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RSPCA calls for change to BSL

The RSPCA wants people to demand that the Government launch an inquiry into how the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) applies breed specific legislation.

The Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in 1991, and applies breed specific legislation via section 1. The RSPCA has this week released their report into the effectiveness of the act. Appropriately – in many ways – the report is called, Breed Specific Legislation: A Dog’s Dinner.

According to the RSPCA report the legislation currently in place has failed to achieve its aim of improving public safety by reducing the number of dog bites, and eliminating breeds which are prohibited. In reality, more dog bites than ever are being reported, and there are higher numbers of prohibited dogs too.

It’s not just the RSPCA, but many other organisations who consider that the breed specific approach is just not protecting the public effectively.
The breed specific approach is also having a damaging effect on dog welfare. The RSPCA has been forced to euthanise 366 dogs in the past two years.

RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: “The police, the RSPCA and other animal rescue organisations have to deal with the consequences of this flawed law by euthanising hundreds of dogs because legislation is forcing us to due to the way they look, despite being suitable for rehoming. Not only is this a huge ethical and welfare issue, it also places significant emotional strain on staff.

“It is the view of the RSPCA, and the public, that every animal’s life matters. We conclude that breed specific legislation has not achieved its objectives whilst causing unintended harms - a new approach is required.

“The RSPCA believes it is paramount for the Government to launch an inquiry into the effectiveness of BSL, assess other options to improve human safety and dog welfare, and ultimately repeal the breed specific part of the legislation.”

The RSPCA’s report raises concerns that there is no evidence to justify the breed specific legislation, and highlights problems with the evidence required to categorise a dog as being of the prohibited type. There are also concerns that the public may be being misled into thinking that non-prohibited dogs are always safe, but the biggest worry is that BSL causes dogs and owners to suffer completely unnecessarily.

Several countries have taken the BSL route – yet none of them can demonstrate that it has reduced dog bites. In fact studies of various countries have shown that BSL has not reduced dog bites at all. In the UK, a study in 1996, which was five years after the DDA came into effect, saw no significant reduction. Worryingly, between March 2005 and February 2015, dog bites rose from4,110 to 7,227.

It’s not just Britain that is questioning BSL; three European governments and many US states have reversed their BSL in the light of studies disproving its efficacy. In 2010, a Defra consultation in England found that 88% of respondents were of the opinion that BSL was ineffective in protecting the public, and 71% thought it should be repealed.

Many dog professionals have spoken out against BSL. Television personality and dog behaviour expert Victoria Stilwell agrees with the RSPCA that BSL is ineffective, outdated and flawed, saying: “BSL tears apart families while punishing innocent dogs and their guardians solely because of a dog’s appearance. Any dog can bite under the right circumstances, so legislation should focus on protecting the public through responsible pet guardianship rather than targeting a particular breed.”

A number of other countries have been able to reduce dog bites – not through BSL, but by focusing on encouraging responsible dog ownership. One such country is Canada, and encouragingly, there are already mechanisms in the British legislation to improve human safety. According to the RSPCA’s Dog’s Dinner report, these should be prioritised, alongside an education campaign, which should particularly be aimed at children.

Welfare concerns

Those dogs and owners who find themselves affected by BSL can find the process extremely traumatic.

“The process of seizing a dog suspected of being prohibited and the stress associated with a kennel environment can compromise the dog’s welfare,” Dr Gaines added.

“The impact on dog welfare and owner wellbeing has been very much hidden but it is clear that BSL comes at a significant cost to many who would not ordinarily come into contact with the police or courts. Until such time that BSL is repealed, there needs to be urgent action to protect the welfare of dogs affected by this law. In the absence of any evidence to show that BSL is effective in safeguarding public safety, it is the very least that we can do for man’s best friend.”

For more information visit the RSPCA's website - http://www.rspca.org.uk/home.

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