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We have all been faced with an unknown, dangerous looking dog at some time. Maybe it was when we were children or perhaps it was yesterday, particularly if you are a postman! Defra states that around 4,000 postal workers are attacked in England each year together with approximately 210,000 non postal workers. These are astonishingly large numbers but when you compare the figures to the estimated number of dogs in the UK, 8.3 million in 2011, then it doesn't seem so bad. But it is bad - no one wants to be bitten by a strange dog, or even their own dog, although in actual fact most children are bitten by a dog already known to them and usually from the same household. The 1991 Dangerous Dog Act named four specific breeds which could no longer be kept without restriction in the UK. The four breeds were: the Japanese Tosa; the Pit Bull Terrier; the Dogo Argentine; and the Fila Braziliero. These four breeds remain prohibited and, in April 2012, Defra held a further consultation about dangerous dogs to try to eliminate irresponsible ownership. They proposed, amongst other things, that all dogs should be microchipped and the fees for placing a dog on the Index of Exempted Dogs should be increased. We are still awaiting the outcome of the consultation but two things immediately spring to mind when you consider the two proposals above. Firstly, all responsible dog owners automatically have their dog microchipped, mainly because they would not like their dog to go astray. How could such a proposal work then, as the irresponsible people would just ignore the law and no one can tell from just looking at a dog if it has a microchip can they? Secondly, to increase fees for putting a dog on the Index of Exempted Dogs would of course generate income to deal with dog problems in the future but who would put their dog on the list? Again it would be the responsible owner whilst the underground trade in prohibited breeds would continue with no attempt being made to register the dogs. So, what would work and should it be down to breed that dogs are prohibited or should all dogs be given a chance? Defra hope to eliminate the possibility of a dog being dangerously out of control in both public and private places. Does the identification of breed matter then? After all it could be any breed of dog that was out of control. It is also, perhaps, lulling people into a false sense of security. If you are aware of the four breeds on the prohibited list does this mean that the Yorkshire Terrier belonging to your Gran could not possibly attack your new baby? Nonsense; as any sensible and responsible dog owner knows, no breed is 100% reliable. Many are absolutely 99.9999 % but there is always that one, tiny chance that something may happen. We also know that no one breed is more likely to bite than another; it is usually down to the way the dog has been handled together with its background and training that are key factors. Recently Defra stated that between 2007 and 2012 there had been five fatal dog attacks in homes, four of them being children. They also state that hospital admissions for dog bites have more than doubled, from 2,915 in 1997/8 to 6,118 in 2010. Taking those figures into account does breed specific legislation work? How do we know that our neighbour's dog is a Pit Bull Terrier? He may look like one but may just be a very large, chunky, Staffordshire Bull Terrier. How do you know if the Bull Mastiff at the local pub isn't actually a Japanese Tosa? He may greet all customers with slobbery kisses so he couldn't possibly be a Tosa - could he? Meanwhile the Greengrocer's Cocker Spaniel has bitten your hand and drawn blood just because you went to pick up your pound coin that had fallen to the floor. And you were the seventh person that this lovely Cocker had bitten! Perhaps these are some of the reasons that prohibited dogs should not be breed specific. Could it work if responsible owners ensured their possibly dangerous, unlisted breed of dog was chipped, registered, muzzled and on a lead in all public places or when visitors called? Well yes, but then what about the irresponsible owners who don't know and furthermore don't care? Then there are problems with insurance. Some insurers will no longer provide Third Party Liability for dangerous dogs but on whose accreditation? If you have a perfectly behaved Fila Braziliero (no, I haven't seen one either), you probably can't insure it for third party liability whereas your sister can get insurance for her nasty and bad tempered poodle who can't be allowed near anyone other than her! Yes, it is a problem but there must be a better way to address it. As dog lovers we all need to think deeply and seriously about the whole situation. It may seem impossible to legislate for all events but with education and leading by example things will hopefully improve. Perhaps a good place to start would be to prohibit the breeding of dogs without a licence and that anyone selling a puppy had to get a passport for it before it went to a new home. A similar scheme has worked quite well with horses and cattle so maybe it could also work for dogs. If you were asked to show the documents by the police, a PCSO or even when you consulted a vet, with the penalty for non production being confiscation of the dog, maybe it would be a step in the right direction - or maybe it would not. We have a long way to go on this subject so get your thinking caps on so that we can protect our much loved pets and prevent dog attacks forever.
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