Thursday, 14 June 2012

Dangerous Dogs

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee of which I am a member recently launched an inquiry into the welfare of dogs. I have been arguing for this for some time. Two years ago I visited the National Animal Welfare Trust just outside Hayle and was shocked to hear about the problem of Staffordshire Bull Terriers being abandoned. I have also been struck by the excellent work done by the Cinnamon Trust, a national charity also based here at Hayle, which organises an army of volunteers to help exercise dogs whose owners are no longer able to and to re-home dogs whose owners have passed away.

There has been an appalling trend in recent years towards people breeding aggressive dogs to become so called “status dogs” which some young men now take with them, frankly, as an alternative to carrying a knife. In many cases, they lack the commitment to care for their dog or find that they cannot cope once the dog matures. As a result, dog kennels have been inundated with abandoned dogs which have often been reared to be aggressive and which, sadly, are usually unsuitable to be re-homed with families. All too often they have to be put down which is a shameful indictment on our society.

In the last year, there has been an increasing trend towards larger breeds, such as mastiffs, also being abandoned because their owners cannot handle them. And there have been a growing number of instances of gentle natured Labrador guide dogs being attacked by aggressive dogs on the street, prompting calls for a change in legislation.

I think we need to look again at the law in this area. The Dangerous Dogs Act was brought in over 20 years ago and sought to ban certain violent breeds of dog but it was always arbitrary and is increasingly out of date. During a recent visit to Battersea Dogs Home I was told the harrowing story of a young (and friendly) Pitbull Terrier which had been neglected and almost starved to death but had been rescued just in time. However, because of its breed, it would have to be put down anyway.

It’s not the dogs we need to target but their owners. I think we should require licensing for the breeding of certain types of dog which are intended to become guard dogs so that you have reputable breeders, not back street puppy farms. I would also be open to the idea of some basic vetting before people are allowed to own a dog to ensure they will provide a loving home. The RSPCA would not re-home a rescue dog without first assessing where it was going, so why do we allow unsuitable people to buy a puppy?

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.