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.