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Page last updated at 08:05 GMT, Thursday, 21 May 2009 09:05 UK
Dangerous 'status' dogs on the rise

By Nomia Iqbal
Newsbeat reporter in Liverpool

There's been a sharp increase in the number of potentially dangerous dogs like Rottweilers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers which have become the new weapon of choice on some of our cities' toughest streets, Newsbeat has been told.

Pit Bull
The Metropolitan Police have set up a 'status dog unit'

The RSPCA is blaming young men for using aggressive dogs as status symbols in urban areas of England and Wales.

In some parts of Liverpool groups of young men in hoodies hang around wearing cool designer gear, with customised cars - and a menacing new fashion accessory - a canine one.

The lads Newsbeat spoke to there said they are proud of their look: "People cross the road to avoid me," said one. "They look the part don't they?"

The RSPCA says 66% of the calls they get about dogs fighting are about young lads fighting their dogs in parks. That's up from 37%.

There are four main breeds banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act, which came in in 1991: the Pit Bull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro.

But the RSPCA says many people are getting around that by cross breeding.

I'm being judged… because I walk around in trackies and I've got this dog… Yeah, fair enough it's illegal but it's sat down next to you now and it's not ripping your head off
Illegal dog owner Ashley

Claire Fisher, who works for the charity, says any dog can be trained to be dangerous.

"It's the people that hang around on the street corners, 'My dog's really hard, look how hard my dog is'... It could be a Collie, could be a Jack Russell… or a Rottweiler."

The problem of dangerous dogs in Liverpool is well known following some high profile cases.

A controversial dog amnesty two years ago, following the death of five-year-old Ellie Lawrenson, saw many owners having their animals taken away from them.

Newsbeat found most people didn't want to speak if they had a dangerous or illegal dog, but there were a number of people out walking Pit Bulls.

Added credibility

Ashley was willing to speak: "I'm being judged… because I walk around in trackies and I've got this dog… Yeah, fair enough it's illegal but it's sat down next to you now and it's not ripping your head off."

Most of the people Newsbeat spoke to insisted they weren't a part of the dog gang culture and said they just liked the credibility of having a dog.

Andrew said he kept his dog well harnessed but admitted: "Other people cross the road when they see him coming because they're a bit intimidated by him. I'd say it can be an image thing."

The RSPCA wants to see more education for young dog owners

When I asked owners why they didn't want a Yorkie or a Labrador the answer was that they just weren't very cool.

The problem isn't just confined to Liverpool of course, figures also show that dangerous dogs are being misused by gangs, with London being a major trouble spot.

The Metropolitan Police have set up a 'status dog unit' to tackle the problem. In the last four years the number of dangerous dogs they've seized has tripled to 719.

Sergeant Ian McParland, from the Metropolitan Police, is in charge of the new dog unit.

"They have been described as the knife on the street," he said. "Most of the dogs we've taken in the last year have come as a result of public complaints.

Education call

"We certainly don't go round sweeping the streets for dangerous dogs… if we did that we wouldn't be able to cope with the workload to be perfectly honest."

The RSPCA is working with the police on the status dog unit.

They say the key to tackling the problem is updating the Dangerous Dogs Act and being a responsible owner. They want more education for young owners when it comes to keeping their pets under control.

Fifteen-year-old Louise McDonald from Lancashire wishes that had happened earlier.

Louise McDonald and family
Louise McDonald was almost killed after being savaged by a dog

She was almost killed after a Rottweiler savaged her, puncturing her neck: "I never had a problem with it before - was just patting it and it attacked me…

"There are dogs that I see everyday going to the bus stop to school and I avoid them like the plague."

The dog was never put down by its owners, who live nearby.

Newsbeat asked some of the lads in Liverpool what they'd do if their dog ever attacked a child.

"That would never happen," said Andrew. "It's his temperament, it just wouldn't happen."

Another owner, John, said the dogs were "really harmless" and that it was up to the dogs' owners to look after them.

However, one man with a different viewpoint is David Grant, the director of the RSPCA's Harmsworth Animal Hospital in north London.

He said that some young people had an irresponsible attitude to dangerous dogs and that things had got worse.

"My staff are treating more dogs than ever for fight wounds and injuries sustained as a result of them being kept as status symbols by young people who think having a dog makes them look tough.

"Things are worse now than when the Dangerous Dogs Act was passed 18 years ago. More and more people are using dogs as a means of intimidation."

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