One thing you might not know about me is that I used to be a dog handler. From my early teens to early 20s, I showed English Bull Terriers all over the country. My show dogs Dennis, Dot and Doris and I even attended Crufts.
My first show dog, Dennis, sadly passed away recently. He was the sweetest, gentlest dog you’d ever have met, but for many who just glanced at him on the street, he was different. He was a big dog with big teeth and scared a lot of people. The old adage says that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and in the case of "dangerous dogs," that’s definitely the case.
In 1991, the Dangerous Dogs Act was passed. It was a piece of legislation designed to protect people from being attacked and killed by dogs, but the legislation didn’t work. All it did, in fact, was result in many innocent dogs being killed by authorities. The Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro were all deemed dangerous dogs and banned. Technically, some people could get a certification of exemption if they proved the dog wasn’t dangerous, but this wasn’t common.
I’ve heard many horror stories over the years about "dangerous dogs" being put down, when in actual fact they were sweet, loving, family pets.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that these dogs have strong jaws, and when they do attack, it can be lethal. That’s why it’s important to nurture a culture of responsible dog ownership. We always said in showing: “It’s not the breed, it’s the deed.”
If you raise a dog to be violent, it will be violent. If you raise a "dangerous dog" to be loving and well-behaved, it will be loving and well behaved. Big dogs should always be trained properly, and precautions taken when they’re in a new environment. This is the best way to stay safe and keep other people safe.
This idea is proven to be true when one considers the fact that hospital admissions for dog attacks have risen by 76 per cent in the last ten years, even after dangerous dogs were banned. So what gives?
Well, numerous studies have shown that the dogs most likely to bite you are not dangerous dogs at all. Pet insurers Animal Friends reported in 2016 that the most common canine breeds to attack delivery men (who make up a third of personal injury claims) were German Shepherds, Border Collies, and Labradors. Another study showed that Chihuahuas are the most likely breed to bite veterinarians.
I know the statistics won’t include dangerous dogs because they’re technically illegal, but doesn’t this show the obvious truth that all dogs, given the right situation, can be violent? Any dog can turn. It’s just the unfortunate case that when a dangerous dog attacks, it does so with more power and a stronger bite.
That’s why responsible dog ownership is important.
Studies show us that all dogs have the potential to hurt you, which is why I’m glad to see that Members of Parliament will be reviewing the Dangerous Dogs Act. MPs will be examining whether the public is being properly protected, and whether animal welfare concerns are being properly thought through. Is it really fair that innocent, beautiful dogs are put down for no reason other than being born with big teeth?
The Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has shown that of the 30 people who have been killed by dogs between 1991 and 2016, 21 of these people were killed by dogs that were not banned. Updated figures show 37 deaths, with 28 killed by non-banned breeds.
I hope something comes of this. Pit Bulls and other banned breeds are beautiful dogs. They deserve a chance.
If we’re going to review legislation, why don’t we look at dog licences? Why don’t we look at other measures that can be taken to ensure that breeders, handlers, and owners are responsible? Not only will this reduce attacks and even deaths, but it will crack down on people who are abusive to "dangerous breeds" and help us reduce underground dog fighting industries.
Dogs love us unconditionally. It’s time we gave some love back and gave these dogs a chance.