For the last 16 years, whether it was Rupert the Cavalier or, currently, Cosmo the Pug, I have lived with dogs. Or, more accurately, a dog. And be under no illusion, neither of them would even come close to being classed as ‘dangerous’ (although Rupert did once manage to catch a blackbird in the back garden).
And indeed, neither Cavaliers nor Pugs are listed within the scope of the Dangerous Dogs Act, which was introduced (if you listen to the media) as a knee-jerk reaction to a number of undoubtedly serious attacks on young children by certain breeds of dogs. It made the keeping of Pit Bulls, Tosas, Argentinos and Brasileiros illegal without the specific legal permission.
I think there is pretty much unanimous agreement that we should do whatever we realistically can to prevent young children from being savaged and killed by uncontrollable dogs (acknowledging, of course, that it is not always entirely the dog’s fault, and that sometimes the owner must take some of the responsibility). However, the Act only ever punished owners if their pets attacked someone in a public place.
But no longer.
The Act was quietly changed earlier this month, and it is a change that affects all dog owners across the country, not just those with a love of Pit Bulls.
If any dog becomes “dangerously out of control” (and that now applies both in public spaces, and in one’s own home), the owner is guilty of a criminal offence, even if the dog doesn’t actually injure anyone in the process. Interestingly, it is worth noting that it is not a criminal offence if the dog attacks a burglar in your home – apparently, burglars can be classed simply as ‘dinner’.
The owner can now be punished by up to 6 months in prison for having an uncontrollable dog, 5 years if the dog attacks someone, and 14 years if the dog kills someone.
But the question that has caused concern to charities such as Dogs Trust is what amounts to “dangerously out of control”. Bearing in mind no injury need be caused, is a dog that enthusiastically jumps up at visitors to be considered as “out of control”? Whilst the owner and dog may not consider this to be aggressive behaviour, if the visitor feels threatened, then does that amount to an offence?
There are no answers to these questions, because the law is new and untested. No doubt time will tell and, hopefully, common sense will prevail. The National Animal Welfare Trust has even issued advice to dog owners to ensure their pets are secured or restrained every time there is a visitor to the home.
But that’s not it as far as dog owners are concerned – ignoring the fact that microchipping becomes mandatory in Wales from March 2015 and in England from April 2016, the Government will later this year be introducing new laws to try and tackle the problem of … er … ‘doggy deposits’ in public places – one suspects there will be few who will object to that!
Perhaps we can trade Cosmo in for a gerbil?
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.