The Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) 1991 – which extends to Scotland – was introduced to protect the public from dangerous dog attacks. However, I appreciate there has been debate about the effectiveness of BSL and I know several animal welfare groups support an approach where it is the deed, not breed, that determines whether a dog is dangerous or not.
I believe that the real cause of dangerous dogs is the owner’s actions, rather than the breed of dog. I support the microchipping of all dogs – compulsory in Scotland since April 2016 – as one measure to help tackle irresponsible dog ownership.
The Control of Dogs (Scotland) 2010 Act amended the DDA so that a dog owner can be held criminally responsible when a dog is found to be dangerously out of control anywhere in Scotland. It also widened the scope for local authorities and the courts to act against persons in charge of a dog where the dog’s behaviour is deemed to be “out of control”. This Act focuses on the “deed not the breed” approach in tackling irresponsible dog ownership.
However, recent statistics from the Scottish Government show that only two people have been disqualified from owning or keeping dogs under the 2010 Act. I believe these figures suggest there should be an investigation into whether the law around the control of dogs in Scotland is being applied fully, or whether it needs to be updated.
I am specifically concerned by the so-called ‘one free bite’ rule which sees owners given the benefit of the doubt on first offences. We know there are tell-tale behavioural signs and responsible owners must ensure dogs do not cause harm to others. I would like to see more done to promote better education and responsible dog ownership, to prevent dog attacks from happening in the first place.
Any reform or repeal of BSL must ensure that the safety of the public, or other dogs, is not put at risk. As you know, the House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee is currently examining the UK-wide legislation to investigate whether the current approach is having the desired effect and whether any changes are needed to ensure that the public is properly protected and animal welfare concerns are properly addressed.
I welcome this review into the effectiveness of BSL and I will follow the outcome of the inquiry very closely.