Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written evidence from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (ASB 31)

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Guide Dogs provides mobility and rehabilitation services to increase the independence of blind and partially sighted people in the UK. Our core service is the guide dog service where we work with both guide dog and owner to create a successful partnership through which the individual can become as independently mobile as possible. We also work closely with other organisations to train and provide assistance dogs for people who have additional disabilities (such as with Hearing Dogs for the Deaf to provide "dual-qualified" dogs). Guide Dogs provides guide dogs to over 4,500 blind and partially sighted people.

1.2 Alongside our mobility work we campaign to break down physical and legal barriers to enable blind and partially sighted people to get around on their own. Guide Dogs’ work is informed by blind and partially sighted people and we are responding to this as an issue of major concern for guide dog owners.

1.3 Guide Dogs submitted evidence to the EFRA Select Committee’s Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. Part of this submission reiterates points which were made to the Select Committee on this Bill.

2.0 Attacks on Assistance Dogs

2.1 Guide Dogs’ data shows a total of 240 dog attacks on guide dogs were reported between March 2011 and February 2013, an average of 10 attacks per month. The number of reported attacks is increasing: when we last reported in 2012 (for the period 2010 to 2012) the number of reported attacks was 8 a month. The cost of withdrawing dogs attacked between March 2011 – February 2013 from service is estimated at £171,000. There is considerable regional variation in reported attacks and a further breakdown of data is available if required. Aggressor dogs were not with their owner on 22% of reported attacks and were with their owner but off the lead on a further 42% of occasions. Allowing dogs to roam alone and out of control demonstrates that owners don’t have a proper understanding of their responsibilities as a dog owner.

2.2 Attacks on guide dogs are extremely distressing for their owners. The relationship between an assistance dog and its owner is qualitatively different to the relationship between a pet dog and owner. As well as being a constant companion, a guide dog is a mobility aid which gives independence to its owner. This reliance makes the bond between guide dog and owner particularly strong.

2.3 The nature of visual impairment means guide dog owners are less able to protect themselves. A sighted person will see potential danger and take evasive action but a blind person is unable to do this. In addition, in the event of an attack a visually impaired person might have trouble fighting off an aggressor dog and protecting their guide dog.

2.4 The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will make it an offence for a dog to be dangerously out of control when there is reasonable apprehension that it will injure an assistance dog (such as a guide dog). Where an out of control dog causes injury to an assistance dog, an aggravated offence will have been committed. We believe that this single measure, more than any other, will have the greatest impact on reducing the number of guide dogs who are attacked by other dogs.

2.5 We approve of the extension of the Dangerous Dogs Act to private property as it will give greater protection to guide dog owners when they are on private property. We welcome the increase emphasis on the role of responsible dog ownership in keeping dogs under control. It is Guide Dogs’ position that dog attacks are caused by bad ownership not by bad dogs. We also welcome the focus on prevention with early identification of out of control dogs allowing for preventative measures to stop attacks from happening in the first place.

3.0 Sentencing

3.1 Although the changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act would make it clear that an attack on an assistance dog is an aggravated offence, to ensure it is given sufficient weight in sentencing, we would propose that an addition be made to section 3(ii)(b) of the Dangerous Dogs Act with words to the effect of:

Whether the aggravated form of the offence comprises an attack on a person or on an assistance dog they will be treated, for sentencing purposes, in the same way.

3.2 Alternatively we would like the Sentencing Guidelines to state unequivocally that attacks on assistance dogs be considered as being equally serious as attacks on people for the purpose of sentencing.

4.0 Definition

4.1 The definition of "assistance dog" in the draft amendments is very broad and could encompass a wider range of dogs than may be intended by the legislation to include dogs that have not been trained by an accredited assistance dog organisation. This could potentially result in problems of definition as to whether the dog has been properly trained to provide assistance to a recognised standard.

4.2 The definition of "assistance dog" in the Bill is as defined in the Equality Act 2010. The definition in full states:

(a) a dog which has been trained to guide a blind person;

(b) a dog which has been trained to assist a deaf person;

(c)a dog which has been trained by a prescribed charity to assist a disabled person who has a disability that consists of epilepsy or otherwise affects the person's mobility, manual dexterity, physical co-ordination or ability to lift, carry or otherwise move everyday objects

(d) a dog of a prescribed category which has been trained to assist a disabled person who has a disability (other than one falling within paragraph (c)) of a prescribed kind

4.3 Guide Dogs recommends a more precise definition, such as that used by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Animal Health Agency in its guidance and protocols for the airport industry to help it meet its obligations under European Regulation (EC) 1107/2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air. The definitions are as follows:

4.3.1 Guide Dog - A guide dog is a dog trained to provide mobility assistance to a blind or partially sighted person. In the UK, the guide dog is trained, assessed and accredited by The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (Guide Dogs). Outside the UK, a guide dog is a dog trained by an individual or organisation that is accepted by and affiliated to the International Guide Dog Federation.

4.3.2 Assistance Dog - An assistance dog is one which has been specifically trained to assist a disabled person and which has been qualified by an accredited Member of Assistance Dogs International (ADI), the body that sets standards for assistance dog organizations worldwide. Assistance dogs trained by a Member organization of Assistance Dogs International will have formal identification.

4.4 These definitions are an example of existing legal definitions which would be a good starting point. We would want a similar definition to be fully robust in the long term. For example in the future ADI may accredit guide dog schools or IGDF could accredit other assistance dog schoo ls. It is also possible, though unlikely, that either organisation might cease to operate at some point. Any definition in the law w ould ideally have enough flexibility to allow for this.

4.5 The inclusion of a requirement that the assistance dog be accredited by a recognised assistance dog organisation ensures that the dog will meet certain standards of behaviour. It also protects against possible ambiguity, for example in a situation where an owner claims their dog has been trained to provide assistance it could be difficult to prove in front of a court what constitutes the terms "trained" and "assistance".

July 2013

Prepared 5th July 2013