Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written evidence from RSPCA (ASB 03)

Executive Summary

The RSPCA is the world’s oldest and UK’s largest animal welfare charity and has been investigating and prosecuting animal abuse since 1824. We work closely with our enforcement partners in the police and local authorities in tackling dog-related problems.

The RSPCA remains unconvinced that a piecemeal, reactive and breed-specific approach to issues of irresponsible dog ownership protects public safety and animal welfare. This on its own will not reduce dog bites/attacks and the proposals outlined in the clauses lack any early intervention or prevention.

If the aim of the legislation is to improve dog ownership and reduce dog bite incidents, and as part of that to improve dog behaviour, we cannot understand how these clauses have been drafted as they appear to pay no regard to dog behaviour principles.

We believe some of these amendments could detrimentally affect the wider dog owning public, dog welfare and could potentially see more dogs relinquished or owners deterred from dog ownership if the average dog owner feels persecuted as a result of these proposals.

The RSPCA believes this could be a missed opportunity and we cannot understand why the Government has ignored the majority of the public, politicians and organisations who suggested a comprehensive reform and consolidation of legislation which is preventative and with a focus on responsible dog ownership.

1. RSPCA

1.1 The RSPCA is the world’s oldest and UK’s largest animal welfare charity and has been investigating and prosecuting animal abuse since we were set up in 1824. We rescue, rehabilitate and rehome hundreds of thousands of animals each year. We also offer advice on caring for animals and campaign to change laws to better protect them, which we then enforce in pursuit of our charitable objectives.

1.2 The RSPCA works closely on an operational and policy perspective with our enforcement partners in the police and local authorities in tackling dog control and welfare problems. This may be through joint operations involving investigations and prosecutions or providing advice and information about enforcement bodies’ responsibilities for animal welfare once they seize animals.

2. Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

2.1 Defra and the Home Office claim that Community Protection Notices (CPNs) are intended to address the concerns of individuals about the behaviour of individual dogs e.g. dogs which growl or display aggressive behaviour to visitors, or dogs which are not under sufficient control in a park. It is in these sorts of cases where genuine intervention and preventative measures are most needed and have the potential to be the most beneficial, however we remain unconvinced that CPNs can deliver this. For example, the issuing of a CPN appears less swift than a Dog Control Notice (DCN) and CPNs appear more focussed on low level, less complex community issues rather than individual issues, that may not always impact on the wider community.

2.2 The RSPCA remains of the opinion that dog control should be dealt with holistically through education and enforcement and that bespoke DCNs are key to this. DCNs, as proposed by a number of different organisations (from the enforcement, animal welfare and union sectors), would allow people to escalate concerns about an individual dog’s behaviour to a practitioner who then provides advice and guidance specific to the circumstance and situation. We note that the EFRA Select Committee is also disappointed that the Government has not reconsidered their recommendation that DCNs should be used [1] .

2.3 For this reason, the RSPCA remains concerned that without a bespoke DCN to cover this large, likely most common area of complaint, enforcers may have to resort to more disproportionate and draconian measures set out elsewhere in the Bill. This appears to strike a very unfair balance on dogs and dog owners. The RSPCA believes there is a need for bespoke DCNs and we disagree that the powers under this Bill provide for DCNs in form. We have drafted an amendment to the Bill to address this.

2.4 We are also concerned about the apparent lack of consideration and provision of training for enforcers in dog welfare and behaviour. We believe that to effectively tackle dog related issues and to protect dog welfare, it is necessary to have a scientifically sound and current understanding and demonstrable competencies in dog law, behaviour and welfare. Given that the issues which this Bill covers are so vast, and the funding available for training limited (if any), it is difficult to see how an in depth, up to date, consistent and standardised knowledge of dog related issues will be possible. We are extremely concerned that the Government appears to be relying on non-statutory guidance to clarify this point.

2.5 We fear that in the absence of knowledge and expertise, practitioners could unwittingly compromise animal welfare or put public safety at risk when trying to tackle behaviour problems. For example, in the case of a barking dog for which a CPN could be served, an owner could be required to attend training classes to improve behaviour. However, to ensure the welfare of the dog was protected, the authorised person would need to select a suitable training class. The EFRA Select Committee has also noted that "those advising the Courts must be required to have appropriate training in dog behaviour." [2]

2.6 This is one of the reasons why the RSPCA believes that this Bill should not be used to address dog-related issues and instead the Government should seek to consolidate and update all dog control legislation so that there is a greater chance of ensuring only suitably trained and appropriate people enforce the law in this area.

2.7 In principle, we welcome the approach to extend current legislation to cover private property (as does the EFRA Select Committee [3] ) as we believe an owner has a duty to ensure their dog does not pose a threat to people and animals regardless of where it is. Whilst extending the law on its own is unlikely to protect the public any further or achieve a reduction in bites, it does provide the mechanisms for prosecution of owners of dogs which have bitten.

2.8 With regards to the householder case, we believe that a provision for this shows a lack of understanding with regards to dog behaviour. When a dog is using aggression it is almost invariably because he thinks he is undergoing some form of threat. This threat could be from a trespasser e.g. someone breaking into someone’s home or a visiting child of whom the dog is scared of. Is it fair to expect the dog to know in which situation it is right to use aggression and in which it is wrong and for dog owners to be penalised in some situations but not others? Is it not also confusing for the dog owning public suggesting that aggression acceptable in some situations but not others? Furthermore, in extending the scope of section 3 of the DDA to cover private property, a dog merely jumping up at someone may be sufficient for an offence to be committed and this seems unfair on the average dog owner.

2.9 It is for this reason that we believe it would have been best not to provide a householder exemption but instead extend the scope of the law to cover all places but strengthen the defences so that genuine responsible dog owners need not fear prosecution. This would provide balance between potential victims, and dogs and dog owners fairly and for responsible dog owners who take reasonable steps to prevent dog bite incidents but which nonetheless occur. We have drafted an amendment to reflect this.

2.10 We welcome the principle of this clause 98(5) in extending the scope of s3 of the DDA to include attacks on assistance dogs but feel it should go further to address the trauma inflicted on farmers, horse and pet owners when their animals are attacked, injured or even killed. The acceptance by Government of assistance dogs appears largely due to the impact of the attack on the person as well as the dog but we feel the same is true for those who are not reliant on their animals in the same way as as owners of assistance dogs, but for which the financial, ethical and personal impact of loss can be just as significant. For example, the elderly lady whose only companion - her pet cat - is savaged and killed by a dog, or the struggling farmer whose livestock are maimed and killed by a dog, etc. The RSPCA has drafted an amendment to provide protection for all ‘protected animals’ as defined by section 2 of the AWA and only make it an aggravated offence for assistance dogs.

2.11 While the RSPCA supports the principle of requiring Courts to consider whether an owner is a ‘fit and proper person’ and the ’temperament and previous behaviour’ of the animal we feel the approach set out is unbalanced and unfair. We believe that Courts should recognise there are two different reasons why a dog (and its owner) may be brought before them, for prohibited types of dogs (e.g. pit bull terriers, etc) and dogs seized as a result of an offence under section 3 of the DDA. Prohibited types of dogs can be seized even though their temperament is sound and their previous behaviour has caused no risk to public safety; it is solely because of their appearance. We would be concerned that previous minor misdemeanours, by a prohibited dog might prevent it from being returned to its owner when that was not the reason why it came to Court. Dogs seized under section 3 offences are seized because their behaviour is believed to be, or has been, dangerously out of control and so the odds may already be considered to be stacked against them.

2.12 For this reason, Courts must be required to consider all the circumstances and not just have discretion to consider other factors. Although clause 99 provides for the Courts to ‘consider any other relevant circumstances’ this is not mandatory and we are concerned that without this, the balance is tipped unfairly against some dogs and owners, especially those concerning section 3 DDA offences. Due to the complexity of the circumstances of such cases it is essential that Courts are required to consider these very relevant points (not just have discretion) and we have drafted amendments to reflect this.

2.13 We do , however, feel an objective assessment looking at the owner’s suitability and dog’s behaviour for both groups of dogs is a welcome step forward, rather than the reliance on breed specific legislation for prohibited types of dogs which is unfair and unscientific.

2.14 We remain disappointed that the Government has not included any legislative proposals that improve dog welfare in this area, especially those dogs which are seized by enforcement bodies as a result of potential offences. Very often these dogs, themselves, are victims. The RSPCA has long called for time limits to be placed on the defence and prosecution teams to examine seized dogs so that dogs do not spend unnecessary time in kennels. This not only would improve dog welfare but also reduce the costs to enforcement bodies. We have drafted an amendment to address this.

2.15 The RSPCA along with a number of other rehoming organisations have called for the ability to rehome prohibited types of dogs that come into their centres if they are suitable and safe. At present such dogs, even if they are friendly and well socialised must be euthanased as it is illegal to do this and we believe it would be more equitable if there was an ability to transfer ownership (and rehome) prohibited types from our centres if the dogs are deemed safe by the Courts, we would be happy to use the exemption process set out in section 4B of the DDA. We have drafted an amendment to address this.

3. Further information

3.1 For further information on any of these points please see the RSPCA’s briefing produced for Second Reading of the Bill [4] . Please contact Claire Robinson at the RSPCA for the full list of amendments to the Bill.

June 2013


[1] Paragraph 42, Draft Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill, First report of Session 2013-14, EFRA Select Committee, May 2013, HC 95

[2] Paragraph 29, Draft Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill, First report of Session 2013-14, EFRA Select Committee, May 2013, HC 95

[3] Paragraph 7, Draft Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill, First report of Session 2013-14, EFRA Select Committee, May 2013, HC 95

[4] http://www.politicalanimal.org.uk/RSPCA/2R%20brief%20for%20ASBCP%20Bill.pdf (accessed 12.06.13)

Prepared 20th June 2013