Dog Laws – The debate continues

“It doesn’t seem real that our little Archie Bum has gone to heaven and our little Daniel is in intensive care because of a tragic, tragic incident involving a dog attack.”

So said the parents of four month old Archie Darby, who was killed by their aunts Staffordshire bull terrier-type dog in Colchester in October.


The debate about changes to law regarding dogs have accelerated over the past three years, with an increase in the number of deaths related to dog attacks. While laws have changed substantially, the argument of whether enough has been done to train dogs and prevent further attacks rolls on.

Just months before Archie Darby was killed, another dog attack in Essex ended tragically when four year old Dexter Neal was bitten and killed by an American Bulldog in Halstead. There have been five other cases similar to this across the country in the past two years.

In 2013, 14-year-old Jade Anderson was mauled to death by four dogs while visiting her friend near Wigan.

In 2014, six-day-old Eliza Mae Mullane died after being pulled from her pram and bitten by the family’s pet dog at their home in Pontyberem, Carmarthenshire.

Eleven-month-old Ava-Jayne Corless was mauled to death by a nine-stone pit bull terrier at her Blackburn home as her mother and then boyfriend Lee Wright, the owner of the dog, slept in 2014.

Six-month-old Molly-Mae Wotherspoon was fatally attacked by her family’s American pit bull terrier at her mother’s home in Daventry, Northamptonshire in 2014.

Three-week-old Reggie Blacklin died after being bitten by a small terrier-type pet dog at his home in Falkland Road, Sunderland in 2015. He later died at hospital.

And it the amount of attacks occurring doesn’t appear to be decreasing either.

Changes to sentencing guidelines in 2014 raised the maximum jail sentence for a fatal dog attack from 2 years to 14.

The amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act also extended the law to include attacks which happen on private property, and introduced a new offence of attacks on assistance dogs such as guide dogs.

However, the debate continues as to whether the changes in the law in general have been effective.

Braintree MP James Cleverly was one of the first to comment on dog laws in the aftermath of Archie Darby’s death.

He told the BBC: “I’m very conscious that the original Dangerous Dogs Act was brought in in response to incidents just like this and I think most people agree it was not a particularly well-drafted piece of legislation. There’s a number of gaps.

“So I think the last thing we should do now is any kind of knee-jerk reaction, but we do need to look at the rules around dog ownership and also about how dogs are looked after and particularly when there are children involved.”

The MP for Colchester, Will Quince, also spoke of the changes that had been made:

“Ministers have also introduced new powers to help frontline professionals tackle anti-social behaviour involving dogs.

“Police and local authorities can now intervene if a dog is causing a nuisance, for example by repeatedly escaping or acting aggressively.

“Owners of such dogs can be required to take a range of remedial action such as attending dog training classes, keeping the dog on a lead in public or repairing fencing to prevent the dog leaving their property.”

However, he also agreed that alterations to the Act could prove to be beneficial.

“In my view it may be appropriate to consider introducing a highways code equivalent for dog ownership. We must recognise that any dog can be dangerous dependent on its owner and general circumstances.

“This is why I believe we should put the onus on owners to be responsible.”

Despite the recent incidents, a survey suggested nearly half of parents would leave a child under the age of 11 alone with a dog, and 12% would leave a child under five alone with a dog.

More than half of children questioned “thought a growling dog was ‘smiling'”.

Dog bites to children are so dangerous because they’re most likely to be to the head and face, according to research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Bleeding to death after the carotid artery (in the neck) is severed is the most common reason for child dog attack fatalities.

Dogs Trust education officer Anna Baatz says children “must understand that a dog is not a toy”.

“Simply understanding when a dog says ‘enough’ can be the difference between a bite or not.”

Anna Wade, of the Blue Cross, believes that animal welfare information should be brought into schools.

“It is the responsibility of governmental agencies, parliament and charities like Blue Cross to educate people on responsible ownership.

“We would like to see animal welfare made a compulsory part of the national curriculum and that this must include information on staying safe around dogs.”

As well as this, she also believes that while owners are a huge part of a pet’s welfare, there are other factors that determine how safe a dog is.

“As an organisation we believe in responsible ownership and believe it is essential that owners commit to training through the early period of their dog’s life.

“An owner is responsible for the training of their dog and ensuring they have a well socialised, happy, healthy pet.

“However in some cases there can be external factors that can influence a dog’s behaviour, for example where and how the dog was bred.

“Currently UK legislation bases the decision on whether a dog is illegal on looks alone – a dog’s breed, a dog’s parents’ breeds, DNA testing and behaviour don’t come into it.

“Blue Cross supports the principle of deed not breed. All dogs have the capacity to be well behaved, sociable, friendly dogs when entrusted to responsible owners”.


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