Wayne David, MP for Caerphilly, is calling for a fundamental change to the  whole approach to so-called dangerous dogs.
Wayne David, MP for Caerphilly, is calling for a fundamental change to the whole approach to so-called dangerous dogs.

Last November, 10-year-old Jack Lis, one of my constituents, was killed by a dangerous dog. The dog was an American XL Bully and had been bought on Facebook only a few days earlier. The dog was described as “aggressive” in the online advertisement and the previous owner stated that he was selling the dog because he couldn’t control it.

At the trial last month, clear evidence was presented that showed that the dog had been a danger to the public from the moment it was bought. The trial concluded with the defendants – the owner of the dog and the woman in whose house the attack occurred – being given relatively short custodial sentences of 4 ½ years and 3 years respectively. This incurred the anger and disappointment of Jack’s family and the local community in Caerphilly. I also believe that the sentences were unduly lenient.

There is, I believe, a strong case for the sentencing guidelines to be strengthened, but I believe that other lessons need to be learnt. What is very clear is that the Dangerous Dogs Act is woefully inadequate and inappropriate to deal with the issue of dangerous dogs. The attack on Jack Lis was horrific, but attacks by dangerous dogs are not a rare occurrence. In Wales alone there have been 200 incidents involving dangerous dog in the last six months or so, and in the Gwent Police area, which includes Caerphilly, between September 2021 and February of this year, 69 dog attacks were reported to Gwent Police, three of which were on children.

Only four specific breeds of dogs are banned in the Dangerous Dog Act: the Pitbull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro. Incredible though it may seem to many, the dog that attacked Jack Lis is not listed. But I am not calling for that particular breed simply to be added to the list. I believe there are two fundamental problems with the approach of listing dogs. Firstly, because there is so much crossbreeding, it is virtually impossible to maintain any kind of legislation that contains an up-to-date list. Secondly, proscribing certain breeds of dog gives the erroneous impression that only listed dogs are actually or potentially dangerous. The reality is that most dogs can be dangerous if they are not trained properly.

It is now overdue for there to be a fundamental change in the whole approach to so-called dangerous dogs. Rather than relying on breed-specific legislation, which is clearly inappropriate, the UK Government ought to bring forward legislation based on a totally different approach to the issue.

The Government’s starting point has to be an acceptance that there is a lack of any real evidence to support a breed-specific approach to protecting the public. There is a large amount of independent research, funded by central government, which lays the basis for a quite different approach. It shows that simply looking at a dog’s breed is not an appropriate criterion for assessing a dog’s risk to people. This is also the view of a whole range of organisations that have come together under the Dog Control Coalition. These organisations include the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club.

It is now over 30 years since the Dangerous Dogs Act was passed, and going beyond this Act, it has to be said that the legal framework for dealing with dog bite incidents is very complex, with a number of different laws applicable depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident. However, the breed-specific legislation is, to a large extent, reactive in character. I believe would be better to address the issue of public safety before harm is caused, rather than responding to the consequences. Prevention has to be the watchword. That is why I want a comprehensive and fundamentally different approach to the issue.

A number of years ago, there were dog licences. The Government really ought to examine the possibility of reintroducing dog licences, but this time we should not simply see them as an easy way for Government to have an additional source of revenue. The money received should be used for a whole range of initiatives, including tackling the behavioural problems of certain kinds of dogs that lead to dog bite incidents. Resources could also be provided for dealing with stray dogs and for helping to fund dog training.

I am pleased that the RSPCA Cymru agrees with the approach I have outlined. As animal welfare in Wales is devolved to the Welsh Senedd, I look forward to having a constructive dialogue on this issue with the Welsh Government. Crucially, I also believe that an effective assessment needs to be made of potential and actual owners of dogs. At the moment, anyone in any circumstances, can purchase virtually any kind of dog. I believe that local authorities should have a key role to play here. They should have the statutory responsibility for ensuring that dogs are kept and housed properly, and that their owners are ensuring that their dogs are correctly and appropriately trained.

In addition, there needs to be firm control on the buying and selling of dogs. To return to the tragic case of Jack Lis, the dog that killed him was purchased on Facebook. Such purchases cannot be allowed to continue.

What happened to young Jack Lis was truly terrible. Sadly, there have been many more serious attacks by dogs. Now is surely the time, to say there must be a new and different approach to the issue of dangerous dogs. Hopefully, there can be a cross-party consensus on the best way forward.

 

This article was written for The Western Mail.

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