Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Written evidence submitted by Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)

I am grateful for the opportunity in providing a submission to this important enquiry. I write as the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Lead on Dangerous Dogs.

The issue of dangerous dogs has been of significant concern for many years and the level of deaths and serious injuries being sustained has prompted ACPO to formulate a clear vision on how we would like to see the law strengthened to improve public protection. This vision includes measures to:

Improve public protection from harm and serious injury
The level of harm and injury in these cases is significant and life changing, especially when children are involved. As we have seen, the consequences can be far reaching and we cannot dismiss the potential for loss of life.

Provide protection in private places, including dwellings
All deaths in the past four years have occurred in private places and the limited powers frustrate a proper investigation.

Seek early preventative action to be taken
By changing the focus to an early preventative approach, injuries could be avoided. By the use of control notices and orders, early intervention and resolution can be achieved.

Provide a proportionate response dependant on the danger posed
The current legislation is strict in its definition and does not allow flexibility to deal with the variety of issues we face.

Provide protection for workers who visit people’s homes
The need for such protection is evidenced from Unions such as the Communication Workers Union. Other Trade Unions who have employees working in people’s homes also support the Bill.

A cost effective procedure
The current legislation leads to substantial kennelling costs for Forces which could be significantly reduced.

Improve animal welfare
The reduction in kennelling for many months will lead to a significant improvement in animal welfare.

Provide a swift and effective resolution
A preventative strategy, with options depending on the seriousness of the case that would allow an appropriate and swift resolution to many situations.

Give communities reassurance
This issue causes concern in many communities and some of the life changing injuries being sustained result in the public having a lack of confidence that the problem is being effectively addressed.

You will be aware that legislation has been passed in Scotland and Northern Ireland and that the Welsh Government is also considering bringing forward new legislation. As ACPO Lead I have been in discussion with Government Ministers seeking to influence the debate and hoping that they will bring forward a new comprehensive Dog Control Bill. The work on the Dog Control Bill has been undertaken in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the National Dog Wardens Association. Unfortunately, this comprehensive Bill has not yet found favour with Government but a copy can be supplied to the Inquiry on request.

I hope this submission is of use and I would be happy to address any specific concerns or provide any additional information that would assist your enquiry.

Is there a need for a more fundamental overhaul of dog legislation, and its enforcement, including that relating to dog attacks on people, livestock and pets?

1. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) was pleased at the release of the consultation on promoting more responsible dog ownership to reduce dog attacks. The consultation document addressed areas of public concern such as extending the law to “any place” a dog may attack (improving public safety and assisting investigating and prosecution agencies) and an increase in the microchipping of dogs (benefiting animal welfare and reducing kennelling costs for local authorities and the charitable sector).

1.1 ACPO was, however, disappointed in the limited number of issues addressed by the proposals in the consultation. For example, attacks by out of control dogs on Guide Dogs, and the consequent harrowing experiences endured by their human companions, will not be addressed by matters within the scope of the consultation Around eight1 such incidents occur every month in the United Kingdom. Police and prosecutors require the tools, in the form of robust legislation, to protect these vulnerable members of society, and the dogs on which many are so reliant to maintain their quality of life.

1.2 After 20 years, serious flaws within the current legislation are still being discovered. In a recent judgment it was deemed that the courts could not refuse to grant a contingent destruction order due to the bad character of the owner, stating; “all that the court can do, and should do, if satisfied that the dog in question would not constitute a danger to public safety, because it does not have the inherently dangerous characteristics that pit bull type dogs are believed to have, is make a contingent destruction order if asked to do so, so that attempts can be made to obtain a certificate of exemption.”2 It is well known that the responsible, or more importantly irresponsible, owners of dogs are a significant factor with regards to their environment, and resulting behaviour.3 This will have serious risk factors with regards to public safety.

1.3 Current legislation leaves enforcement agencies without adequate legislation to deal swiftly, and proportionately, with attacks by dogs on other animals. Incidents of attacks by dogs under the control of irresponsible individuals on other dogs are reported on a daily basis, officers very often having to inform distraught members of their communities that they have no grounds for criminal complaint. Dog attacks on a variety of other animals has been shown to be on the increase, with some organisations going to great lengths to encourage their members to report, and then collate this information. The British Horse Society has been able to evidence a marked increase in dog attacks on horses.4

1.4 Dog attacks on farmed animals have also shown current legislation to be outdated. Recent attacks on farmed Llamas have proven difficult for enforcement agencies to deal with appropriately. Llamas are not covered by the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act of 1953; this is due to their not being defined as livestock under s 3(1) of the Act.5

1.5 ACPO’s view is any attack on a protected animal must be aggravated (physical injury inflicted) for an offence to be committed. Use of the terminology “apprehend injury” would be too open to misinterpretation by individuals not familiar with animal behaviour, and although there may be a genuine apprehension of injury, it is not realistic to expect resources to be deployed for minor incidents. However, where a dog is so dangerously out of control that it attacks and seriously injures another animal, such as a Guide Dog or horse being ridden, officers should be empowered to investigate the case in a proportionate manner, and if in the public interest, place the owner before the courts.

Is sufficient action being taken on pets raised as status dogs to ensure their welfare and reduce their impact on communities?

2. ACPO considers that the term, “Status Dogs” has become a catch all phrase for a broad spectrum of dogs whose owners are involved in a variety of areas of criminality and irresponsible dog ownership. These include:

1.Young people using dogs to increase their standing within both their peer group and the wider community which is often linked to criminality. This is what ACPO believes to be the true meaning of the term “Status Dogs”.

2.Residential dogs. These are dogs that may well have started their lives as genuine family pets or status dogs. They then become a nuisance and inconvenience to their owners, and live their lives in a confined space, often tethered, with no social contact from the family group or other dogs.

3.Dogs used to intimidate and injure people with criminal intent.

4.Dogs owned by otherwise law abiding members of the community, who through irresponsible behaviour or ignorance as to the potential consequences, allow their dogs to become out of control.

5.Dogs used to protect stolen property or drugs.

6.Dogs involved in organised dog fighting or “chain” fighting.

7.Dogs kept solely for the purposes of breeding (puppy farming).

2.1 All of the above groups of dogs and, more importantly, their caretakers, need to be given consideration as individual groups to be appropriately addressed. There is not one solution that will address all the issues, and the phrase “Status Dogs”, when referring to the wider issue of ‘irresponsible and criminal dog ownership’ is not particularly helpful.

2.2 There is also a need to promote education in the community around responsible ownership and ACPO would welcome greater coordination of these issues. The present arrangements between Police, Local Authorities and charitable sector are not dealing effectively with the social problem that is irresponsible dog ownership. The role of the police is primarily to protect the public. The lead on animal welfare has primarily been taken up by the charitable sector, assisted by the relevant local authorities. Coordination of these separate partners is a key component in improving animal welfare and public safety.

Will compulsory microchipping of puppies improve dog welfare and help prevent dog attacks at an affordable cost to dog owners? Should a dog licensing scheme also be considered?

3. ACPO support compulsory microchipping of puppies at the earliest opportunity, and all dogs over a period of three years. This is primarily an animal welfare issue, but will aid the Police in assisting other agencies. Aside from owner accountability, should a stray dog be involved in an incident of being dangerously out of control, there are few public safety issues benefited from, or affected by, compulsory microchipping.

3.1 There is also a need for safeguards to ensure that the registration process has integrity and retains the confidence of enforcement officials, dog owners and the general public. A single national database of microchipped dogs is needed so that those charged with dealing with incidents can access the information they need quickly and in real time.

3.2 This would address a number of areas of current concerns including:

1.A phased approach is necessary to ensure that the workload being placed on microchipping companies with a surge of applications is taken into account.

2.That sufficient and reasonable period of notice is given to the public to have dogs microchipped.

3.Those involved in the microchipping of dogs, such as veterinary practices and the charitable sector, are not overwhelmed but rather experience a gradual increase over the period of three years.

4.ACPO suggests a three year lead time on implementation. In the first year microchipping should take place at sale or change of ownership. In the second year microchipping should take place of any animal that comes to local authority and third sector possession/attention. By the end of year three the Police would wish to see the microchipping of all dogs. This would greatly assist a long term solution to irresponsible dog ownership.

3.3 The potential benefits of compulsory microchipping would include:

1.Empowering the local authorities and voluntary sector to microchip dogs that come into their possession. It is important that, to be effective, the agencies have the power to microchip a dog that is in their temporary possession without having to seek the permission of the owner.

2.Empowering local authorities and partners such as the RSPCA to take action against those irresponsible individuals who will not microchip and register their dogs. Without this power, any other type of compulsory microchipping risks becoming a tax on responsible dog owners.

3.The suggestion that only puppies should receive compulsory microchipping will not address or affect the many back street breeders, which are proving to be the main aggravating factor with regards to irresponsible dog ownership within our society.

4.The quick locating of owners of dogs that may have been involved in an incident. This will increase the accountability of those who allow their dogs to stray and be dangerously out of control. It would also reduce the unnecessary kennelling of dogs that can be returned immediately by the local authority.

3.4 If microchipping was introduced as an amendment within the Animal Welfare Act 2006, as a welfare issue, as such the responsibility should fall with local authorities and the charitable sector in line with DEFRA’s preferred approach. What is clear in the current budgetary circumstances is that the Police are not resourced to facilitate the microchipping of dogs. In the context of the reduction in Police funding, it will be not be realistic to divert resources away from core public protection duties. Changes in legislation need to take cognisance of this reality.

Should the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 be extended to include offences committed on private property?

4. ACPO supports the extension of dangerous dog legislation to private places and considers that there would be operational benefits if the provisions of the Act were extended to any place where a dog has a right to be. The public and families affected by tragedy expect the Police to be able to take effective action. There are horrific and all too frequent examples of where the Police have limited or no means to take appropriate action. Victims and their families must have the ability to hold to account those responsible for attacks causing injury. Often where there are fatal attacks on private property (10 in the past seven years) the owners of the dogs are effectively immune from criminal prosecution, attempts to prosecute for manslaughter being unsuccessful.

4.1 However, the law should not seek to protect those on private land or dwellings with criminal intent. Neither should the law give owners of dogs unlimited protection in circumstances where a child, for example enters a garden to retrieve a ball and is attacked. The framing of the legislation should be proportionate, graduated and reasonable to the vast majority of law abiding members of the public and dog owners alike.

4.2 The extension to private places, including dwellings should:

Provide protection to children within their own home or the home of acquaintances or extended family, or where they are visiting with consent of the homeowner, this should also include child minders.

Provide protection to professionals working on private property, especially within owner’s homes. (Postal workers are especially vulnerable to attacks in the curtilage of dwellings).

Other professionals such as midwives, social workers and utility professionals are also vulnerable and currently unprotected by legislation.

Are Defra’s proposals for wider community and educational approaches to support responsible dog ownership sufficiently ambitious?

5. ACPO believes that education at all levels is crucial if we are to witness the amelioration of societies’ approach towards responsible dog ownership, and with it a reduction in dog attacks. It is widely considered that the DEFRA proposals do not go far enough with regards to educating the wider community and that a more thorough approach, such as including animal welfare to the national curriculum, is required.

Do local authorities, the police and animal welfare charities have the right roles in managing stray dogs under the current legislative regime?

6. ACPO considers the current arrangements to be appropriate. Stray dogs are an environmental health consideration due to issues such as their scavenging and faeces. Section 68 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 (Commencement No.5) Order 2008, recognises this fact and terminates police responsibility for stray dogs.

6.1 Where a stray dog behaves in such a way that it is deemed dangerously out of control,6 it is likely that the investigation would then be dealt with by the local police. Some local authorities will choose to deal with matter involving dangerous dogs, as some police services will deal with stray dogs if their presence, near a busy road for example, causes concerns with regards to public safety. It may be impracticable to attempt to become prescriptive in this regard.

6.2 An area where the charitable sector continues to be of great assistance is the education of the wider public, with regards to the welfare consideration for dogs that do stray. Dog that stray are far more likely to be involved in road traffic incidents, have health issues and be involved in the unwanted breeding of dogs. Government support to welfare charities to offer education to address this area would be beneficial.

Dog Welfare

In respect to concerns expressed in Professor Bateson’s report over poor welfare that has arisen in the course of breeding dogs:

Has the response by dog breeders and the veterinary profession been effective?

What actions should Government take to address these issues?

Are further controls required on dog breeders, including puppy farms, and those selling or importing dogs to ensure the welfare of bitches and puppies?

7. ACPO supports any reasonable measures, recommended by Prof Bateson’s report or otherwise, that will improve the welfare of dogs, especially in this instance relating to the breeding of dogs. ACPO does however; recognise the level of expertise of other organisations known to be responding to this inquiry, and as such will not expand further on the issue, other than to state that the irresponsible (back street) breeding of dogs, especially Bull Breeds, is a significant aggravating factor in tackling irresponsible dog ownership within our communities.

July 2012

1 Guide Dogs for the Blind (2012)

2 The Queen on the application of Sandhu v Isleworth Crown Court (2012)

3 O’Heare (2007) Aggressive Behaviour in Dogs

4 www.horseaccidents.org.uk

5 3.–(1) In this Act – “agricultural land” means land used as arable, meadow or grazing land, or for the purpose of poultry farming, pig farming, market gardens, allotments, nursery grounds or orchards; and “livestock” means cattle, sheep, goats, swine, horses, or poultry, and for the purposes of this definition “cattle” means bulls, cows, oxen, heifers or calves, “horses” includes asses and mules, and “poultry” means domestic fowls, turkeys, geese or ducks.

6 s3 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991– Keeping dogs under proper control. (1) If a dog is dangerously out of control in a public place— (a) the owner; and (b) if different, the person for the time being in charge of the dog, is guilty of an offence, or, if the dog while so out of control injures any person, an aggravated offence, under this subsection.

Prepared 14th February 2013