. It requires other animal welfare professionals to notify authorities when a banned type comes into their care, even when they know the outcome for that dog is death.
Vets, nurses, behaviourists and welfare staff across the animal welfare section train for their respective professions by studying and keeping up to date with current scientific study. When there is no evidence to suggest that banned types of dog pose any additional threat to the public than legal types of dog, asking these people to go against their professional judgement to a enforce a law which kills healthy animals takes a serious emotional toll; particularly for those who are so involved with caring for the dog.
Mythbusting: dangerous dogs ‘facts’
Myth: Pitbulls can lock their jaws when they bite Truth: The anatomy of the canine species means it is not possible for any breed or type of dog to lock their jaws.
Myth: Only four breeds of dog are banned by dangerous dog law
Truth: Under English and Welsh law, four types of dog are banned. The word ‘type’ is important because it means that it isn’t just purely-bred pitbull terriers, Japanese tosas, dogo Argentinos, and fila Brasilerios that are illegal to own, sell, breed, give away or abandon, but also crossbreeds of these breeds and any dog which fits the physical description of these breeds.
In fact, the term ‘breed specific legislation’ is misleading because the definition of what is banned under the law is far from specific and doesn’t only apply to pedigree breeds.
Legislation bases the decision on whether a dog is illegal on looks alone – a dog’s breed, a dog’s parents’ breeds, DNA testing and behaviour don’t come into it. A dog’s family tree is not relevant under current law because a dog’s legality is all down to physical appearance. This means that half of the puppies in a litter of crossbreeds could be illegal types, when the other half of the litter is legal types.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has given guidance to law enforcers on what to look for when identifying a pit bull terrier type dog, but this guidance does not contain any identifying information regarding the other three banned types.
Myth: The four banned breed types were banned because they are the most dangerous dogs Truth: The decision to choose to ban the four breed types under section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was not based on any scientific study.
Myth: Pitbulls are bred to fight Truth: Although dog fighting does sadly go on in the UK, it has been illegal since 1835. It is very rare for pill bull terrier types to be bred specifically for fighting today, and the vast majority of dogs killed under section one of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 are dogs bought and kept as pets.