National Dog Warden Association (NDWA)
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RSPCA Dangerous Dog Conference - London Tuesday 3rd June 2008

Wed, 04 Jun 2008
The RSPCA Dangerous Dogs Conference held in London on Tuesday 3rd June 2008 was a simultaneous eye opener and wake up call for the authorities and animal welfare charities alike to put aside any differences they may have and focus on everyone’s apparent stated primary aims animal and dog welfare.

The conference was chaired by Bill Swann, RSPCA advisor to DEFRA, Mark Watts the RSPCA Chief Executive opened proceedings. The first speaker was the Lord Rooker who mentioned that the government cannot ;legislate for human stupidity’ Lord Rooker made it clear that there is no parliamentary time available for any new dog related legislation and that the current robust legislation that is in place should be used more by the authorities.

His Lordship also pointed out that DEFRA wants to be as helpful as possible and that it is bringing out ‘Guidance For Enforcers’ possibly in the summer. It was also explained that for DEFRA to help that it needs ‘reports from the frontline.’ When a delegate asked the noble Lord who is going to enforce the legislation, the reply was ‘it is not the responsibility of the Government’

Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom from North Wales Police gave a presentation on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers as he is the lead officer in respect of dogs. Mr Brunstrom’s technical presentation gave out facts and figures and pointed out that according to the DEFRA guidance local councils now deal with stray dogs 24/7 x 365 and that it was a duty. The transfer of responsibility from the police to councils was described by Mr Brunstrom as ‘got rid of the grief’

A plethora of phrases came from Mr Brunstrom in relation to the Animal Welfare Act 2006, ‘work of art’, full confidence’ and ‘a textbook example’ were all used.

The lack of detail in regard to dog figures was an area criticised by the Chief Constable, another area was the different interpretations of specific issues such as tail docking, the police themselves are not united on the issue of tail docking, some forces have dogs with docked tails, and others have them with their tails.

In respect of dangerous dog incidents on humans, figures obtained from the NHS seemed to point to 10,231 bed days were the result of dog bites in England in 2006/2007, 78,000 dog bite victims were treated or seen by A&E in 2006/2007 and 4,500 persons were hospitalised. A figure of 4,658 hospital admissions in 2006/2007 was compared with 2,683 in 1996/1997 an increase of +73%.

(Previous attempts by other organisations to ascertain exactly what percentage of ‘bites’ treated by the NHS were attributable to dogs discovered that all bites including animal and human were lumped together by NHS staff.)

The current large number of Staffordshire Bull Terriers in the community was described as being a result of out of control casual breeding, the original Dangerous Dogs Act was described as being ‘a dreadful rush’ and Breed Specific Legislation was stupid. Mr Brunstrom was also of the opinion that England and Wales were stuck with the Dangerous Dogs Act.

The Metropolitan Police and Merseyside Police were cited as examples of good procedures and the RSPCA, Police, Industry etc need to work in partnership in regard to dog issues.

Adam Goldfarb of the Human Society of the United States talked about current issues in the USA. Adam’s speciality areas were dangerous dogs and tethering. In the USA the term ‘dangerous dog’ can be applied to a breed of dog and therefore an individual dog may be described as being a ‘dangerous dog’ when in fact it is not a threat to anyone or anything.
Adam explained how in the USA, in 2002, 7 deaths were incorrectly attributed to dog attacks and that during 2007, 33 people were killed by dogs in the US but 45 persons had been killed by lightning. Examples of communities introducing their own dangerous dog tiered restrictions were explained; one community had a two tier system whilst another one had a five tier one in place.

The State of Virginia has introduced an online register of dangerous dogs that can be accessed by residents to check on the status of any dangerous dogs in their local area. The system is similar to the system in the USA where offenders of certain crimes have to register with the authorities and residents are told that a person convicted of a particular offence lives at a certain address.

Adam also explained about the rehoming of Pit Bull Terriers by some animal shelter, including dogs that had been involved with dog fighting rings. A surprise was a search and rescue team comprised of Pit Bull Terriers raised by an organisation called ‘For Pits Sake.’ The presentation gave a thoughtful insight into the issues and approach to dangerous dogs in the US.

Inspector Neil Davies the head of the Merseyside Police dog Section presented a thought provoking and candid look at the trials and tribulations of the Liverpool Dog Amnesty which he literally presented ‘warts and all’. The negative as well as the positive sides of the operation were explained which was a credit to the integrity and openness of Inspector Davies.

Dave Griffiths from East Hampshire District Council gave a presentation that looked at the problems caused by the implementation of section 68 of the Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act 2005.

Out of an excellent presentation it was clear that the advice proffered by DEFRA had been interpreted by some councils as meaning they had to do either nothing or a minimum. In the case of Hampshire where the police had prematurely relinquished dealing with stray dogs in 2005, Dave explained that the Hampshire local authorities had the option of going to judicial review regarding the polices decision or biting the bullet and going it alone to offer some kind of service provision to the residents of Hampshire.

Of the original thirteen councils, there were only four that formed a consortium that employed a contractor to offer a collection service of stray dogs. Problems with the contractor were highlighted such as little or no training for staff as well as the high turnover of staff due to a number of factors, low pay being one of them a lack of local knowledge was also cited. Dave pointed out that the DEFRA terminology ‘where practicable’ was a regressive step in the provision of out of hours stray dog provision as it was basically a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

A figure of 105,068 stray dogs for the UK was the total for 2007 provided by the Dogs Trust; Dave commented that this was a 3% increase on 2006.

He was critical of those animal charities that bring dogs over from Ireland and he said that Staffordshire Bull Terriers were breeding like mad!

Poor guidance on what an acceptance point was and should consist of was also mentioned.
The abundance of lost dog websites was also discussed and Dave asked the question of why can there not be one government operated site where all lost and found dogs are recorded? He had praise for the good work of these websites but believes that there are too many and people are spoiled for choice in respect of which ones to look on, he was also fearful that some dogs slip through the net.

In closing, Dave called for more respect for Dog Wardens from their bosses and the raising of the profile of the job; he also called for more funding and resources for dog warden services and also called for proper guidance on out of hour’s services from DEFRA.
The lack of council interest in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was put down to a lack of funding for councils hence why it is ignored by so many of them.

Looking at dog breeding legislation was also mentioned as a way of dealing with over breeding of dogs.

As an alternative to compulsory registration, compulsory insurance for dog owners via insurance companies was mooted.

Tim Wass of the RSPCA gave a presentation on the need for authorities and agencies to work together with young people to deal with the issue of animal welfare and the image issue of having to be seen on the street corner with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier type dogs. This presentation resulted in a discussion about educational initiatives and other ways of partnership working to deal with the problems associated with young people and animals.
The final speaker of the day was RSPCA Trustee Angela Walder who spoke about the need for compulsory registration for the UK, she cited as model examples, the dog licensing regimes in Australia and New Zealand. Ms Walder’s robust presentation called for County and Borough councils to be approached about implementing a compulsory scheme in the UK to protect dogs.

Another RSPCA member called for those opposed to registration to be ‘rooted out’, during an electronic vote which resulted in 52% being in favour of ‘registration as a way to resolve current problems’ and 48% opposed to it, those that were ‘rooted out’ was almost 50% of delegates present!

Other electronic votes were:

Should micro chipping be compulsory for dogs: 89% Yes 11% No
Should Vets report dogs with fighting wounds to the police: 91% Yes 9% No

A question and answer session took place at the end of the conference.

The conference was a very good example of organisations coming together to look at ways in which issues such as dangerous dogs, stray dogs, dog fighting and dog registration.

Will this amount to anything though, perhaps a dog legislation summit chaired by the Lord Rooker should be called as a matter of urgency where all groups with jurisdiction are invited to thrash out a memorandum of understanding to move the issues forward for the benefit of animal welfare.

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