Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Another Failure of the Dangerous Dog Act

What makes a public safety law good is how well it can be enforced and how good it is at improving public welfare.

In 1991, the UK implemented what can now be considered the most ineffective dangerous dog law ever recorded in a "first-world" nation. The Dangerous Dog Act banned four breeds of dogs, among other things. Besides the flaw of BSL, another fatal flaw of the law is that it allowed attacks on private property to go unpunished. That is, if you walk on my front lawn and my dog rips open your neck, even if the dog has a history of aggression towards people and I've never done anything about it, so sad, too bad.

Dog bite hospitalizations are at their highest in the UK, and Pit Bulls still exist and some still bite.

A recent dog attack highlights a problem with the Dangerous Dog Act. A Labrador Retriever was permitted off leash in a public park whereupon she severely mauled another dog, who was on leash. A judge ruled that the dog didn't pose a significant threat to the public and has not ordered the dog euthanized.

Which I am not saying is a bad ruling. Dog-dog aggression is not abnormal, it's inherently canid behavior. The dog's unruly behavior can be modified with training and the most basic of proper management - leashing the dog in public places. The irresponsible behavior of the Labrador Retriever's guardian should not end in a death sentence for the dog who appears to be dog-aggressive but not necessarily human aggressive.

But countless dogs are killed in the UK each year, not because they, like this dog, have harmed another dog or person. They are killed during raids and sweeps because they look a certain way. They too may face this same judge who will deem them dangerous, even if their behavior speaks otherwise.

The trauma the Lab's victim endured is very real. It is no less real than the trauma ANY dog bite victim suffers. All dog bites should be treated with a reasonable eye to the circumstances, individual behavior of the biter (and bitee, if appropriate) and severity/dedication of the attack. What should not play a role is how the dog looks. It has not served the UK. It has not served any area with BSL - that is, severe dog bites occur, deaths occur, and people's lives are irrevocably altered at, in many cases, the same rate as prior to BSL.

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