So, picture the following scenario:
You’re thinking about getting your first dog and want to do the right thing by rescuing a dog rather than going to a breeder, a shop or even looking online. You are generally a model citizen, with no criminal record, no points on your driving licence....not even an outstanding parking ticket! You start looking at Rescue Centres that have an online presence. And you see a puppy or dog you like. So of you go to the Rescue Centre, chat to the homing officer or person in charge and pick your new, best friend.
At no point do you think about the Dangerous Dog Act (DDA) or the irresponsible people in the world that own dogs to use as a status symbol. You never think that the DDA will apply to you or your new dog. I mean, why would it?
The scenario continues with the relevant kennel or Rescue Centre having not completed a home check and not really asking you many questions about your suitability to the dog. Being a new dog owner you are not even aware of what the right questions are to ask. You meet your dog, you might even have taken it for a walk, and you fall in love. Yes, he is a little bit barky and pulls on the lead but all in all your view is that he is just an excitable puppy and want to get him home......it’ll be all fine and when he settles in.
The Rescue Centre start telling you about the dog's history and advise he’s been a stray, has been in a kill shelter and handed from home to home. Your empathy for helping and your love grows further towards the dog. You agree to take the dog after a fee is paid and the dog is handed to you with a new shiny lead and collar. Happy you, not so happy dog but day one of your lives together begins.
BUT...... at this point, NOBODY has ever mentioned the Dangerous Dogs Act to you or how it may apply to either of you. Not even the vet when you took him to get his jabs and European Passport!
Although we have all heard about the DDA, we never think it could possibly apply to us and our dog, right? You think it’s just for dangerous dog breeds or people that are involved in the dog fighting world, right?
WRONG!.....and it's very important that you are aware, especially if you live in the Metropolitan Police area. The act was introduced in response to various incidents of serious injury or death resulting from attacks by aggressive and uncontrolled dogs, particularly on children. It has attracted criticism as an example of poorly-drafted legislation hastily enacted in response to a short-lived media storm. So although it was created with good intention it has wider ramifications.
So what could happen? Well, dogs react in different ways...and they can get 'defensive' when they feel they are in 'danger'. They don't always understand the world we live in and they can feel threatened by things we think are ok......for example, a stranger running in their direction or approaching them. If someone runs into them accidently, they don't know it was accidently......they feel it as a threat and they react to the 'danger'. The reaction can be flight, freeze or fight........and the fight can be agressive barking or even a bite.
And it's not just a dog bite that can get you both in trouble. 'Failing to control your dog' can include them jumping up on someone or even failing to be recalled when off lead in the park! And if you live in the Metropolitan Police area, they have a compulsory seizure order! So they WILL come, take your dog and put it in a kennel until any investigation is complete or a court hearing concluded. Which can take 4 months!!
So, what started as a good deed of adoption and a stranger making your dog feel scared, ends with a £3k legal bill, a criminal record for you, a destruction order on him if he re-offends and a dog in a worse condition than when you adopted him after 16 weeks in a kennel! Phew!
What can you do? Well, the most important thing is to recognise the potential problem and educate yourself on the law and the risks. Get good training for your dog. And, without vastly altering your normal life and enjoyment, be aware of potential dangers.
We are hopeful, with enough awareness and lobbying, that the law can be changed. In the meantime, here are some helpful links to guide you: