‘Complex roots’ to problems with ‘dangerous’ dogs - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

‘Complex roots’ to problems with ‘dangerous’ dogs

reports on some of the ‘contentious issues’ discussed at the recent BVA congress

POLITICIANS are barking up the
wrong tree if they think that
tinkering with the discredited
legislation on dangerous dogs will
deal with the issues raised by
aggressive animals and their owners,
BVA congress delegates were told.

David Grant, director of the
RSPCA’s Harmsworth hospital in north
London, revealed the complex roots to
the problems that he sees every day in
his consulting room.

The clinic serves
part of the capital with
some of the most
socially deprived areas
in the country and
there has been a huge
growth over the past
decade in the numbers
of “status” dogs kept
mostly by young men
for their own protection and to
intimidate others, he said.

Such dogs are a danger to the public
and to the general dog population, as
well as each other, Mr Grant said. He
showed some of the injuries caused to
the dogs in fights, noting that the owner
was often so indifferent to the animal’s
suffering that the wounds were several
days old before any attempt was made
to seek treatment.

But in attempting to prevent further
welfare abuses, there was little sense in
pursuing policies that focused solely on
the dog by attempting to outlaw specific
breeds, as in the 1991 Dangerous Dogs
Act.

This was not a dog problem but a
broader social malaise resulting from a
toxic of combination of factors –
poverty, poor parenting, educational
failure and the rise of a gang culture
with strong links with the drug trade.

Mr Grant urged veterinary
colleagues to read Fair society – healthy
lives
, the report of an investigation by Sir
Michael Marmot, director of the
International Institute for Society and
Health at University College London,
published in February 2010.

This analysed the causes of the
discrepancies in health between
different social groups which resulted,
for example, in an average 18 years difference in life
expectancy between the
male residents of
prosperous Kensington
and impoverished
Tottenham.

Attempts to curb
the antisocial behaviour
of young men will only
succeed if there is an acknowledgement of
the need for action at a much earlier stage. Differences in their educational
and intellectual development may
already be apparent by the time they
reach three years of age.

So with no qualifications, no jobs
and few prospects of ever getting one,
“these people should be considered as
the finished product of a conveyor belt
of social deprivation that begins at
birth”.

So there are no simple solutions to
tackling the problems of dangerous
dogs and these associated issues. But
progress can be made if there is a
partnership between the various
organisations with interests in this area,
including professional bodies, local
authorities, the police, animal and child
welfare charities, etc.

Any proposals must be based on
sound research and he urged the BVA
to establish contacts with Sir Michael, as
the newly-elected president of the
British Medical Association, and agree a
joint strategy for the medical and
veterinary professions.

Reducing complaints

One of the key members of such an
alliance will be local councils like
Wandsworth Borough Council in
London, which has pioneered new
approaches to dealing with canine
issues.

Mark Callis, dog control service
manager with the council, described a
range of policies which have been
successful in reducing complaints about
irresponsible dog ownership.

The main step was to rewrite the
tenancy and lease agreements for those
living in 35,000 council properties. This
required tenants with dogs to have them
microchipped and registered.

The council invested £60,000 in
setting up a free microchipping service
to ensure that residents had no excuses
to avoid registering their animals. A total
of 2,300 dogs have been registered since
the scheme began in January 2009.

This is something that other
councils should consider, he said, even
in the current economic climate, as all
councils have access to “housing
revenue accounts” – which channel
some of the revenue from rents into
services intended to benefit tenants.

Those tenants who break the terms
of their tenancy agreement by refusing
to register or control their animals may
eventually face eviction from the
property. As the named tenant is often a
parent of the dog owner, this does give
them some measure of control over
their unruly offspring, Mr Callis
suggested.

New by-laws were introduced in
1996 to ensure that dogs were
prevented from roaming around
council-owned housing estates. Those
dogs that are walked on public roads are
required to be kept on a lead.

Another source of problems locally
has been the growth in the numbers of
people taking groups of dogs for walks
and failing to control them properly. So
the council introduced a licensing
system for anyone taking out four or
more dogs at once, he said.

Wandsworth has also taken part in
some wider initiatives including a
London-wide project called “People
with Dogs”, intended to educate young
dog owners about their responsibilities.

The council is also an active
member of the Dangerous Dogs Act
Study Group which provides guidance to the government on options for
replacing the 2001 Act, and has been
advising Lord Redesdale’s private
members bill which has passed its
second reading in the Lords.

The vice-president of the
Federation of Veterinarians in Europe
(FVE), Stephen Ware, a former
president of the RCVS, warned that if
attempts to enforce national rules broke
down, then the European Union might
decide to take over responsibility. This
could then result in breed-based
legislation which would be even more
unsatisfactory than the existing UK
rules.

Mr Callis agreed that this posed a
genuine threat; he understood that there
were proposals from Denmark for
draconian rules which would outlaw
popular and generally well-behaved
breeds like the Staffordshire bull terrier.

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