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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 14:31 GMT
Protection against dangerous dogs
Pit bull
Certain breeds have to be muzzled
Following Princess Anne's conviction under the Dangerous Dogs Act, BBC News Online takes a look at the law which is supposed to protect the public.

Princess Anne is not the first person to face the courts as a result of a pet's behaviour.

A spate of vicious attacks on young children by pit bull terriers in the early 1990s led to a tightening of legislation regarding dog ownership.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 meant strict guidelines for owners and how their dogs should behave in public.

Tosa fighting dogs
Tosa dogs are used for fighting in some countries
It also singled out four breeds for particular attention - the Pit Bull Terriers, Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino, and the Fila Brazileiro.

It was made illegal to own any of these dogs unless a court had directed that it was on a list of exempted dogs.

The dogs have to be on a lead and muzzled in public, micro chipped, registered and insured.

The act was also supposed to ban the breeding, sale and exchange of the dogs.

Dealers know how to avoid it and that it takes lengthy, costly procedures for police to genetically test dogs to prove that they are banned breeds.

Destruction

But contrary to what many may think it is not just the tabloid "devil, fighting dogs" that require caution.

The act created a new offence of being an owner of a dog of any type or breed which is dangerously out of control in a public place.

Act facts
Prosecuted: 838
Sentenced: 489
Average fine: 167
Average jail term: 3.3 months

Out of control dogs can be seized by police or local authority officers and the owners faces a fine or up to six months in prison.

If the dog injures someone, the sentence can be increased to up to two years.

The courts also have the power to destroy the animal if they feel it is a danger to public safety.

Alternatively male dogs can be neutered.

A conviction also means the owner could have to pay for the costs of destroying their dog and could be disqualified from keeping a dog.

No risks

In addition to any criminal prosecution, victims people can take out civil action against the owner for damages to themselves or property.

The act split opinions in the animal welfare world.

The National Canine Defence League (NCDL) is against breed specific legislation and believes it is "the deed not the breed" that should be punished and is against the destruction of any healthy dog.

Princess Anne
Dog owners are urged to keep control of their animals
Spokeswoman Deana Selby said a dog's behaviour depends on how it is brought up and trained.

Only in extreme circumstances, when a dog has a repeated history of biting and behavioural experts agree the dog cannot be trained, should it be put down she said.

But the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) says any dog has the ability to turn and owners should not take risks.

Both charities do agree that all dog owners should be responsible and keep their animals on leads or under close supervision in public places.

Child mauled

According to records held by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 838 people have been prosecuted under the act since 1991.

This has resulted in 489 people being sentenced.

The average fine is 167 and only two people have received suspended sentences and three people have been jailed.

Teoni Fletcher
Teoni, four, was bitten on the cheek by a mastiff
The average jail term is 3.3 months.

Last year 3,400 people were hospitalised after dog attacks - a 25 % rise over the last five years.

In August this year four-year-old Teoni Fletcher had emergency surgery after a neighbour's bull mastiff dog bit off part of her left cheek.

That the incident proves it is not just dangerous dogs that are dangerous will be no compensation for her scars.


Key stories

Background
See also:

22 Aug 02 | England
19 Aug 02 | England
01 Jul 02 | 4x4 Reports
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