Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written Evidence by Blue Cross (ASB 18)

· Blue Cross is one of the UK’s leading pet welfare charities. Every year we rehome thousands of animals through our network of rehoming centres, in addition to offering free veterinary care to the pets of those owners who cannot afford private fees.

· Blue Cross is pleased to respond to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee’s call for evidence on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (ASBCPB). Blue Cross has previously submitted evidence on these issues to the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee during pre legislative inquiries.

· Blue Cross has long campaigned for improved dangerous dog legislation. We consider that dog control and dog welfare are inexorably connected and that a holistic approach, which includes both behaviour change activities and useful legislation is needed if we are to improve society’s attitude to dog ownership in the long term.

· Although we are pleased that action is being taken in this area, we are disappointed that the government has opted for piecemeal reform rather than introduce a new consolidated Dog Control Bill.

· Our comments are mostly concerned with Part 7 of the Bill, which relates to the Dangerous Dogs Act. Many of the amendments included here are welcomed and long overdue in our opinion, however we consider that the government could and should have gone much further, specifically with regards to the inclusion of attacks of protected animals.

· We have concerns relating to the new Anti-Social Behaviour measures which the government have assured us will provide enforcers with the tools to deal with dangerous dogs before an attack happens. We have advised that dog specific measures, such as Dog Control Notices (DCNs), are the preferred option for both animal welfare organisations and enforcers.

· Ultimately we would wish to see a total repeal of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). If this is not desirable then more flexibility for rehoming organisations dealing with prohibited breed types is essential.

· We want see the government offer a commitment to ensure that all children are educated on animal welfare and staying safe around dogs. Blue Cross has been campaigning for this to be included as a compulsory part of the National Curriculum.

· The voluntary sector provides (at its own cost) a wide range of educational workshops to address these issues. A concerted effort by the government to promote and coordinate these services would enable the sector to reach many more children.

· The EFRA select committee recommended in its recent report Dog Control and Welfare that DEFRA assess the cost benefits of funding dog welfare charities to provide support on the issues of anti-social behaviour and crime involving dogs this is something we would support.

Part 7 Dangerous Dogs

Clause 98 - Keeping Dogs under Proper Control

1. Extension to Private Property

1.1 We welcome the government’s proposals to extend the Dangerous Dogs Act to cover dogs that are dangerously out of control on private property. Whilst supporting these measures we feel it is important that householders have an adequate defence if their dog attacks someone who is trespassing on their property.

1.2 In itself this extension will not necessarily prevent any dog bites or out of control incidents occurring. However, this will allow for the prosecution of owners who allow their dogs to be dangerously out of control on private property and therefore pose a threat to legitimate visitors. This we feel is fair, but we do consider that defences should be strengthened to ensure that responsible dog owners that take all reasonable steps to prevent an incident are not prosecuted.

2. Assistance Dogs and Protected Animals

2.1 We were pleased to see that Dangerous Dogs legislation will be extended to include attacks on assistance dogs because of the serous impact such incidents can have on both the dog and owner. However, this also extends to others animals such as livestock, horses and cats, where the impact on the owners is financial, psychological or emotional.

2.2 Action is needed to deal with the increasing problem of attacks on livestock and other protected animals (as defined under the Animal Welfare Act). And we support an amendment to Clause 98 of the Bill to include attacks on protected animals as an offence.

2.3 Blue Cross has much experience of dealing with horses and horse owners. We know that dog attacks on horses are increasing, with hundreds reported to the British Horse Society every year. Blue Cross has produced a safety resource with the British Horse Society and the Association of Chief Police Officers aimed at both dog and horse owners. Whilst information and education of owners and handlers is part of the solution, it is essential that the legislative framework offers as much protection as possible. In addition, the financial impact of an attack, or fear of an attack, on livestock is significant and there is clearly a need for better legislation to protect farmers.

2.4 It is suggested that on average there are two fatal dog attacks on cats a week. Attacks on cats are often horrific, fatal, and deeply distressing for the owners and anyone witnessing the incident. We do not consider that this kind of behaviour should be tolerated. Many thousands of pet cats and dogs live together harmoniously in homes all around the UK. In addition, attacks on cats are often the first sign that a dog is dangerously out of control and such incidents are not acceptable.

Clause 99 Whether a dog is a danger to public safety

3. Assessing the character of the dog owner/keeper

3.1 In principle we welcome the requirement for a court to consider if the owner is a fit and proper person to be in charge of a dog. However further clarification is needed on exactly what proportion of the decision will be based on the behaviour of the owner and what proportion on the behaviour or characteristics of the dog? This is particularly relevant for those dogs seized under Section 1, where the consideration of other ‘relevant circumstances’ could be of vital importance. The courts should consider such factors in all circumstances. This must include kennelling time, and any other factors that may impact negatively on the animal’s behaviour and welfare. This is particularly relevant in Section 3 cases where the cases could be complicated and there may be a number of contributing factors. It is essential that rather than the court having discretion to consider relevant factors that this is required.

Part 4 Community Protection

4. Preventative Measures

4.1 We remain disappointed that the government has not taken this opportunity to introduce Dog Control Notices (DCN), dog specific measures which could have provided a swift flexible and proportionate way to deal with irresponsible dog ownership before public safety is compromised. DCNs, as introduced in Scotland, would enable enforcers to impose conditions on irresponsible owners. These could vary from muzzling and restrictions on off lead activity, to neutering and compulsory dog training.

4.2 In the absence of Dog Control Notices the government insists that the Community Protection Notice (CPN) and Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) could be used as above to tackle anti-social behaviour involving dogs. This is particularly relevant where a dog has displayed aggression, but before an attack has taken place. It is at this point that we feel a useful measure could make a real difference. It is in this scenario that the swift application of a DCN is preferred. This could allow for expert guidance and advice that is tailored to the dog and owner in each circumstance. It is our opinion that, at present, the proposed CPNs are too ‘catch all’ and focussed on community issues, rather than individual instances.

4.3 If this is to be effective the measures must be introduced in a consultative fashion and must be properly resourced. It is essential that dog specific accompanying guidance is robust, that enforcers are aware of exactly how the new measures will work and the level of competency required for those using such measures in the community. We would not wish to see the application of ‘one size fits all’ measure due to a lack of resources and/or expertise, as that could have the opposite effect of undermining the welfare of the dog and impacting negatively on its behaviour. The expertise of the authorised officer and the ability to specific requirements in each case is essential.

4.4 We are also keen to ensure that the new measures are implemented in a fair and proportionate manner so as not to unduly target certain types of dogs or their owners. Blue Cross has much experience of working with young people and their dogs. We run ‘RespectaBull’, an educational workshop specifically designed to reduce anti-social behaviour and promote responsible dog ownership amongst young people in urban areas. We are well aware that some young people acquire dogs of certain breeds and breed-types, often for status reasons. We are firmly of the belief that no dog is inherently dangerous and that the majority of young ‘status’ dog owners are not anti-social or irresponsible but lack knowledge and information. Dog ownership can enrich communities and provide much needed companionship for isolated and vulnerable people. These measures must not be used to penalise people because of their age, location and/or choice of dog.

5. Breed Specific Legislation

5.1 Although we are pleased to see the government commit to providing the police with more flexibility when seizing Section 1 dogs we believe that Breed Specific Legislation is ineffective and remain committed to its repeal.

5.2 There is much evidence that BSL is ineffective as a method of protecting the public from dangerous dogs. We believe that any dog of any breed type has the potential to be a happy, sociable pet and that legislation should be based on the ‘deed’ and not the ‘breed’.

5.3 We are disappointed that some degree of flexibility has not been included to provide for the rehoming of Section 1 dogs once they are abandoned on to organisations such as Blue Cross. More often than not these dogs are sociable, friendly and in our opinion could be safely rehomed to responsible owners. However, we are unable to transfer ownership of these animals and they have to be euthanized. This appears to us to be an extremely sad and unjust state of affairs, and we would support an amendment that provided us with the ability to transfer ownership.

6. Consolidated Bill

6.1 Blue Cross has called on the government to use this opportunity to introduce a consolidated Dog Control Bill – to address all the relevant issues including anti-social behaviour, dangerous and out of control dogs, and indiscriminate breeding and sale. These issues are all interlinked and we feel the best approach to improving both dog welfare and dog control would be to address all relevant issues, including over population, supply and irresponsible ownership.

7. Education strategy

7.1 Although the changes proposed in this Bill could go some way towards tackling the problem of dangerously out of control dogs in our communities, we feel the government also needs to support an effective education strategy which will have a more significant impact on dog ownership in the longer term. This includes not only the education of school children and young people but also the behaviour change aspects of any preventative measures.

7.2 If the government is committed to tackling the growing problem of anti-social behaviour with dogs through CPNs they must ensure that the proper resources and links with the voluntary sector are in place to ensure that enforcers are aware of the education aspects of the orders and don’t only enforce the more punitive elements such as muzzling or restrictions on off lead activity. The combination of measures including education is the key in ensuring behaviour change amongst irresponsible owners.

June 2013

Prepared 28th June 2013